In some ways, the American obsession with health is almost comical. As the world’s fattest nation, we’re always mesmerized by the newest gimmick promising to give us smaller bellies, a tighter butt, or bigger biceps. Problem is, these quick-fix schemes never work, and our national obesity rate marches ever higher as we munch on fast food meals packed with enough calories to handle our bodily needs for a week, all the while sitting on the couch wondering why the people on TV look so much better than we do. Now, Nintendo has decided to get a piece of the fitness action with the wildly popular Wii Fit, and while it’s no panacea for your weight woes, used regularly it’s not a bad supplement to more strenuous exercise.
Wii Fit is the first game to make use of the Balance Board peripheral which is packed in with the title. This newest piece of plastic to clutter up your home is actually mildly useful, with the ability to give you accurate weight measurements as well as tracking your center of gravity. To its credit, the board is incredibly responsive, able to shift even the tiniest tremors in your balance, and responding accordingly on-screen. Nintendo has big plans for the contraption, and if its debut is any gauge, it could very well be one of the few extra devices the company sells that’s actually worth the price of admission.
As for the game (if you can call it that), Wii Fit acts as a sort of digital trainer, monitoring your weight and body mass index (BMI), and allowing you to track changes in your body’s composition. Upon first booting up Wii Fit, you are asked to create a profile using one of your Miis which will act as your home base for the rest of the experience. After getting your initial weight and BMI, the title will ask you what you want your exercise goal to be. This can be simple and quick, such as shedding a pound this week, or long and far-reaching, like dropping 20 lbs in six months.
Once you’ve set a goal, the game will ask you to take daily body tests in order to keep track of how you’re doing. While this seems like a good idea, many fitness experts agree that it’s actually one of the worst fitness ideas out there because it simply provides you with too much information. Since weight can vary by 2-3 lbs a day, you may be doing everything right, but still end up putting on weight due to water retention or slow digestion. It doesn’t help that when days like this occur, the game then prompts you to tell it why you’re getting fatter, instead of just letting it go. While a few consecutive days losing weight may really keep you motivated, the second that progress plateaus or reverses, it’s very difficult to keep going when you know that a video game is going to call you out.
Making matters worse is the fact that Wii Fit uses BMI to measure fitness, which is widely accepted to be one of the worst methods for calculating fitness. This method plugs your weight and height into a formula and spits out a number without accounting for body composition in any way. Therefore, a short, muscular person would easily qualify as overweight according to BMI (muscle is denser than fat, and therefore weighs more), and then be subjected to staring at a tubby onscreen Mii while the game lectures them about being healthier. While it’s impossible for the Balance Board to really measure body fat or health any other way, it might have been a better idea to scrap the whole concept of including BMI altogether and simply stick with measurements of weight alone.
When the game is done antagonizing you for not being the ideal height and weight, you can move onto the training exercises, which provide you with ways to work different muscle groups while improving cardiovascular health and flexibility. The main workout modes are divided into strength training, yoga, and aerobic exercises, each of which features a number of different experiences to help you burn fat and improve your physical well-being. For example, strength training features push-up and side plank exercises, as well as leg lifts and jackknife crunches. Yoga runs you through popular poses such as sun salutation, warrior, and chair, while the aerobic activities include running in place and rhythm boxing.
The training sessions are alright, and if you take them seriously, you can work up a good sweat, but some seem nearly useless and none of them flow together in any manner. Wii Fit provides two virtual trainers to lead you through workouts, but they really can’t offer any advice beyond making sure you keep your balance inside the circles denoted on the screen. I’ve done I don’t know how many sets of rowing squats, but I’m still not sure what muscles I’m supposed to be working. Sadly, even after watching the training video many times, I’m still stumped.
Another major issue with the exercises is that you can’t do multiple sets without constantly going through all the intro and outro screens over and over, and there is no way to set up the game to run through a series of exercises in a row. This is most problematic when doing the yoga training, as in actual yoga sessions flowing from one pose into another is an integral part of the experience. In Wii Fit, you have to do an exercise, leave, select a new one, wait for it to load and then wait for your trainer to start all before you can jump back in. For some people it may not be a big deal, but for anyone who enjoys an uninterrupted exercise regiment which moves from one station to the next quickly and efficiently, constantly jumping screens and repositioning the Balance Board will eventually become tiresome.
As for the exercises themselves, nearly all of them do a good job of addressing key areas of health, and you’ll likely feel like you’ve put forth a great deal of exertion once you’ve finished. One day when I felt particularly sassy I decided to do one set of all the strength training exercises followed by one set of the yoga exercises, and by the time the last set ended, I was spent. The title can give you a strenuous workout, but you have to find it for yourself; there’s no way for Wii Fit to set it up for you.
As mentioned above, when you enter any of the actual training modes, you are paired up with a trainer, but unfortunately, the individuals you work with are poorly rendered and supremely uninspiring. Each trainer looks like the early drafts of a character model rather than the finished product, lacking any sort of detail or defining characteristics, while their personalities are as flat as the 2D space they inhabit. I can see the problem if Nintendo had chosen to go with over-the-top trainers who looked like Marcus from Gears of War or one of the Dead or Alive babes, but there had to be a medium better than this. The boring look of the trainers, coupled with the fact that most exercises take place in a sterile gym environment mean that you definitely won’t keep coming back to Wii Fit for the atmosphere. If I wanted to work out in a room full of mirrors with an instructor droning on and on in the front of the room, I’d just join a health club. It would have been nice if the exercises were instead incorporated into some kind of game or theme, but since they weren’t we’ll just have to make do.
Aside from the actual exercises, Wii Fit offers a few balance games in order to round out the experience, but you likely won’t spend long with these offerings. Table Tilt (where you lean your body to direct balls to roll through holes in platforms) is a fairly enjoyable experience, as is the ski jump mini-game, but everything else is just a hackneyed distraction used to try and show off the Balance Board and make you feel like you actually bought a game instead of just a virtual gym. While the balance games can make for a fun way to cool down after a session of hard exercise, you likely won’t pop the game in just to play them. They are definitely the side dish in this affair.
One big question about how you handle progression and keeping people interested in a title like this is handled wonderfully by Wii Fit. When you start out, you’ll only have a few exercises with a low number of repetitions available, but all that can be enhanced by adding Wii Fit credits. For every minute that you work out a credit goes into your bank, and as you spend more time on the game more exercises and repetitions are unlocked. It’s a good way to keep you coming back for more, as you’ll constantly want to see what new events are available as well as if you can handle a few more reps on some old favorites. It will likely take you a week or two to gain access to everything, and hopefully by that time you’ve already made such a routine out of hopping on Wii Fit that you won’t need much more incentive after that.
When it comes right down to i,t you have to realize what Wii Fit can and can’t do for your health. While it can help you stay active on days you don’t want to go to the gym, it’s still not a replacement for a full exercise regimen, complete with equipment and weights. Using Wii Fit as a supplement to your activities is great; trying to qualify it as your activities doesn’t really work. Still, it’s better than nothing, and you may even manage to lose a few pounds if you stick with it and keep to your training. Like every other fitness fad, the fundamentals of healthy living are in there; you just have to have the gumption to stick with it.
So put down the burger, grab some carrots, and get moving. You won’t turn from flab to fab overnight, but Wii Fit will do what it can to help you get there.