Making exercise fun is something that Nintendo has tried before. In 1986, they licensed Bandai's Family Trainer peripheral for the NES and launched it worldwide as the Power Pad. In the 90's, they created the Exertainment system - essentially an exercise bike with a SNES inside. Both products were capable of raising your heart rate, but offered little else in the way of improving your health or building good habits. Wii Fit sees Nintendo's honed skill in software and peripheral development come together for another crack at the holy grail of software - making exercise fun.
The first thing you will see is the incredibly well constructed Balance Board. It's as sturdy as peripherals come. If you've ever seen a Wii remote hit a wall at velocity, you probably saw the wall come out worse off - and the Balance Board is made from the same stuff. It fits comfortably underneath my entertainment unit, coffee table or couch - so storage won't be an issue.
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Next is a couple of tests to determine your Body Mass Index (BMI), and eventually your Wii Fit Age - a similar concept to the Brain Age from the prolific Nintendo DS software, Brain Training. The use of BMI is likely to be the main argument against Wii Fit being a reputable fitness tool - it's an old system, originally devised in the 19th century. It's unable to take bone density (lower for children and elderly) and muscle (denser than fat) into consideration - the star witness for its flaws being Lance Armstrong, who was classified as overweight when he competed in the 1993 Tour De France. There are already reports of healthy children being told they are overweight - so if you're going to let the little ones use Wii Fit, it might be best to give them an explanation of BMI and it's glaring flaws beforehand.
The exercises are divided into four sections - Yoga, Muscle Workouts, Balance Games, and Aerobics. Yoga and Muscle Workouts are where you're likely to get the best return on investment - I spent the majority of my time in these sections. I had one run through the balance games, but they totally failed to hold my interest, apart from the surprisingly fun Ski Jump game that I've gone back to once or twice. The Aerobics are something you'll want to make sure the blinds are closed for - Hula-hooping might be great for toning the stomach, but I wouldn't want my neighbor catching me in the act. The Jogging game has to be the worst - holding a Wiimote and running on the spot for a few minutes is even less appealing to me than the real thing.
Despite a rotund childhood, I lost a lot of weight in my late teens, and my BMI is currently very close to ideal - however as a techie, I have led a particularly sedentary lifestyle for a very long time. People would say I'm skinny, until I lift my shirt and display the marshmallow like padding I've been too lazy to do anything about for the last eight years.
After just two days with Wii Fit, I had an instant lift. Usually by the afternoon, my lower back and shoulders are sore, and I've still got hours of work to do. Before Wii Fit arrived, I'd do a couple of stretches, go make a cup of tea and get back to the computer - basically trying to ignore the pain. These days, I have a quick 15 minute session on Wii Fit and feel infinitely better for it.
Another immediate benefit was becoming more conscious of my posture, and centre of balance - I was typically prone to lean or twist myself into horrible positions wherever I was - on the couch, waiting for the kettle to boil, at the bar. I'm now catching myself in the act early and straightening up before I can do any damage.
What surprised me was how easily I could knock up half an hour of exercise. There's so many different exercises and you'll unlock another one at least every other day (provided you're doing at least 15 minutes a day) - it just doesn't feel like a chore.
My prior experience with peripheral-based games is that they bring infinite amounts of joy to my life for a month or so, then end up somewhere in the back of the cupboard. My Xbox 360 steering wheel, my Guitar Hero controllers, my Rock Band setup - it's always the same result. Now if I go a day without Wii Fit, I actually miss my exercise. After a week of Wii Fit, I'm starting to see some muscle definition poking through the blubber - for the first time in my life - and I couldn't be happier.
One major flaw is the inability to set goals other than losing/gaining weight. For example, I'm well aware that my lower back needs to be stronger - my only option being to manually seek out the exercises that stretch and strengthen my back each time.
Nintendo made no effort to sort the workouts into groups, so the unfit adventurous types will find themselves stumbling upon a couple of events that they'll struggle to complete. This seems like a major oversight - as people are likely to do themselves damage if they push themselves too hard, and your virtual trainer can't figure out you're doing anything wrong.
If you're looking for a hardcore cardiovascular workout, Wii Fit is not for you. If you're unfit and unlikely to end up at the gym without a gun pointed at your head, Wii Fit is what you've been looking for. The ability to make exercise achievable, and even fun, for people like myself makes Wii Fit one of the most important consumer software releases ever. Now that the Balance Board is in so many homes, we can expect increasingly useful and complex fitness software from third-parties like EA, and of course, the inevitable sequel from Nintendo - and I can't wait.
Tim HanlonView gallery - 20 images