Hands-on Wii Fit
Apr 15, 2008
The following account comes to readers from IGN Nintendo Team editor-in-chief Matt Casamassina, who extensively tested out the English version of Wii Fit from Nintendo's Media Summit event in San Francisco last week:
I think gamers -- hardcore or otherwise -- who still believe that Wii Fit is a gimmick, an impostor, or an all-out fake are in for a rude awakening. Whether you want to refer to it as a game or an exercise program, you will eventually have to concede, as I have, that it's the real deal. It'll give you a work out. You will sweat. Your heart will move. And you might just wake up the sore the next day. I'm speaking from experience for exactly that happened to me at last week's Nintendo Media Summit, where I went hands (and feet) on the Wii Balance Board and cycled through some of the exercises and minis in Nintendo's sort-of-kind-of-game and soon-to-be-hit.
I've been through the basics of Wii Fit a dozen times before, but just in case you've been out on vacation for the last 10 months, I've provided a quick primer. Nintendo's latest "casual" or "bridge" title, set to debut on May 19 in America, takes the fundamentals of Wii Sports to the next level. Whereas the pack-in encouraged players to get off their couches and swing the Wii remote like a real tennis racket or bowl like a pro, Wii Fit challenges participants to compete in mini-workouts, the end goal being to tone muscle and hopefully burn fat. You stand on an included scale-like device called the Wii Balance Board and it very accurately measures every shift, however subtle, you might make as you battle and play through 40 different minis and exercises spread across strength training, yoga, aerobics, and balance games.
The Big N has shied away from stating that Wii Fit is a true exercise solution (and I can't really blame it when we live in a world where stupid people who accidentally break their TVs with Wii remotes will actually sue the publisher), but the fact remains, many of the challenges encapsulated within Wii Fit are hard and very taxing on your body. I'm by no means Mr. Universe, but I do go to my local gym about four times per week and I adhere to regular workout cycles, sometimes concentrating on my chest and back, other times focusing on my arms and stomach. I've been doing this for years and like to think I'm fairly well-versed in a solid exercise program. And yet, 20 minutes with Wii Fit kicked my ass, which surprised me.
Always politically correct, Nintendo has designed Wii Fit to measure your body mass index or BMI as opposed to your weight. That said, you can set the game to display your weight, too, and according to Shigeru Miyamoto, who hatched the concept, the Wii Balance Board is actually one of the most accurate scales that money can buy. I'm inclined to believe him having seen just how precisely the contraption measured my every tiny nuance of a momentum shift and movement. In addition to your BMI, which is a fancy way of describing the measurement of body fat, the title awards you with a Wii Fit Age (go figure, right?), the latter of which is based an initial balance test. As you play Wii Fit every day, you'll want to secure and maintain a healthy age.
Right, so my primer was a little longer than I teased, but everybody needs a refresher now and again. In my recent play-through of the title, I first engaged in a strength-training exercise that was one part push-up and another part yoga. Bear in mind that I'm used to shoulder-length push-ups, but in Wii Fit, the size of the Balance Board -- about the width of a day-to-day scale -- requires that you pull your arms a little closer together like a diamond push-up. This, in case you're wondering, is considerably more difficult. Both hands are placed firmly on the Balance Board, knees still on the ground. Next, you stretch your legs out and hold your body at the high point of the push-up. Breath in and slowly lower yourself to the Board while breathing out. Now hold for one, two, three seconds. Not so bad, right? Wrong. It's about to get tricky. Now you have to keep the position while you wrap your right leg around your left, reach toward the sky with your right arm and pivot your body, shifting all of your weight on your left arm. Hold. Return to the push-up position -- smoothly now -- and repeat the process. Six times. (You can unlock higher reps as you use Wii Fit on a daily basis.)
IGN's resident not-sure-what-she-does Jessica Chobot and I competed in two different push-up competitions and somehow, against all odds, she beat me. I am not entirely sure how this happened given that her arms are no wider than soda straws, but I think it may have something to do with my form -- as I noted, I was a little wobblier than Jess due to the fact that I have weight to consider (particularly in my belly, I'm not embarrassed to admit) and Chobot practically floats. Even so, I at least finished the competition, competing all six reps. Jess, on the other hand, gave up halfway through, fell on her face and smashed her hip. That she still won remains an enigma.
In Wii Fit, when you start the exercise, an on-screen trainer -- either male or female depending on your preference -- gives you important advice about form, breathing, position holds, and timing. You're going to want to listen to the trainer as they offer invaluable guidance throughout your workouts and they're advice changes dynamically throughout your programs as the title measures different shifts in your form and momentum. It's pretty incredible to receive genuinely helpful guidance halfway through an instruction.
There are all sorts of other exercises, some more difficult than others. In strength training alone, which I find particularly appealing (mostly because it's not Yoga, which I seem to be incapable of showing any kind of prowess in), there's single leg extension, sideways leg lifts, arm and leg lifts, single arm stands, torso twists, rowing squats, single leg twists, lunges, push-ups and side planks, jackknifes, plank and tricep extensions, and more. In aerobics, you can partake in hula-hoop challenges, basic steps, basic runs, super hula-hoops, advanced steps, rhythm boxing, free steps and free runs. In Yoga, there's deep breathing, half moons, dances, cobras, bridges, spinal twists, shoulder stands, warrior poses, tree poses, sun salutation poses, standing knee poses, palm tree poses, chair, chair, triangle and downward-facing dog poses. It's a ridiculous complete set of traditional exercises.
And then there are the Balance Board games. I tried a few more of these out at the event. First, though, the selection, which includes soccer heading, ski slalom, ski jump, table tilt, tightrope walk, balance bubble, penguin slide, snowboard slalom and lotus focus. I delved a little deeper into the ski jump than I ever have before and found the mini to be immensely enjoyable, both simple and addictive. To play, you place both feet on the Balance Board and lean forward, shifting most of your weight toward the front of the peripheral. The position of your feet directly moves an on-screen reticule around and your immediate goal is merely to correctly balance yourself so that the reticule moves within another on-screen circe -- the money spot. The longer you keep the reticule in there, the greater speed your character will build as he slides down the hill. And just before you reach the jump at the end, you make a jumping gesture (but don't actually jump -- Wii Fit warns before several challenges that you should never jump). Just straighten your legs very quickly and, according to one Nintendo instructor, you should even try to stand on your tiptoes, as you're likely to gain greater height. (I tried this but was unsuccessful.) It took me about two tries to really get the hang of everything, another five or so to start ranking in the top five, and three more times on top of that before I finally nabbed first place. It's not a complicated mini-game, but I have to admit that I was glued to the ski slalom as I tried for first place. I didn't want to stop playing, which is always a great sign.
I also tried out the game's tightrope and penguin slide minis and found them to be nearly as enjoyable, although altogether different in execution. In tightrope, you walk by making a walking gesture with your left and right feed -- remember, you don't really want to lift your legs; same as jumping. As you walk the tightrope, you'll need to keep the balance and avoid obstructions by jumping over them. And in penguin slide, you tilt an icy platform left and right by shifting the balance with your respective feet, the goal being to eat as many penguins as possible. All fun.
There's no doubt that Wii Fit is going to appeal to the casual crowd. (I keep saying that if Nintendo can just get the title on Oprah Winfrey, it'll be a gargantuan success.) But I like to brand myself a hardcore gamer and I have to tell you, I think the program is incredible. Is this Nintendo's "bridge" strategy in effect? Whatever the case, I'm a believer. I go to the gym regularly, but sometimes I have to force myself to leave the house. Wii Fit succeeds in that it makes exercising fun -- addictive, even. In fact, gamers strictly opposed to working up a sweat may find the exercise component invisible -- you'll be having so much fun with the mini-games that you won't even notice you're technically burning calories until you're suddenly out of breath.
Nintendo is supporting Wii Fit with an epic marketing budget and allocating more than a million units for the title's launch in the U.S. on May 19. There's nothing gimmicky about the fitness game and I think America is going to quickly find itself hooked on the Big N's latest phenomenon.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Hands-on Wii Fit