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We’re sweating bullets - and we haven’t even stepped onto the board yet. Of all Nintendo’s wacky lifestyle experiments there are none that skirt as close to the game/non-game border as this. Nintendo’s previous jaunts into the realms of mental and ocular betterment have always had gamey connotations - we cannot, after all, pull homemade eye and arithmetic tests out of thin air. But exercise? That’s free to anyone willing to whang around a few cans of baked beans as impromptu dumbbells.
Not only does it sit on the edge of what we understand as gaming, but it challenges our way of life to boot. It states in our contracts that all games must be played slumped in a chair with at least one can of Pepsi within grabbing reach. We’re not part of the National Union of Journalists, but aligned with the National Union of Sitters. In fact, our standing on the balance board elicited gasps from our sister mags’ teams, so shocked were they to see we actually had legs.
The main sweat-maker? The idea that Nintendo may be resting on their laurels - they’re creators extraordinaire, not in the idea-repackaging business. This particularly applies to the muscle conditioning and yoga posing segments in which an on-screen mannequin guides you through a common catalogue of stretches and pulls. Bending to touch your toes? You don’t need Nintendo to tell you to do that. Turning contortionist with an ankle under the armpit? People were adopting the lotus position long before Nintendo was even a glint in Fusajiro Yamauchi’s eye.
And it’s all so lacking in that Nintendo charm. The expanded audience titles may not be brimming with cute characters and silly touches, but at least we had Kawashima’s boxy head giggling at coriander and Professor Lobe strolling the academy to remind us exactly who was behind the steering wheel. But here? Well, there’s the metallic piggy bank that measures time accumulated through in-game activities, but bar his ecstatic squeals as you burn away the calories, this has all the personality of a cold, sterile gym.
You’re guided around by an anthropomorphic balance board named Wiibo, but he/she/it’s an uncharismatic presence. Very much of the Microsoft Office Assistant variety - though not as unholy as Clippy - he teeters around spouting out reams of instructions and dull acronyms. Your BMI (body mass index), your COG (centre of gravity), your target lb loss over X amount of time, a rough calculation of your GROF (gross rolls of fat); people said weight measuring couldn’t be fun, we think ‘people’ may be right on this one.
As in Nintendo’s other training games, the actual testing - the weighing process - is limited to one shot a day. Importing your Mii avatar, you adjust the conditions of your session - although it’s a tad tricky to judge the weight of your clothes when asked (so, best play naked) - and off you go. Having scanned for fat cells, there’s a basic leaning exercise and standing still task to measure your COG - after all, there’s no point in being skinny if you’re a horrific freakazoid hunchback, right?
As far as tests go it seems more trustworthy than Brain Age or Sight Training. In those games it’s possible for your stylus inabilities to contribute to a sloppy rating. With Wii Fit any fool can stand upright and be judged. Adding your own weight goals is a nice touch; a set aim is much more attractive than casual whittling down over time. One does wonder if this idea is in place to remind people that Wii Fit has health implications - while a young brain is desirable to all, adult organs need adult-sized bodies to live in, perpetual weight streamlining leading to an unpleasant, and bony, place.
Divided into four categories the activities work towards three goals: working up a flab-frightening sweat, improving your balance and toning your muscles. Of the task groupings, yoga is as expected; your typical new age faffing with silly names like ‘The Tree’, ‘The Chair’, ‘The Sun Salutation’ and ‘The Sarcastic Taxidermist’. You follow the lead of the on-screen trainer and if you’re doing it right your centre of balance should lie in a certain location, and success is judged by keeping it there.
Call us crazy, but isn’t yoga meant to be relaxing? Having to keep a red dot floating in a sweet spot - this is how your COG is represented on screen - adds unnecessary stress. Yoga isn’t a game, so don’t rate the yogi as if they’d just finished one. Final star ratings make sense for the traditional minigame selection, but are massively out of place here.
It’s a similar story with muscle conditioning - activities not unlike the warm-up stretches our classmates would perform at the beginning of PE while we skived off with claims of ‘feet problems’. Leg-yanking, torso-twisting muscle hurters, they are well demonstrated by the trainers, but what’s the point of forcing you to perform them with a preset COG? It’s as if Wii Fit is suspicious of you not doing the exercises, so it forces you to stand atop the board where your movement can be observed. Big Wiibo is watching you.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, these are exercise options open to you whether or not you decide to invest £70 in Wii Fit and board. Will handing over 70 big ones really motivate you into doing something you weren’t before? We’re not so sure. It certainly hasn’t made tying our bodies in knots any more fun. And so we turn to it as a games device.
Twelve games in total - divided into aerobic exercises (the hectic hip-flailing ones) and balancing games (the straight-up lean-to-control ones) - the resounding vibe is of Wii Play. Simple graphics, Mii incorporation, not too hard to master, little in the way of replay value; this seems to be the tick list for all the titles packaged with Nintendo peripherals (Wii Play and Crossbow Training), raising the question over which bit of the package is worth what. Are we getting a free game with the £70 balance board or a slightly rubbish game with, say, a £40 board? It’s all a bit of a mystery.
Saying that, like Wii Play and Crossbow Training, it’s not without its charms. Board calibration is impressive, the ease and enjoyment of ski slalom, snowboarding and the Kororinpa-like marble drop is testament to the one-to-one mapping. Other games translate simpler actions to delightful effect. Wobbling your hips and seeing your hula-hooping Mii follow suit is hilariously out there, as is heading invisible footballs in your living room.
Stepping on and off the board for some step aerobics and boxercise shows more hidden depths, even though these games play like Dance Dance Revolution redesigned for the fun allergic. Problems are more evident in the iceberg tilting penguin challenge and tightrope task. Angling the ’berg to slide your Mii towards fish and teetering to stay atop a wire are both technically fine, but the fun is soon exhausted. Contrary to popular belief, your face in a penguin costume is only so funny. Difficulty levels add new obstacles, but the skill that wobbled you through the first iteration is rarely challenged. This isn’t to mention the god-awful ‘sit still and stare at a candle’ task, one of the laziest ‘games’ since Ninja Reflex asked us to stare at a pause, sorry, meditation screen.
You can look at Wii Fit in two ways. On one hand it’s a pretty comprehensive selection of exercises, cleanly presented and given a novel twist thanks to the board. Alternatively, you can see it as a series of lacklustre tasks that beautifully demonstrate the technical abilities of the board, decorated with the silly lifestyle trappings we’re willing to overlook as long as Nintendo keep delivering the proper gaming goods. We have no doubts that the board will eventually become a must buy, but here and now, for £70? That’s heavy.
Apr 29, 2008