Exercise-oriented video games aren’t new, but Wii Fit is certainly the most technically advanced one yet. Fun games like snowboarding, Hula Hoop, and tightrope keep it from being tedious. The ingenious Balance Board tracks your center of gravity, and although we’re skeptical about its fitness evaluation criteria, a few weeks of use has noticeably improved our balance. We wish you could save your own workout routines, and we advise against taking it too seriously as a fitness tool, but overall we’re impressed with Wii Fit, and the Balance Board has lots of potential as a controller.
On Your Mark
Wii Fit comes on a single disc, and the package includes the Balance Board, which measures 20 x 12 x 2 inches and weighs a little over 8 pounds. The board communicates wirelessly with the Wii console, and it runs on four AA batteries (included) for around 60 hours of use. You can check remaining battery life by hitting the Home button on the Wiimote, and the board’s battery shows up under the P4 header.
The four feet on the bottom are balance sensors; they’ll conform to most surfaces, or you can attach the feet extensions for high-pile carpets. The sturdy board also has rubber bumpers on the outside corners so you can easily stand it up on its side for storage.
Make sure you have plenty of space around the board for your arms and legs to swing freely. Flying Wiimotes were a typical problem for Wii Sports games like tennis; this time the danger is from kicking over your TV or lamp while trying to execute Warrior Pose. Also, the balance board supports up to 330 pounds; if you’re beyond that, you’re better off with a real trainer and equipment.
Setup begins with an automatic Wii console update asking you to update it so it can work with Wii Fit. The update comes from the disc and takes less than 30 seconds. Then you pair the Balance Board and console by opening up the board’s battery compartment and the console’s SD slot to press each device’s Sync buttons. In our testing, pairing was immediate, indicated by the solid blue LED on the board’s power button. Unfortunately you can only pair a single board at a time with the Wii, which inhibits multiplayer gaming.
After entering some personal info like height, weight, and age, the Wii Fit calculated our body mass index (BMI) and gave us a little lecture on how poorly people generally take care of themselves. Then it checked our center of gravity and took us through some basic balance tests to determine our body control. (Afterwards, it asked us if we trip when we walk.)
Based on these tests and our personal data and BMI, it calculated our “Wii Fit age” as 9 years older than we actually are. The game isn’t rude about it if it thinks you need to shape up, but you’d still better have some thick skin.
The system then prompted us to set a goal for the next 2 weeks (we wanted to lose 5 lbs), and you can view your start date and progress on the large calendar. You can also check your progress on a graph and change your settings, or go to Wii Fit Plaza to add new profiles and change system settings.
The Wii Fit game retains the Wii’s “cute” interface, with animated icons and slightly tongue-in-cheek (but still friendly) attitude. The graphics aren’t meant
You can choose a friendly and encouraging male or female virtual trainer, and each time you complete an exercise, the system logs it, tracking your time and progress and giving you credits towards unlocking new exercises. (Incidentally, the system constantly reminds you to keep good posture, but the trainers seem to favor leaning on one leg!)
Most of the exercises are short and very basic to start with, but as you do more, you unlock longer times or more reps (depending on the exercise), as well as new exercises. For our initial workout, we completed 30 minutes worth of exercises from the four groups. We love that it times you only while you’re actually doing exercise, so you don’t get credit for checking your email in between sessions.
The most valuable aspect of the virtual trainer is that you can press the arrow keys on the Wiimote to change the camera angle and view the trainer from the front or back. The trainers also give you plenty of feedback on how you’re doing, as well as the same moderately corny encouragement you’d expect from a real trainer.
Image Courtesy of Nintendo
The game comes with four types of exercise: Yoga, strength training, aerobics, and balance. The game automatically populates a Favorites with your most frequently played games and exercises. You get credits for each exercise you complete, which go towards your time total for the day and unlock new exercises, games, or difficulty levels.
Progress Chart Screenshot
The Yoga poses start off very simple and easy, with deep breathing and some very light stretches. You’re supposed to time your breaths to coincide with an expanding and contracting circle on-screen, and the exercises are very short. Even though we’d had plenty of yoga classes over the years, the Wii told us our balance could use some work, especially given the board’s high sensitivity. Tree pose and the sun salutation may be easy on a mat, but when your balance is being tracked and displayed on-screen, it puts a little pressure on you to improve.
Exercises go at quick good pace, but you can always watch a demo of a pose before trying it yourself. Each time you rack up enough points by keeping your balance during exercises, you unlock either a new pose or a greater number of repetitions. Some poses look fairly daunting, like the shoulder stand (the last pose to unlock), but they’re still within reach of most healthy people.
These included various types of push-ups, plank poses, squats, and leg lifts, geared towards improving core strength and muscle tone. Some of the exercises can be quite difficult and may require working up to if you’re a couch potato, but we didn’t have too much trouble completing any of the items.
Like with the yoga poses, your score is generally determined by how well you keep your balance. You can push yourself by choosing more reps as you unlock them.
If you’re looking to sweat, this is the section for you. Jogging, Hula Hoop, Rhythm Boxing, and Richard Simmons-esque step exercises will keep you breathing pretty heavy. The jogging doesn’t use the Balance Board; you just stick the Wiimote in a pocket or hold it in your hand, and the game interpolates your “running” by tracking how much the remote moves. Of the bunch, we found Hula Hoop most addictive.
Hula Hoop Screenshot
With genuinely enjoyable games like Snowboarding, Skiing, and Tightrope Walking, we think the balance games section is the most fun. There’s even a bizarre game where you’re a man dressed as a penguin trying to balance yourself on an ice float and catching fish that happen to jump up on it.
The balance games challenge you to shift your weight subtly from one foot to the other, and they’re a lot tougher than they seem at first. But these are the games that most users will find themselves playing again and again just for the fun, not necessarily for the exercise. And along with the yoga poses, they’re the best practice for improving your sense of balance and strengthening your core muscles.
The Balance Board is one of the coolest game controllers we’ve used, and it has lots of potential for applications beyond Wii Fit’s current crop of exercises and games. We’d love to see extension packs for Wii Fit with new games like surfing and ice skating. We’d also like to see more multiplayer opportunities enabled by pairing multiple boards with the Wii simultaneously.
The exercises and fitness tracking/monitoring tools are there if you want them, and we were able to reach our goal of losing 5 pounds in three weeks, but if you’re serious about getting in shape you”ll get faster results by going out and running, swimming, or cycling. The balance games and aerobic activities are fun for everyone and are worth the price alone; the fact that you’re improving your body (however subtly) is a big bonus.
Don’t get us wrong, we still love our Grand Theft Auto, Motor Storm, and Halo 2, but the Wii Fit hits us somewhere those games don’t. Maybe it’s in the legs and abs.
• Improves sense of balance
• Easy setup and cute interface
• Good mix of fun and exercise
• Challenging and goal-oriented
• Occasionally made us feel bad about ourselves
• You can’t set up a customized workout
• Questionable fitness evaluation abilities
• Only one board can be synced with a Wii at a time