Wii Need Exercise!

I have been curious about Wii Fit, the latest attempt at what some have termed “exer-gaming.” I’ve flirted with the seemingly unholy combination of exercise and videogaming previously but previous efforts have been hampered by techincal difficulties:

First I tried Dance Dance Revolution, which provides a pretty good workout, but can be pretty hard on the knees, or on downstairs neighbors if you’re a large fellow like myself. The short duration of the songs means having to wait in between, which is annoying, but this was on the PS2 version, so perhaps they’re fixed that in the current batch of consoles. It’s fun as a game, if you can live with the J-pop heavy soundtrack, but otherwise I can’t recommend it. Getting a decent pad also means shelling out a few bucks, the ones that come pre-packaged are alright for casual stompers, tho.

Sometime after that, I saw EyeToy:Kinetic on sale, and figured it was worth a shot. Using a wide-angle lens enables you to interact with objects placed on the screen by the game, and it offered a variety of pretty neat routines ranging from stretching to avoiding on-screen objects, to punching and kicking targets. I would work up a pretty good sweat with the game, and when it works, it works well. Sadly, the EyeToy requires a LOT of light and open space behind you to work properly. For me, this meant moving lights and furniture which added more work to the workout. Bleah.

Now we have Wii Fit, which promises to be The Next Big Thing in ‘exergaming’ and it seems to solve the problems I had with my previous attempts. It was designed from the ground up as an exercise game, unlike DDR, and it uses a peripheral that should work as advertised, unlike EyeToy Kinetic. My hope is to use Wii Fit to supplement my current regimen, which involves about 1.5 to 2 miles of walking on a treadmill. Today was Day 1 for me, and I gotta say its pretty neat.

You start out by being introduced to The Balance Board, represented by a cartoony graphic that talks in a squeaky voice like something out of a kids’ cartoon, but it seems to make sense in a Nintendo kind of way. The board itself has some weight to it, and has risers for those with thick carpet. I was a little nervous about it at first, not because of my weight (the board’s limit is 330 pounds) but because I have big feet. I wear a size 13 shoe, and my toes were just on the edge of the board. If your feet are any bigger than that, I would definitely try before you buy.

After you say howdy-do to the board, you get weighed and your balance is tested. Here’s where the bit about “OMG it told my kid she’s fat” comes in. The game uses the Body Mass Index, your birthdate, height, and a balance test to calculate a “Wii Fit Age.” The higher the age, the worse shape you’re in. In my case, the it accurately told me I was obese, to which I said “well, DUH.” The game will also adjust your Mii to reflect what physical shape you’re in based on BMI. If you have a high BMI due to being well-muscled, be prepared to see yourself turned into El Chunko (like me in the pic above) after the BMI numbers are crunched. You also set a weight-loss goal, which can be adjusted every other week, I decided to go for ‘lose 4 pounds in a month’ which seemed reasonable.

Next you select either a male or female trainer to guide you through the exercises, and I have to say they’re just a teensy on the creepy side. I know they’re trying to be neutral in terms of skin tone and all that, but solid white skin and no lip movement when they talk makes them look like the lovechild of Commander Data and a store mannequin. We’re deep in The Uncanny Valley here, folks.

The game lets you pick from 4 categories: Yoga, Strength Training, Balance Games, and Aerobics. Not all of the exercsies are available from the start, however, as you accumulate minutes doing them, they are gradually added, which I presume is supposed to provide motivation. At this point, the game feels very similar to Brain Age and its ilk, but I like Brain Age, so I can live with that. The game also lets you pick exercises at will, and recommends combinations of exercises to work certain body areas, but you are under no obligation to follow them.

What I know about yoga can be put on the head of a nail, and the 3 stretching exercises I did were simple enough. The game encouraged me along, and even pointed out when I was doing certain things: “You aren’t leaning to your right as much as you were to the left.” Neato.

Strength Training was a bit tougher, mainly due to my lack of balance (insert irony here). I dropped off the board twice, and the game recognized that I had done so. I was a little disappointed to find that I couldn’t reduce the number of reps in order to compensate for my out-of-shapeness. To be fair, though, Eyetoy Kinetic had a similar problem, in that while the game attempts to adjust for folks that are very out of shape (such as myself) it doesn’t quite do enough, but I’ll just have to try harder tomorrow.

I figured I’d take a break and try out the balance games, and they are fun, much like Wii Sports or Wii Play. One involved bouncing incoming soccer balls off your head by leaning into them. This starts simple enough, but gets harder has other items that AREN’T soccer balls start flying in. I also tried a skiing game where you have to slalom through gates. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of the controls yet, but it was fun.

Aerobics were also enjoyable and felt more ‘exercisey’ than the games. There was a hula hoop game where you swivel your hips to keep the hoops going and then lean forward in order to catch additional hoops that are thrown at you. Once again, my inexperience probably made it harder than it should have been, but it remained fun. Next was a DDR-ish step aerobics game which was also fun.

According to the game, I played for 30 minutes. I didn’t really break a sweat, but I felt pretty good afterwards as I went for my afternoon walk on the treadmill. I’m looking forward to using Wii Fit to warm up before doing my ‘real’ exercise, and I think it’s a good light workout in its own right.