Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wii Fit Impressions

We picked up Wii Fit last Wednesday, and here are some initial impressions after about five hours of use. That five hours consists of about three hours for me, and two hours of watching Gloria and Eli 6.9

First, I'm very impressed with the quality of the balance board. It's a sturdy, well-built piece of hardware, and it's much more solid than I expected. The sensing rate also is much higher than I expected, as it's quite good in detecting minute changes in balance.

The dimensions of the controller are 20"x11.5". My shoe size is 11.5, and if my feet were any longer, I don't think they'd fit. So if your feet are size twelve or larger, I'm not sure that all of your foot will fit on the board. That may not matter, but Bigfoot beware.

Here's what happens you first start up the game. You'll enter your height, get weighed, and do a few simple balance tests. Then your B.M.I. and "Fitness Age" will be calculated.

None of this matters, really, except to establish a record of your weight, which is useful.

One you've done the initial fitness test, you can start with the activities. They're divided into four areas: balance (yoga), strength (yoga), aerobic, and games. There are fifteen possible yoga poses for balance, and twelve for strength (plus three "fitness challenges"), but only a third of those are available at first. "One-third available" is also true of the aerobics and balance games area (which have fewer total activities overall). However, new activities seem to get unlocked about every ten minutes of usage, so it's not difficult to increase what's available.

Both yoga areas are excellent. It's certainly not the same as having a live instructor, but as tool for increasing your flexibility and strength, it's very satisfying. You can mirror an instructor's movements for each pose, and you're getting real-time feedback on your balance as well. To me, this makes a huge difference in understanding where each posture should be centered.

Once all the poses are unlocked, there are twenty-seven available, and doing them all would take about 40 minutes. Also, as you progress, you'll be unlocking higher difficulty levels (more reps).
Again, it's not a high-level workout, but it's certainly solidly in the mid-level category (if you want to push it that far), which would be just fine for 90%+ of the population. There are also so many people who are just too intimidated to sign up for a fitness class, and Wii Fit would be an excellent introduction. The carrots are nice, too--you get points for your balance rating on each pose, and you can see a graph of how your balance changed while your were posing.

The only thing I don't like about the yoga sections, and I think it's a big miss, is that you need to press "A" or "B" on the Wiimote to advance through certain screens, which means you're picking up the remote frequently. I don't understand why they didn't implement a double-tap with your foot on the board to replace pressing a button on the Wiimote. What's particularly surprising about this is that Wii Fit, in general, has excellent design.

The Aerobics section is unquestionably the weakest area, by far, of the program. The balance board just isn't suited for aerobic activity, although the step aerobics probably come closest. Don't expect Wii Fit to give you an aerobic workout. It can make you more flexible, and it can make you stronger, but it's not going to make you fit in an aerobic sense.

The games are interesting, and most of them make excellent use of the balance board. Ski slalom, snowboarding, ski jumping, and "table tilt" (you tilt a table to move balls into holes) are all a blast to play. Tightrope walking, "balance bubble" (think the bubble levels in SMG), and penguin slide (tilting on an ice flow to catch fish) are not as interesting, but still decent. There's one game I haven't unlocked.

Overall, I'm very impressed. It's another example of Nintendo using the Wii for something more interesting than sitting on the couch. I also think the balance board has huge potential for additional use. A few examples:
--surfing (my #1 hope)
--advanced yoga. Unlimited potential here.
--skateboarding (already announced by EA)
--Super Monkey Ball
--Winter Olympics games (skiing, skating, etc.)

I also think it might be possible to use the balance board in conjunction with the Wiimote, which would allow for some very advanced control opportunities. Imagine walking/running in an RPG with the balance board, then fighting with the Wiimote (while still standing on the balance board, and your balance could affect the strength of your blows).

Along those lines, a karate game, or a karate training program, would be all kinds of fun.

Really, Wii Fit isn't a game so much as a platform, and the way it's selling (hotcakes), the platform should be well supported in the future. It's another interesting input device from Nintendo that can change how we play games.

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