Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Closer Look at Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus

A Closer Look at Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus for the Nintendo Wii
(go figure!)

“My name is Stan and I lost 35 lbs. on the Wii Fit plan, and you can too!”
Stan Before: A Giant Pant-Load
Stan After: Damn Handsome

Sounds too go too be true?  Well, bizarre as this is, it is true.  I did lose 35 lbs. thanks to Wii Fit (and some dietary amendments), and today I’m going to tell you how.

My wife ordered this thing so that it would arrive at our home or release day.  An exercise game?  I had about as much interest in this “game” as Benedict Arnold at a loyalty convention. How much fun can it be to have a video game tell you that you are fat and then “encourage” you to do something about it?  No thanks, I’ll pass.  But, it comes with this new peripheral, some kind of “balance board” that is going to open all kinds of new doors in the gaming world.  When I heard “balance board” I was thinking some kind of “Pogo Ball” contraption that was going to result in a lot of skinned knees and elbows and some broken furniture.  This “Wii Fit” thing was shaping up to be the biggest waste of money since Zima.  Great.

The day it came, I was at work (of course), but my wife was at home anxiously awaiting the arrival of this beast.  Before I could get there, she was calling me, trying to describe just how awesome it was and how she had already worn herself out doing all of the activities and playing all the games.  Despite her enthusiasm, I was still envisioning something more along the lines of Richard Simmons, a medicine ball and a sheet of plywood in my living room.  And yet, I went home that afternoon anyway…

Fortunately, the people at Nintendo are smarter than I am, and they had this whole thing figured out way ahead of time.  I should have trusted them, after all I was skeptical of the Wii Remote before it hit, back when they were calling it a “wand,” and that turned out to be one of the most innovative controllers since the D-Pad.   But I digress.  Allow me to start by saying the “Balance Board” was far slicker than my imagination ever gave it credit for.  The thing is sleek, and nothing like the see-saw that the words “balance board” evokes.  Basically it is like a super-smart step aerobics platform.  Just by standing on it, it can tell the Wii Fit game all kinds of personal information about you including where you put the majority of your weight when you stand, and even if you flap your arms or wiggle your bum.  Just seeing the quality of this peripheral filled me with a bit more confidence and emboldened me to give Wii Fit a bit of a chance.

Excitedly, my wife encouraged me to set up my profile and get started.  The game asks some personal information and compiles the data into a profile for you that includes, most importantly, your Body Mass Index (BMI).  It is this number that will be your barometer for success during your Wii Fit journey.  Next you’ll have to weigh in.  This step is not for the faint of heart and you are probably going to be shocked at the result, but hang in there, things will get better!  In the interest of full disclosure, I weighed in around 235lbs. my first time.  The game then proceeded to tell me I was “obese.”  While the game is encouraging, it is also brutally honest.  Be ready.
The good news is, after the game is done telling you that you are a giant pantload, it helps you create a plan to rectify that condition. Step one in this process is setting a fitness goal to work toward; this goal is based on your BMI.  Using your original BMI as a launch point, the game will tell you your “ideal” BMI and then ask you to set a goal working toward that number. (I say “ideal” because one of the game’s only flaws is to undervalue things like muscle mass and body type, thus your ideal may be unrealistic) After setting your goal (chose conservatively, as chances are good getting started is going to be tough), you are ready to move on to the real meat of the game: the workout.

Wii Fit’s real strength is the variety of workouts and depth of customization available to you.  There are four categories to choose from: Yoga, Strength Training, Aerobics, and Balance Games.  Each category provides a number of activities to participate in and different, increasing levels of difficulty therein. The Yoga section provides a pretty standard compliment of yoga poses and stretches that provide an exceptional warm-up routine and a great way to let go of some stress.  The Strength Training selections will really give your entire body a workout.  It is here that you are going to find out just how out of shape you are.  There are a number of different exercises that work your entire body.  In the Aerobics section you will find a handful of sweat-inducing activities that will push you to burn those calories you picked up from that box of Klondike bars.  While some are repetitive, like running in place or step-aerobics, others are a bit more engaging like the Boxing and Hula Hoop programs.  Finally, the area that will likely get the most play, Balance Games provides a slew of different games that will test your ability to utilize your center of gravity.  This is probably the most “fun” section of the four, but the games do work to your advantage.  A well-balanced work-out includes a mix of activities from all of these categories, but you are free to do as much or as little as you like.  The more you do an activity and the better you get at it, you will unlock more advanced versions that push you even further.  This helps keep the game challenging and fresh for a while…
My personal favorite is the Yoga section.  Up to this point I had always viewed yoga as kind of goofy, but after doing some via Wii Fit, I have been converted.  The stretches are diverse and there is no pretension when you are bending your butt over your head in the comfort of your own living room.  I also like the Balance Games when I need a break or for a light, relaxing jaunt after a hard day at work.  The Aerobics are hit and miss, but the Boxing and Basic Run activities are what I go for when I need to work up a sweat.  My least favorite is definitely the Strength Training, but this may be mostly due to the fact that I have a physically demanding job that gives me a pretty good strength workout already.  This is not to say that the exercises are bad, they simply do not appeal to me as much as they may others.

Part of your workout experience is getting to select the trainer you work with.  This trainer is designed to introduce you to each activity, monitor your progress, and encourage you to do better.  You may select from either a male or female trainer.  This feature is extremely helpful in making sure you are doing the activities properly and getting the most benefit from each (you’ll not need them in the Aerobics or Balance Game sections).  Plus, I think I developed a crush on my female trainer, but no amount of pleading or coercion could get her out of her warm-up suit, so I think my love will go unrequited.

At the end of each workout, your little balance board buddy (another helpful in-game pal) will record your workout time both for the day and overall.  You may also track your stats more specifically through your profile where you can see how much time you spend on each kind of activity as well as how you are progressing toward your overall goal.  There is even a section where you can record activities you do outside of Wii Fit, although they will not count to your time in the game.  Ultimately, Wii Fit wants to be your workout guide directing you toward a fitter you.

And such a thing is possible, but only if you keep it up.  Wii Fit isn’t a game you play once in a while, or take off the shelf and play intensely for a week or two, then put away for a few months.  Wii Fit is a commitment.  Make no mistake.  If you are not in this to lose some weight and workout on a consistent basis, then maybe you should stick to HALO online and Cheetos.  But for those looking for a change for the better, it can be accomplished with help from this game.  The key is consistency.  The game will even tell you that you will get the best results by spending at least 30 minutes each day doing something, anything, in the game.  At the very least, you are encouraged to do what is called a daily “Body Test.”  This test is a simple 5 minute process that basically amounts to weighing in and playing a few simple balance games.  It will enable the game to monitor your progress and give you a Wii Fit age based on how well you perform the balance games.  The age is entirely arbitrary, but the real value is the weigh-in as it will tell you if the work you are doing is paying off.  Your Body Test results are recorded on your calendar and charted on a graph to help you keep track of your efforts. To make keeping up with your Body Test even easier, the good people at Nintendo offer a Wii Fit Channel free of charge that allows you access to the Body Test without even needing the game disc.  Nintendo is doing everything they can to get that large pizza off your hips, the rest is up to you!

Recently, the good people at Nintendo realized what I did about a year ago: after a while, Wii Fit can get a little stale.  Oh, sure, there are lots of activities and things to unlock, and you can probably always stand to lose a little more weight, but it would be nice to inject some fresh life into your routine, especially after doing the Expert Boxing activity 30 days in a row.  As if sensing that my resolve was faltering, and it was, Nintendo announced the upcoming release of Wii Fit Plus, an all-new expansion to my existing Wii Fit that would include a bevy of new exercises and an even greater level of customization!  Could it be?
It could, and more!  Wii Fit Plus arrived about a month ago and breathed new life into my flagging interest in the original base game.  Wii Fit Plus features a host of new activities scattered across the four categories (but accessible via the “Training Plus” menu) as well as a new feature that enables you to create your own specific workout routines.  I’ll get to the cool new activities in a second, but first let me extol the virtues of this new “My Wii Fit Plus” feature, following the jump.

Perhaps the most significant addition Wii Fit Plus brings is a much greater depth in your workout experience.  The game now offers a MET rating for each activity.  This rating gives you an idea of how much of a workout the activity will give you.  The higher the MET rating the more work you’ll be doing.  This lets you select activities based on intensity.  The game also tracks calories burned. For each activity you’ll see how much time you spent and also how many calories you burned.  This is an exceptional new feature.  Before, you just worked your butt off and hoped that the time you spent went to sweating away that Angry Whopper you just ate, but now you can analyze your benefit in greater detail and, if you are so inclined, decide if you need to extend or shorten your workout based on that information.  “My Wii Fit Plus” also gives you the option to either chose from preset workout routines comprised of three smartly collected activities from the main game or create your own routine from activities found in the Yoga and Strength Training menus.  While I wish you could build your own routines with activities from every menu, the pre-existing routines are pretty solid and you can certainly combine those routines with each other or some you build yourself.  These new areas of greater depth create a lot more options and a lot more to do with the original base program and give you much greater control over your workout experience.  Heck, you can even set your cat, dog, or baby (yeah, they are all pretty much considered the same and why not?) up with a Wii Fit profile now, although all you can really do is track their weight!

Wii Fit Plus also features over 15 new activities to add some life into your regimen.   From skateboarding to running the gauntlet, these activities provide new challenges and interesting advancements in the use of the Wii balance board.  For instance, in the Obstacle Course activity, you will navigate a gauntlet style obstacle course filled with swinging wrecking balls, floating platforms, icy floors and perilous jumps and you do this entirely by walking on the balance board.  The fundamental action is no different than what you might find in a basic platformer like Super Mario Bros. only you are living it!  Other activities like the Island Cycling, Basic Run Plus, and Rhythm Parade refresh and build upon pre-existing, perhaps less fun, activities like Basic Run and Basic Step.  There are also 3 new Yoga and Strength Activities specifically for advanced users and let me tell you, they live up to that billing.  I can do exactly two of the six without risking serious injury!  These new activities are certainly welcome additions and bring new levels of engagement to your workout routine.
Perhaps the best thing about Wii Fit Plus is that will only run you $19.99 new and it runs seamlessly with your existing Wii Fit.  This means you can boost your fitness and not go broke at the same time.  Heck you can take that $35 a week you spend on Doritos (since you won’t be eating them anymore, will you?) and pay for the Wii Fit Plus without dipping into your salad funds!!

Final Look
Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus are two exceptionally well executed exercise programs for the Nintendo Wii.  While not as serious or hardcore as some of the more intense fitness “games,” both provide a simple and fun approach to getting in shape.  Whether you are looking to drop some poundage or just tone up, Wii Fit brings something to the table for everyone.  The “game” is as deep and complex as you want it to be and there is sufficient customization and diversity to make the game as personal or as general as you see fit.  The activities range in intensity, but all are designed to be pick-up-and-play for pretty much any able bodied person.  The use of the balance board peripheral is exceptional and innovative, and it should be since this is the game developed to introduce and show it off.

But I think the biggest success of Wii Fit is the fact that it actually does work.  Sure, you still have to do stuff on your end, a smart healthy diet and good eating/physical habits go a long way toward making a difference, but mixing in Wii Fit can really increase your chances of seeing a change in your fitness level.  Wii Fit helped me focus and stay on target.  The daily Body Tests, the progress tracking, the variety of exercises, not to mention my hottie trainer, all kept me going on days when I would have otherwise abandoned any other workout routine.  Maybe Wii Fit is what gamers who care about their health really need for a motivational boost.  It certainly gave me the incentive to keep working and with it I genuinely lost 35lbs.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I took about 6 months off from Wii Fit and picked ten of those pounds back up, but thanks to Wii Fit Plus, I am trying to get back on track)  It can be done.

As of today, I am 547 days into my Wii Fit journey, I weigh around 209lbs and I spent 45 minutes this afternoon on Wii Fit burning 166 calories (according to the game that is equal to about 1 cup of plain yogurt, yea!)  Wii Fit lives up to the hype and if you stick with it, it can help you become more fit while you are having fun.  Give it a try!

And now, a photo journey of your humble composer embarassing himself for you in the interest of showing you that anyone can do it!

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