Wii Fit

In the last few years, an increasing amount of my time has been dominated by three completely independent activities:

1: Entirely sedentary work (in which I am lucky to include gaming)
2: Time with my family (often outdoors)
3: Extremely aggressive exercise

This trifecta has, with the emergence of the Platinum Age of Gaming (which started with the launch of the Wii and continues to this day), become skewed, as more and more time has gone into the first two buckets. My kids have grown – they stay up later, they want to do more, including play games. And my writing schedule has gotten more intense, and is all the more extended by writing about games.

This subtle shift has meant I spend less and less time exercising. I’m not really worried – I’m still at the gym three times a week, still out running or riding every few days. But it was with this long winded mindset that I looked forward to Wii Fit. Here, I thought, was a place where I could kill two birds with one stone.

Not so much.

My Left Brain

I should point out that my relationship with my body is complicated.

This morning while sitting in the Father's Day church service, my palms started to sweat, my knees went weak, and for a brief moment I had a sharp, visual sense of remembering and forgetting. A hollow, aching déjà vu mixed with a psilocybin mushroom vision. Most of the time this aura will pass. This morning I wasn't quite so lucky. I quickly made my way to the back of the church and walked outside. I woke up some indeterminate time later and rubbed my head.

I’m not just an amateur epileptic. I’m really good at it. I’m a pro. If there was a Master’s tournament for the brain damaged, I’d be kicking Tiger’s ass.

My epileptic prowess is based on a one two-punch of medication and exercise. My medication, first Dilantin and later Lamictal, is a cheap three Martini drunk. In the beginning, I was more than just groggy, I couldn’t read – my eyes would twitch too much. While not strictly required, reading is often considered a good bullet point on your writer’s resume, somewhere below “masochist” and above “hates passive voice.”

The solution is exercise - beating my body back into submission every morning. I became an insufferable fitness nut. A proselytizer of High Intensity Training programs and endurance cycling. But as I've crossed into my 40s, my exercise has become panic stricken. With each passing year, I have to work harder in the gym just to stay even, and it takes a few more days each spring to get my running and cycling legs back.

Which brings me to Wii Fit. My hope for Wii Fit was that it would provide context, motivation and variety to this constant and ultimately doomed battle against age and disease. But the course of true love never did run smooth.

The Razor and the Blade

The launch of Wii Fit, like the Wii itself, marries two things: a hardware platform, and an initial implementation.

As a hardware platform, it’s nearly perfect. I could quibble about whether the deck of the board could be a little bit wider (for us broad shouldered he-men). Perhaps it could be a bit stickier and not get slick with sweat. But what it's supposed to be is a whizbang scale: one which feeds information to the console about how your weight is distributed across a plastic rectangle quickly, accurately and consistently. It does those things perfectly.

The software implementation is a mixed bag. Like Wii Sports, there are hits and misses. The near perfection of Wii Bowling is mimicked by the Wii Fit yoga program. The virtual coach is excellent (if a bit repetitive), and I find the feedback from the board more helpful than any instructor I've ever had. The strength training program is nearly as good, drawing me in to legitimately difficult exercises.

Less impressive, perhaps in the Wii Sports baseball category, is the laughable attempt at aerobics. While watching someone hula hoop or run in place might be entertaining, doing it feels ridiculous, and in practice none of the aerobic exercises come close to simply walking outside your front door and running up and down the driveway a few times, or even better just getting out the jump rope.

I'm even more disappointed in the actual games. In classic Nintendo mini-game fashion, they merely whet my appetite for what-might-be. The skiing mini games make me long for a non-mini ski or snowboard game, done by the people behind SSX or Skate. The simplistic marble rolling game is a thin and whimpering imitation of Super Monkey Ball. None of the games I've seen so far can be played multiplayer, nor can I honestly see how they could be without yet another piece of hardware.

And thus the biggest problem: Wii Fit is not a party game.

It's not a group activity. It's not family fun. While I wasn't expecting Mario Party, or even Wii Sports, it didn't occur to me how vigorously single player it is. Wii Fit is an extremely narrow experience. And worse, it suffers from the Puritan work ethic problem. It forces you to earn the best bits. It's not that it does this just to ramp up the difficulty. Some of the more appropriate introductory stuff seem to be buried several unlocks in. So while the first yoga exercise is simply standing and breathing, the third is the tree pose - an iconic form featured heavily in the Wii Fit branding. The tree pose - standing on 1 foot, heel in crotch, arms straight up - is nearly impossible for a 40-year-old non-yogi. Even one not under the effects of sedation. I’m used to this kind of asshatery in games, and it still pisses me off. I can only imagine how the folks at the senior center must be feeling.

There's no question that Wii Fit will survive in my living room. While it won't entertain my kids, I will turn it on every morning as I fight off the ravages of middle age and the dull pillow of sodium channel block anticonvulsants.

It is if nothing else, it's an excellent scale.

I'm more excited for the future. New peripherals have a way of sneaking up on me. I can't imagine playing Flight Simulator without a yoke or pedals. I can't imagine playing a first person shooter without my trusty Nostromo. And it's already difficult to remember what life was like before voice recognition software. This time next year - sooner I hope - I have little doubt I'll be gushing over some balance board game that's just coming off a designer's white board this summer.

In the mean time, as much as I love hopping on the balance board for 15 minutes in the morning, I'm not about to get off my bike. Wii Fit isn't going to magically lift the cruel thumbs of middle age and medication off the scale. I'm going to have to do that on my own.

Comments

Sorry to hear about your ailment, Maestro

And a great review, as always.

What keeps me wondering about Wii Fit is the Nintendo's decision to go with a hard platform. Why wouldn't they use something size more like a DDR mat, and made its surface continously sensitive? Not only would it naturally open the door to the DRR-like activities and games (aerobics with some simple choreography), but would also allow to make the game more approachable to Joes, and provided for more varied activities designs.

I don't think a mat could offer nearly the precision this does. The extremely direct connection between what you are doing with your body and the feedback on screen is what makes it so effective at what it does well. I don't think a soft mat could, for instance, measure your weight precisely, or show that I'm shifting the balance of my right foot to the outside edge when I'm trying to hold a pose.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

What keeps me wondering about Wii Fit is the Nintendo's decision to go with a hard platform. Why wouldn't they use something size more like a DDR mat,

Would it be possible to accurately weigh someone on a mat, though?

I was a little tempted by Wii Fit. I work from home as a software developer and am getting very unfit, it would be nice to have something around that I could do a quick 30 minute workout on at lunchtime without having to go outside in the rain (I live in the UK, after all). I gave up when I realised that it's basically impossible to buy unless you're prepared to pay twice the price on ebay.

rabbit wrote:
I can't imagine playing Flight Simulator without a yoke or pedals.
Everybody drink.

I haven't had a chance to play with Wii Fit yet, but I've pretty consistently heard that the aerobic portion isn't very good, but the yoga is. I know skate 2 and Raving Rabbids 3 will take advantage of the board, but would the yoga portion alone be enough to justify more living room space to a Nintendo peripheral? This is one of the rare games that my wife expressed an interest in, a rare event on which I want to capitalize.

The aerobic portion is weak, but my wife eats it up anyway. Depending on your fitness level, it can actually be halfway decent. Both my wife and my legs are bad enough to largely preclude running, but she can run in place, play the step game, rhythm boxing, etc. and really enjoys it. Is it as good as running or biking? No way.

It is an decent introduction to yoga. I haven't been on the board in almost two weeks, but frequently find myself stretching my back and hips in the office with various poses.

Nice review Rabbit. Oh, and yes, tree pose sucks. It's a trick. It does not belong between Sun Salutation and Warrior.

Atras - I think it's worth it. When you consider it's basically a game and a half (compared to a 360 title) I think it's a steal, and I wouldn't be surprised if they're making very little money on the package.

I'm not sure I'd say it will teach you perfect yoga. Ultimately, yoga is only as good as your dedication to it and the effort you're willing to put in. But I imagine if you were well versed in the 20 odd poses in the game, you'd feel right at home in your first yoga class.

I do not own a Wii, but one of my friends does, and as a party game, we actually find Wii fit to be pretty entertaining. When you take turns playing one of the minigames, it's actually fun to watch because you're not just looking at the screen, just watching your friend pull silly moves on the board as well.
But it could (and maybe should) have been much better as a fun multiplayer game by including a option to use multiple mii's (like Wii Sports). Now we just take turns using the same (generic) mii. (Your weight seems to have changed! )

I just logged in my 27th day with the Wii Fit yesterday, both my girlfriend and I use it nearly everyday and I find that the variety of the exercises coupled with some pretty serious feedback on weight and BMI make it pretty solid.

While the Strength and Yoga exercises are clearly the standouts, the aerobic isn't soo bad. It's clearly not as good as what you can do by walking out your front door but we do most of the activities anyway. That hula hoop (while ridiculous) is actually pretty taxing when you crank up the time (Super Hula 6 mins), and my girlfriend loves the step stuff.

If for nothing else it's great at getting you to organize your workouts.

The aerobic bits are weak, but the important thing is that I *do* them. I work from home at least 3 days a week, and those mornings are what I've set aside to do Wii Fit... I can't get myself to get dressed up enough to be presentable and walk around the neighborhood in the morning, but I can get myself to turn on the TV, do a little yoga, and get my heart rate up with the aerobics, and hope that I'm burning a little fat.

The biggest thing Wii Fit does for me is not that it gets me in shape, it's that the bar is low enough that I actualy bother to do so...

And there are a few bits in aerobics that are worth it; while the hula-hoop looks goofy, if you really work it hard, oh man, you can reaaaaly feel it, in the muscles and getting the heart rate going. Also, if you punch like you're really punching in the rhythm boxing (and you get into the advanced or expert one) it's a pretty good workout too.

I've done the unattended step thing (where it taps it out on the wiimote) while watching TV for a half hour, too. Enough to burn a few calories and get my heart rate up.

OoCT wrote:
while the hula-hoop looks goofy, if you really work it hard, oh man, you can reaaaaly feel it, in the muscles and getting the heart rate going.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Where the unlocks are most crippling are when you just try and show someone the game. You can't have them take their Mii (all my friends have Miis on my Wii) and hop in to try something. You HAVE to go through the whole process for them, or resort to the limited selection of guest activities.

As for the MP component - I do hear what y'all are saying, and I don't think I really expected more. I just missed it when I realized it wasn't there.

Another pet peeve I have (which has been voiced in many reviews, nothing original here) are the number of steps you have to go through. I really wish I didn't have to keep grabbing the Wiimote.

Yeah to get a mp mode going we take turns.

I don't think I would characterize the game as an "extremely narrow experience."

Also I don't think the unlocks here are a big deal. The locked exercises and games are unlocked quite rapidly without much resistance on the game's part. I didn't feel like hey I want to do exercise A, but I have to spend 4 hours doing exercise B before I can unlock A. Therefore I didn't get the frustrating annoying vibe that the game was trying to extend itself and annoy me by locking up content. Also the nature of the game is that it's meant to be played a little bit everyday long-term. In that context, the locked games and exercises will be unlocked in no time.

I think the DDR mat is a good idea. It seems like it might allow for larger scale physical movement, that might accompany say a dancing lesson game. If you could learn the basics of say swing, or salsa, or flamenco, that would be a pretty useful stepping stone to going into an actual class somewhere with a real live instructor, which I have never had the courage to do.

I think a mat would be better for the yoga as well: are there not certain yoga poses that require a larger mat, such as down dog? I know in an actual yoga class that pose requires a mat that is at least 3 to 4 feet for a full, proper stretch. Also Lunge, Cobra and Bridge poses. I wonder how that little pad accommodates these.

Yeah it's annoying to grab the wiimote and put it down. Rinse and repeat. Sometimes I put it down and then a screen pops up that needs a button press in order for it to go away. OTher times I stuff the wiimote in my pocket and the back button is inadvertently pressed.

I guess I think the guest activities are enough to show someone the game.

A DDR mat is fundamentally different from the balance board.

The platinum age of gaming? What does this miraculous age entail, pray tell?

Otherwise a good summary of Wii Fit. I doubt i'll ever get it but i think it's a good product, not only because of the software included but also the immediate support from third parties that the balance board has garnered...

rabbit wrote:

Another pet peeve I have (which has been voiced in many reviews, nothing original here) are the number of steps you have to go through. I really wish I didn't have to keep grabbing the Wiimote.

I'd pay at least $5 just to have the feature to queue up a list of work-outs. Why must I go back to the menu, select the work-out, confirm that I'm the same f'n person who was on the board 10 seconds ago. And then be told not to hit other people who walk near me. After 30-40 seconds of non-activity I'm finally back to working out.

Elliottx wrote:
rabbit wrote:

Another pet peeve I have (which has been voiced in many reviews, nothing original here) are the number of steps you have to go through. I really wish I didn't have to keep grabbing the Wiimote.

I'd pay at least $5 just to have the feature to queue up a list of work-outs. Why must I go back to the menu, select the work-out, confirm that I'm the same f'n person who was on the board 10 seconds ago. And then be told not to hit other people who walk near me. After 30-40 seconds of non-activity I'm finally back to working out.

They seemingly tested the snot out of this thing. I remain convinced that they did that to mandate a "cool down" between exercises, possibly for liability issues.

I tend to wear shorts with decent size pockets. Using the D-pad to navigate without pulling the remote out speeds the process up a lot.

For indoor aerobics, just get good at Dance Dance Revolution, it is the only game-related-indoor-aerobic-thing-not-involving-crime that I have seen. Songs with 8+ foot ratings on DDR are good pliometric and aerobic training, and DDR on the Wii even has a simplistic fitness tracker built into it.

I'm a gym rat also and can absolutely attest to DDR being good aerobic exercise once you get your chops up to doing the faster expert mode songs.

I think the fundamental problem with WiiFit is that it involves the source of most people's fitness problems--their television--helping them get in shape. It's like your preacher telling you how to be a party drunk. I wouldn't be surprised if WiiFit occasionally said, "That's enough for today, big guy. Why don't you have a beer and relax for a while. You've earned it. Wouldn't a nap be good about now? I hear golf is on..."

Anyway, thanks for the review, it really just confirms that I should take a pass on it.

Frolic wrote:
For indoor aerobics, just get good at Dance Dance Revolution, it is the only game-related-indoor-aerobic-thing-not-involving-crime that I have seen. Songs with 8+ foot ratings on DDR are good pliometric and aerobic training, and DDR on the Wii even has a simplistic fitness tracker built into it.

I'm a gym rat also and can absolutely attest to DDR being good aerobic exercise once you get your chops up to doing the faster expert mode songs.

The Missus and I bought DDR for the PS2 for precisely this reason. We even bought the more expensive soft mat from RedOctane (the one with the dense foam insert). The accuracy still sucks. Sometimes it registers steps when I'm standing still in the middle, while completely ignoring deliberate steps on any random pad.

The consequence is that it's impossible to pass harder difficulties. I don't mind missing steps because I missed the step, but if I make the step I want it to register gosh darnit.

Is the Wii dance pad better? I can't stand it when hardware limitations make me lose a game I should have won. It's the meatspace equivalent of dying because the programmers couldn't be bothered to code a decent camera.

I just found the killer app for the balance board. BodySurf allows you to hook up the balance board to your computer and play Audiosurf using the board as an input. Now the only question is how long till a WiiWare version is out?

Duoae wrote:
The platinum age of gaming? What does this miraculous age entail, pray tell?

De-facto internet connectivity, delivering both game content and platform updates which extend the functionality of both your games and the system. Also, wireless controllers!

Or if you're going by the Nintendo metric, innovative game-player interactions and CASUALNESS!

As for WiiFit, I can't imagine that the aerobics programs are any better than running in place (which is really a crappy, crappy way to get your metabolism churning). The popularity of the Yoga program makes me wonder how long it'll take until someone makes a MyYoga Coach program for it.

Frolic wrote:
For indoor aerobics, just get good at Dance Dance Revolution, it is the only game-related-indoor-aerobic-thing-not-involving-crime that I have seen. Songs with 8+ foot ratings on DDR are good pliometric and aerobic training, and DDR on the Wii even has a simplistic fitness tracker built into it.

I'm a gym rat also and can absolutely attest to DDR being good aerobic exercise once you get your chops up to doing the faster expert mode songs.

I think the fundamental problem with WiiFit is that it involves the source of most people's fitness problems--their television--helping them get in shape. It's like your preacher telling you how to be a party drunk. I wouldn't be surprised if WiiFit occasionally said, "That's enough for today, big guy. Why don't you have a beer and relax for a while. You've earned it. Wouldn't a nap be good about now? I hear golf is on..."

Anyway, thanks for the review, it really just confirms that I should take a pass on it.

I agree on most counts except the plyometrics statement. Plyometrics (essentially development of the improved jumping ability through specialized exercises) is something DDR does not deliver in any form. In DDR, you don't go through series of progressively harder jumps or bounds, pushing your limits. At most, you simply bounce in place to the rhythm, like in boxing.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:
The Missus and I bought DDR for the PS2 for precisely this reason. We even bought the more expensive soft mat from RedOctane (the one with the dense foam insert). The accuracy still sucks. Sometimes it registers steps when I'm standing still in the middle, while completely ignoring deliberate steps on any random pad.

The consequence is that it's impossible to pass harder difficulties. I don't mind missing steps because I missed the step, but if I make the step I want it to register gosh darnit.

Is the Wii dance pad better? I can't stand it when hardware limitations make me lose a game I should have won. It's the meatspace equivalent of dying because the programmers couldn't be bothered to code a decent camera.

I can't attest to the Wii Pad (which is Konami branded) in comparison to the PS2 one, but I will say that using socks (barefeet makes the mat shift too much) I can at least get A's on 8-foot songs and pass the 9 footers. I do feel that the mat plays in a role in not getting AA or better.

We have a second pad purchased under the GameStop brand so our daughter could play with a friend, and that pad is total poo, it has all the problems you mentioned above and in unusable in any serious way.

Thanks for the review Rabbit. I really want to get one, because a little aerobic exercise would be good for me. I am convinced that your fitness level is higher then the norm and it sounds like you outpace the wii fit aerobics. Whereas my 40+ yr old fitness level is just that 40+ and the wii fit is likely all I can handle Having admitted to being an aerobic mess, I can at least claim the ability to do the yoga tree pose without much effort.

cmitts wrote:
Thanks for the review Rabbit. I really want to get one, because a little aerobic exercise would be good for me. I am convinced that your fitness level is higher then the norm and it sounds like you outpace the wii fit aerobics. Whereas my 40+ yr old fitness level is just that 40+ and the wii fit is likely all I can handle Having admitted to being an aerobic mess, I can at least claim the ability to do the yoga tree pose without much effort.

Don't sell yourself short!

While you could certainly use WiiFit as a sort of starter course, there's no better way to work towards aerobic health than getting out there and starting an intro running regiment. There's a few running threads in EE that promote the use of the Couch-to-5k program for anyone looking to get into running. When I started, I could barely jog for the minute-long interval that the first week sets you up for. Currently, I can jog a relaxed pace for about 5-6 minutes at a time (and not feel like my bones are turning to mush/my lungs will explode). I actually went back to the first week program (I didn't want to push too hard one day) and was amazed at how easy it felt. I really had to push my speed to get the same sense of exertion I once felt. Seeing the WiiFit lines jump around might be intellectually rewarding, but knowing that you've actually, physically, improved yourself is a much bigger high.

The benefit of something like the C25k program is that it tells you it's ok to start out at a level that's crazy slow, that it's ok to take a break to rest or to go back to a previous difficulty level if the current ramp is too taxing. It doesn't set you up to fail by pushing you to collapse, it sets you up to improve, to willingly want to challenge yourself.

I think WiiFit's strength is (well, aside from being conscious of your body) its very good Yoga program. It sounds like that's an excellent way to promote stability and increase the average person's flexibility. The aerobic side of things just sounds like a way to get people turned on to the idea of running, hiking, etc.

It seems that many of the unlocks are based on time played, not doing specific exercises (there are unlocks for higher reps that can happen with doing specific things X number of times). Well, my wife happened upon a great little trick. She loaded up her account, handed the controller to our 4 year old son, and let him go to town with the boxing (he loves it). Before you knew it, just about every thing was unlocked in her account.

I do not do much with the balance and cardio portions (I get my cardio at the gym), but I really enjoy the yoga and strength stuff. I have actually seen improvement in how I am able to hold my body with the yoga poses, and the push ups still kick my butt. I refuse to go over 10 reps yet on them.

Good article, Rabbit. I'm waiting for a price drop or some more interesting software, but I really like new peripherals, too, so Wii Fit may be in my future. Speaking of the future, are you saying that even if I become a fitness nut and spend every day doing high impact aerobics, by the time I'm 40 I'll still feel out of shape? That's not good news. What happens if I spend every day not doing high impact aerobics?

Nyles wrote:
Speaking of the future, are you saying that even if I become a fitness nut and spend every day doing high impact aerobics, by the time I'm 40 I'll still feel out of shape? That's not good news. What happens if I spend every day not doing high impact aerobics?

Yes that is what Rabbit is saying. If you spend everyday working out hard, you only feel 'just out of shape'. If you don't do that, you end up like I was/am. Basically an extra 20 lbs. around the middle, joints that don't work like they used to, no wind and a severe uphill battle to get back into a semblance of merely out of shape. I have gotten a lot of my strength back, and am now trying to work on the cardio. My knees are pretty bad so Spaz's suggestions above on running while great only work if your body can handle the pounding. Not really an option for me.

However, I am an avid rock climber (30 years this year) though and am trying to turn it into an aerobic sport (with little success. I climb quickly and do laps up the walls that at least gets the heart beating for a little bit ). I am hoping that the wii-fit will give me a little boost in the cardio area (anything is better then where I am) while helping to increase my strength via the yoga and strength routines.

Spaz wrote:
Duoae wrote:
The platinum age of gaming? What does this miraculous age entail, pray tell?

De-facto internet connectivity, delivering both game content and platform updates which extend the functionality of both your games and the system. Also, wireless controllers!

Or if you're going by the Nintendo metric, innovative game-player interactions and CASUALNESS!

As for WiiFit, I can't imagine that the aerobics programs are any better than running in place (which is really a crappy, crappy way to get your metabolism churning). The popularity of the Yoga program makes me wonder how long it'll take until someone makes a MyYoga Coach program for it.

Who defined this age? And why have i not seen it mentioned before? Plus, which were the silver and golden ages?

I determine all ages by Decree:

Golden age: Pong - NES Launch
Silver Age: SNES Launch-Shadow of the Collosus
Platinum Age: Christmas 2006 - present