Mismatch? Nintendo vs. Obesity and Bad Posture in Video Gamers.

May 27, 2008


Games like Dance Dance Revolution have been getting people in shape for years, but the fitness aspect always took a back seat to the fun. Now Nintendo is putting your body mass index first with Wii Fit. Including over 40 different activities, virtual personal trainers, and the all-new Wii Balance Board, is it a bunch or posturing or is there some real muscle behind it?

Before you start your training, you'll begin by selecting your Mii, entering some personal information, and taking a series of daily balance tests, measuring your body mass, center of balance, and balance control. The game then assesses your Wii Fit age and prompts you to set goals for how much weight you want to lose or gain.

The game measures body mass index just like your doctor would, using only your height and weight as determinants. If you happen to be underweight, you'll be urged to gain a few pounds, or if you're tipping the scales a little too much it's time to get to work. It's clear that the game can't replace a doctor, so it's best to take its advice with a grain of salt and focus on your own fitness goals.

The various activities are separated into four categories: yoga poses, strength training, aerobics, and balance games. In true video game fashion, many of them are locked at first, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Credits represent the minutes you've spent exercising, so the fit bank also doubles as a stopwatch, tallying your total workout time for the day. Additionally, if you stick with an exercise, you can unlock tougher settings, such as higher numbers of reps in strength training, longer jogging courses, or trickier ski slopes.

For the long haul, Wii Fit also keeps track of your day-to-day progress through several graphs, showing changes in your weight and how you've been spending your time in the game. Characters will chide you if you miss a day, and there are frequently reminders to exercise daily, brush your teeth, or take breaks. Optionally, you can also install the Wii Fit Channel, which lets you browse the graphs and take daily body tests even when the disc isn't in the system.

It can take a while to get through everything that Wii Fit offers, but there's no reason for there to be things locked away at the outset. There's not much in the way of a “game” per se, but the breadth of exercises works just about every part of the body.

It can be easy to see the lighter side of Wii Fit, and write it off as a gimmick, but make no mistake. There are plenty of real exercises, and we have experienced real pain in our legs and abs during the course of this review.

Yoga poses focus on stretching and maintaining a position, sometimes while balancing on one leg, while strength exercises run the gamut, featuring everything from squats, lunges, and jackknifes to a mean combination of push-ups and side planks. In both categories, you'll be accompanied by a trainer who explains what you'll be doing and performs the activities with you, reminding you to breathe and generally coaching you along.

Since the balance board is at the center of the experience, it should come as no surprise that the game has a heavy emphasis on posture and balance. The majority of exercises have you keeping your center of balance steady in a certain zone or require you to shift your weight appropriately. The constant feedback gives you clues when you're too shaky or when you aren't quite in proper form, and your performance is rated and placed on a scoreboard after you're done. The Balance Board really shows its stuff, reacting to minute weight shifts.

The selection of aerobic exercises is a bit mixed. You'll quickly work up a sweat with the hula hoops game or you can run a virtual jogging course by stepping off the balance board and running in place with a Wii remote in your pocket. However, the step dancing and rhythm boxing games don't really do much to get the blood pumping.

Balance games include soccer heading, downhill skiing, snowboarding, an odd tilting game where your Mii wears a penguin suit, and tricky canyons that you have to navigate without touching the walls. These extras really aren't much of a workout, but they do represent the only “game” elements of Wii Fit and show potential for the balance board beyond rock hard abs.

One thing to keep in mind is that you'll need a lot of space near your television--especially if you're tall. You don't want to raise your hands into a ceiling fan or kick a coffee table. And while there are verbal cues, it helps to be in a position where you can easily see the TV so you can keep a close eye on the trainer's movements and other on-screen feedback. In addition, the balance board can only support up to 330 pounds, so players above that limit will need to hit the treadmill first.

We were reluctant when we began our workout routines, but after spending about a week with the product, we can definitely feel our bodies slowly lurching into shape. Despite the lack of many game elements, we were compelled by the charts, graphs, and positive reinforcement to keep going day after day, which is saying something.

Wii Fit has it's own style and look, but there's no hiding the fact that very little effort has gone into its presentation. It does integrate Miis wherever they make sense, like seeing friends cheering you on and running with you during jogging sessions. An unexpectedly charming balance board character guides you along, and you can choose between male and female trainers to get you through yoga and strength training. It's bare bones, yet serviceable.

It not a new idea, but the Wii Balance Board makes Wii Fit feel fresh. It's a cool peripheral that will undoubtedly have many interesting uses ahead. It falls short of making exercising fun, but the positive reinforcement and virtual trainers certainly make it easier to get motivated.


Version Tested: Nintendo Wii