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Wii Fit is a game — though it might be better described as an application — released for the Nintendo Wii console in the spring of 2008. It emphasizes a healthy lifestyle by providing the means with which to exercise, measure center of balance and posture and offering information about nutrition and fitness. Its central component is the Wii Balance Board, a battery-powered board that detects and measures weight and motion.

It draws some of its inspiration from the fitness component of Wii Sports, which gives players three random fitness tests and determines their "fitness age" based on their results. They can then follow their progress on a graph. Creator Shigeru Miyamoto has also said that he was inspired by his own fitness regimen, which involved weighing himself and plotting the results on a graph on a daily basis. Wii Fit takes these concepts to another level.

Wii Fit is published by Nintendo, which says the game cannot guarantee weight loss but is intended to promote exercise and healthy living. It is advertised as working best when used as a supplement to a regular exercise program.

How it works

The game features two distinct sections: "training" and "body test." The test consists of a weigh-in, a center of balance measurement and two balance or agility tests. After the tests have been completed, the system calculates the player's "Wii Fit Age," an approximation of how old his or her body is. The results of this portion should be taken with a grain of salt, of course.

The setup process for a gamer profile asks for the player's birthdate and height. These are used to help calculate the Wii Fit Age later on.

Wii Fit calculates balance and weight using the Wii Balance Board, the weight-sensitive board packaged with the game disc. The Balance Board has a weight limit of 300 pounds. When calculating the player's weight, the game asks for an approximation of how heavy his or her clothes are. Not only does it provide a numerical figure, it also places the player into a category based on his or her height/weight ratio using the body mass index. The BMI is controversial, of course, but it's what the game uses. Again, grain of salt.

The second mode, training, is divided into four different subsections: yoga, strength, aerobics and balance games. Each of these sections contains numerous activities, though players only start out with a few and must unlock the rest by logging Wii Fit Credits (minutes).

Wii Fit Credits are logged in the Wii Fit Bank, an electronic piggy bank on the main menu screen. The bank's display toggles between the total number of minutes spent working out that day and from the time the player started a Wii Fit profile. At the end of each workout activity, the number of credits/minutes accumulated are displayed and then added to the bank. It's at this point that the player is informed about newly unlocked activities, if he or she accumulates enough credits after an activity.

During setup, the player is asked to select a digital personal trainer. It's not a terribly difficult decision, as the only choices are the male or the female. This avatar demonstrates how to perform yoga and strength activities in a gym setting, complete with mirrors so the player can see how the moves are performed from both the front and back.

The games

Strength activities focus on toning and building muscle, while yoga activities emphasize balance and posture. These two types of activities feature the personal trainer the gamer chose earlier. The aerobics and balance games make use of the Mii, the cartoon-like avatar the gamer created to represent him or herself in a variety of Wii games.

Most of the yoga and strength exercises are real exercises found in books and fitness classes around the world. The balance and aerobics exercises are more like variations on existing fitness activities (such as running, step classes) with "fun" alternatives, such as hula hoop marathons and ski jumping (which, while requiring a great deal of concentration, balance and skill, is not offered as an option at most gyms).

The balance games include ski and snowboard slaloms, ski jumping, soccer ball heading (while avoiding cleats and the rather nonsensical panda heads also coming your way), navigating a river while encased in a bubble, tightrope walking, an arcade-style game called "Table Tilt" — shift your centre of balance to knock balls into a hole on a platform — a more cartoon-like game requiring the player to shift from side to side in order to help a large penguin catch fish and, finally, a game called Lotus Focus that requires a complete lack of motion. Players sit in the lotus position on the Wii Balance Board as a candle is shown on the screen. Despite noises suggesting someone is coming up behind him or her, or other creepy stuff, the player must remain still in order to keep the candle's flame stable.

Players' performances are rated by measuring their center of balance throughout the duration of each activity. Some of the aerobics activities, such as the step dances and runs, measure rhythm and speed in order to determine a score. A few of the others activities also use time as a measuring factor. Depending on how the player does, the effort is ranked using a star ranking system. One star denotes a subpar performance; four stars is considered excellent.

After performing well at a handful of the activities, the player can unlock more advanced stages of the same games. These include additional repetitions for strength activities, longer runs, more advanced step classes or rhythm boxing exercises and harder balance games. These are unlocked after good performances in the regular levels. New and different activities must be unlocked through the accumulation of Wii Fit Credits.

Wii Fit retails for a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $100 US.

Reviews

The game is not going to turn a couch potato into a bodybuilder, but a handful of technology journalists marked its release by using it on a regular basis and blogging the results. Many of them reported having lost a few pounds over the course of a few weeks, but more importantly feeling more refreshed and rejuvenated. In my own experience, depending on which activities I use, the experience feels not unlike a half hour at the gym.

While it's true the game obviously does not provide the same health values as a regular workout, supervised by a personal trainer or not, some trainers have advocated it as a good idea for lower key "off day" training. For instance, a person who works out four or five times a week might choose to put in a half hour of Wii Fit on the days when he or she doesn't hit the gym. It can't hurt.

The game was intensely popular immediately following its release, creating something of a shortage of units available at retail stores. This, as it did with the console itself when it was first released, created some serious hype.

On the other hand, some gamers have decried Nintendo's growing focus on the casual gaming market and cite Wii Fit as an example. By appealing to non-traditional gamers in this manner, they say, the company is able to make money without producing the types of games they've come to know and love (think Zelda and Mario and Metroid and the like). Granted, this reaction wasn't brought on exclusively by Wii Fit — Brain Age, Cooking Mama and others get some of the blame, too.

Personally, I think Wii Fit is a fun way to get people off their couches, if nothing else. It may not be a serious workout, but once I became obsessed with beating my own high scores at the step games, it started to feel like one. Since snagging a copy when an HMV near my apartment unexpectedly got a shipment, I've put in at least 15 minutes almost every day. My weight has remained consistent (which is fine), but I've noticed my posture improving.

On that note, Wii Fit gets serious points from me for putting a major emphasis on balance and posture. I found it worth buying, but it may not be everyone's cup of tea.

References

Nintendo of America: Wii Fit < http://nintendo.com/wiifit >
Wikipedia: Wii Fit < en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wii_Fit >
Wired: Me and Wii Fit, one month later < blog.wired.com/games/2008/03/me-and-wii-fit.html >
Wii Fit - Diet Review < www.dietsinreview.com/diets/Wii_Fit/ >
Game Spy: Wii Fit Review < wii.gamespy.com/wii/wii-fit/875887p1.html >

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