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Wii Sports Club - Wii U
Wii Sports Club - Wii U
Price: $39.53
34 used & new from $37.55

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enough improvements to make it a worthwhile purchase for the Wii U, July 25, 2014
The first thing to know about Wii Sports Club is that if you've played the original Wii Sports on the Wii, there's really nothing new in terms of the gameplay or the basic experience. You have baseball, tennis, bowling, golf, and boxing. The controls work pretty much identically to the original--you hold the Wii remote in your hand to bat, volley, bowl, tee off, and punch.

It's tough to justify paying $40 for a game that we all got for free with the original Wii. But for a couple reasons I think it's worth it. Here are the main ones:

1) Improved graphics: As Microsoft and Sony were competing to see who could get the most powerful and realistic HD graphics, I love how Nintendo went the opposite direction and created a world of ingeniously simple cartoony characters (Miis) that seemed to have their own personalities. Not only did it look great, it meant that games would be incredibly responsive, something that Xbox 360 developers never figured out how to do with their slow-as-molasses motion controls.

Now that the Wii U supports HD graphics, I'm glad to see that Nintendo kept the whole Mii universe as-is, but added a lot of background details (the texture on the playing surface, beautiful scenery, crowd animation, etc.) to enhance the experience. The graphics improvements are more subtle and aren't as dramatic as, say, the improvements they made to Mario Kart 8 over Mario Kart Wii, but they're still very good.

2) Smart (not gratuitous) use of the GamePad: The GamePad is one of the most panned features of the Wii U and not without reason--it's a piece of hardware they released before giving developers a chance to figure out how to best to exploit it. As a result, most games that supposedly support the GamePad do it in a really forced way. However, Wii Sports Club makes intelligent use of the GamePad to make gameplay a lot more fun. Specifically, in baseball, one player holds the GamePad to pitch; gone are the days when you could glance over at the player to figure out what kind of pitch they're throwing. You can also hold the GamePad in front of you to have a first-person view of catching fly balls and line drives in a way that feels surprisingly realistic. Also, in golf, you put the GamePad on the ground and literally "tee up" just like you do in real life, which is both clever and makes the experience feel all the more realistic. I actually like that they didn't try to "force" GamePad use in the other sports, simply because it wouldn't have added anything to them.

3) Improved controls: I remember playing Wii Sports together with a group of five year olds and getting destroyed when they were just bouncing around like a bunch of jumping beans and wagging their remotes. Those days are over :)

The motion control capabilities of the original Wii remote were pretty basic, but later down the road Nintendo released the Wii MotionPlus attachment (and later the Wii Remote Plus), which looked the same as the Wii remote but could capture complex motion more accurately (in addition to the original accelerometer and sensor bar capabilities that could detect basic movements, it added gyroscopes that could detect nuances like the angle you're holding the remote at and your wrist rotations). With Wii Sports Club, this greater precision is taken into account in the gameplay. It's a thrill to rotate your wrists and see the trademark on your baseball bat or the angle of your tennis racquet smoothly rotate along with it.

I also liked how when two people are boxing locally, both of them can use two Wii Remote Pluses to give really precise control with both hands. You still have the option to use one Wii remote each as well, although support for the nunchuk has been removed.

There may be times the motion controls get stuck or out of sync, which can get frustrating. But they seem to anticipate this happening and provide instructions on the screen for how to reset your controller if it does (e.g., by putting it flat on a table, pressing the directional buttons, etc.)

I should say these "improvements" are not necessarily for everyone. There was a certain fun to having the controls be ridiculously basic so that all players of all ages competing against each other were more or less on the same playing field. Now, you really need to learn how to finesse things like the angle and trajectory of your tennis shot, the position and speed of your bat, or the angle of your bowling release. It takes a lot of getting used to the new controls, and admittedly I had some challenges with a couple of the sports at first. But with practice, you'll get it.

4) New training modes: They've added more mini-games called "training mode". Bowling has a game where you try to pick up spares, a game where you have to try to throw in a straight line, and everyone's favorite, the 100-ping game. Tennis has a game where you need to hit tennis shots through rings, hit "moles" as they pop up on the court, and a fun new game where a ducky-shaped ball machine has to run after your shots. Baseball has the home run derby, of course, as well as a quick game where you have 90 seconds to smash walls and a pitching game that uses the new GamePad. Golf has a putting mini-game, a game where you can practice your short game, and a game where you have practice your driving skills. Finally, boxing (still the best workout of all of the sports) has a game where you smash plates in front of you, punch a bag, and dodge balls.

5) Online Play: This was one of the highlights for me. It's one thing to play against the computer or with your family and friends in your house (both of which you can still do), but it's great to be able to call a friend up across the street or across the world and challenge them to a game. You can also play against strangers. I like the fact that as of now, I still don't see "cheaters" who modify their systems to get unfair advantages (as there was in Mario Kart Wii where online play became unusable because of all the cheaters). Let's hope Nintendo keeps it that way.

I also like the notion of "Clubs" (ergo, the name) where you can associate yourself with your country or state, and have your great play contribute to helping your club rank better than all the others out there.

6) The physical version of the game: As much as Nintendo tried to force us to buy the download version, I'm glad I didn't bite because there are so many reasons the physical version is better. The price is pretty much the same ($39.99 for the physical version vs. $39.96 for all sports in the download version), but I like the ability to take my disc to a friend of family member's house to play with them.

Like I said, there's a part of me that bristles in paying $40 for a game that we all got for free before; plus I would have liked to see some improvements (another sport or two perhaps like football or basketball). But as with Mario Kart 8, if you loved the game I think there are enough improvements that makes this a worthwhile purchase for your Wii U.


Sony XBR55X850B 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD 120Hz 3D LED TV
Sony XBR55X850B 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD 120Hz 3D LED TV
Price: $1,998.00
13 used & new from $1,109.00

99 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent picture quality, beautiful set, amazing 4K, July 1, 2014
I remember back in the 1980's, Sony TVs were the thing to get. Those Trinitron CRT sets just seemed to have a brighter, crisper picture than anyone else out there. They suffered a little bit in the last few years as their competitors closed the gap of price and quality. This new series of 4K TVs may be just the thing Sony needs to remind everyone that they're still one of the best out there.

I had a couple things on my list: 4K, 3D, a decent-looking design, a set that wouldn't be obsolete in a year, and a set that was relatively affordable. Here's how the set did.

4K:

The first time I walked into a Best Buy and saw a TV with a 4K picture, my jaw dropped. Seeing 4K for the first time reminded me of the time I saw 1080i for the first time in a Tokyo airport. The picture improvement is that much clearer and crisper. Sure enough, the 4K rendering on this set is terrific--color fidelity is spot-on and the picture is bright.

Of course, 4K is really only good for early adopters and technophiles right now, as there isn't much 4K content out there and likely won't be for years. Cable companies aren't going to support it until there's a critical mass (heck, most are still broadcasting at 720p). The only other ways outside of the TV to get 4K content is through a PC (you'll need an upgraded video card) or a media server, which will cost extra.

That said, I was able to connect directly to NetFlix through the TV. There's a handful of 4K programs available, which as of this writing includes movies like Ghostbusters, Philadelphia, and Smurfs 2; TV shows like Breaking Bad and House of Cards; and a couple of mediocre nature films. I loaded up House of Cards and I was blown away; it was surreal, more like watching a home movie of Kevin Spacey than a TV show.

As a bonus, I started up the YouTube app on the TV, and tried playing a few 4K videos. They were also beautiful and exceptionally sharp on a 50Mbps Internet connection.

3D:

It looks like companies have all but given up trying to market 3D to a mass consumer audience, but I appreciate Sony continuing to support 3D for the niche that continues to be enthusiastic about it. I'm one of those; I bought a 3D camcorder from Sony and I actually have guests to my house asking me to show them my vacation videos :P

I also have a PS3 which plays 3D Blu-Rays, and not surprisingly, the picture is fantastic. I know in last year's model there were rumors that Sony deliberately cut down the resolution in each eye for the 55" set. I don't know if that's still the case with this set, but the picture was very clear regardless.

This set does support passive 3D, something I wanted because I didn't want to deal with the hassle of charging batteries, wearing bulky glasses, or dealing with the 'darker' picture that comes with active 3D. Surprisingly, the 3D quality was still excellent. I popped "How to Train Your Dragon" into the PS3 and the colors were vibrant, the textures detailed and crisp, and the 3D depth just like in the theater.

Design:

One thing I absolutely hated about last year's passive 3D/4K set was that they put these butt-ugly "Dumbo ears" speakers on the sides of their set. Happily, this year they got rid of it and replaced it with a simple, sleek black border. While it's a 53" set, it fits perfectly on my entertainment console which is about 50-51" end-to-end. The screen is a glossy sheen which is almost mirror-like, so if you have bright lighting in the house near where you sit you'll want to turn it off.

A set that wouldn't be obsolete in a year:

One thing I liked is that once I connected the set to the Internet, it asked me if I wanted to do a software update. That's one way of ensuring that the TV is going to be kept up-to-date. I do like that HDMI 2.0 is supported out of the box. And of course, 8K is not coming out anytime soon :)

A set that was relatively affordable:

This is the second-generation of 4K sets, and Sony is being pretty aggressive with the pricing; the 55" set retails for $3000, but street price seems to be around $2300 as of this writing, only a few weeks after launch. Considering that the equivalent first-generation set retailed for $5000, the drop in price is definitely more precipitous than typical.

Yes, in a year you'll probably be seeing sub-$2000 street prices, but I decided to jump now. It's no secret that Sony has been losing money and market share in its TVs for years, so expect them to continue to be very aggressive in their pricing.

While the photos all show the stand on the far left and right of the unit, you can also install the stand so that they're closer to the middle of the unit (just to the left and right of the LED in the center). This might be a better option if, say, you'll be placing it on a cabinet that's less than 48" wide.

The unit comes with two remotes, a more traditional remote with a ton of buttons and a smaller remote with a trackpad. It also comes with two passive 3D glasses (the ones from the movie theater will work too), and an "IR blaster" that you can use to control other devices with your remote (I have mine set up to control my TiVo). It has 4 HDMI connectors. USB ports will let you attach things like a PS3 controller (for Playstation Now, coming in the Fall) or a keyboard. There's also an MHL connector that will let you mirror photos and videos on smartphones, projectors, and other devices that support it (Nokia, Samsung, Silicon Image, Sony, and Toshiba).

The one thing I did NOT like about this set was how convoluted their on-screen display was. Using the trackpad remote was not intuitive at all, and this is exacerbated by really poor software design where it's impossible to navigate from screen to screen without getting completely lost. I think the UX people at Sony must have made the poor decision to steal ideas from Microsoft.

That aside, this was a purchase I was completely satisfied with. As another reviewer said, the brightness and color richness of the display rival a plasma set and the 4K is just stunning.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 22, 2014 8:11 AM PDT


Mario Kart 8 - Nintendo Wii U
Mario Kart 8 - Nintendo Wii U
Price: $48.15
93 used & new from $40.90

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We've seen Mario save the Princess. Now can it save the Wii U?, June 8, 2014
It's no secret that the Wii U has been struggling. Nintendo needed to hit an out-of-the-park grand slam to have any chance of reviving it. With Mario Kart 8, it may have done just that.

There's not much new with Mario Kart 8. It's the same kart racing concept that's been around since Super Mario Kart for the SNES. You race against a number of other Mario characters in various tracks. As with Mario Kart Wii, you can use the Wii remote to steer (the Mario Kart wheel is just a round plastic accessory that you snap the remote into). You can also use the Wii U Pro controller, the Wii Remote or the Gamepad (you can also use the Wii remote + Classic Controller Pro or the Wii remote + Nunchuk).

The Gamepad offers additional features, of course. At its most basic, you can steer by tilting the Gamepad. The ZL button lets you throw things you've picked up, the A button accelerates, and the B button goes in reverse. In addition, you can use the ZR + A button to "drift". If you play on the Gamepad, you still look to the TV to play, but your Gamepad screen shows everyone's position in the race (and what extra they have in their possession), as well as a video of the race, a map of the track with everyone's position, and a horn in the middle like a real steering wheel.

The graphics are phenomenal and finally showcase the HD capabilities of the Wii U. The colors are bright, and there's amazing detail in all the screens, from delicate giant dandelions to giant candies that look good enough to eat. New tracks are wonderfully creative, such as one where you drive through an airport's terminal area, baggage claim area, and right onto the runway as a jumbo jet flies towards you. Classic tracks like Moo Moo Meadows have been totally redone with crisp graphics and exquisite attention to detail, from beautiful sunrises to trees and cows with detailed 3D rendering, to marks your vehicle makes when driving over sand. The tracks are a lot more nuanced, so you can either stay on the main road or take various shortcuts you'll discover over time.

Unlike the previous Mario Kart Wii, you can not only choose a Kart type (50cc, 100cc and 150cc), but also configure it with custom tires and a custom "parachute" that deploys when you're in the air--as you get more advanced in the game you'll understand how subtle choices you make here can give you an advantage on certain tracks.

Gameplay is mostly the same as always. You race around the track, pick up cubes that'll unlock extras to use in the race (including new ones like a boomerang, a sonic boom device, and a rotator that lets you use 8 of them in succession). They've kept old features in, but subtly introduced new ones, like a blue strip that turns your car into a hovercraft. You can also pick up coins throughout the game which will help you unlock things like new accessories, vehicles, and characters.

Of course, the game is best played using the Gamepad or the Wii remote to steer. The controls are much, much improved over Mario Kart Wii. You feel much tighter control and precision than I've felt in any other racing game on any platform.

There are a lot of new bells and whistles. After each race, you can view a "highlight reel" that lets you relive your greatest moments during the race. A new feature called "Mario Kart TV" archives your recent race videos.

You can play single player against the computer or multiplayer. As with Mario Kart Wii, in single player mode, you can race the Grand Prix (4 race matches), Time Trials (racing for new time records), VS Race (racing using special rules, including adjusting items, computer difficulty, number of races, etc.), and Battle Mode (where you try to pop the other team's balloons). Multiplayer mode has the same options except for Time Trials, and lets you race up to four players.

One of the worst features of Mario Kart Wii was its online play. There was simply much too much cheating going on, with cheaters racking up thousands of points and creating hacks that made the competition meaningless. I was shocked at how good online play is now. You see your Mii join in with other Miis from around the world, you all vote on which track to play, and it looks like at least for now there's no cheating--you can observe the technique the top players are using, and it's clear that it's all skill that keeps them up front. For me, I consistently placed around positions 5-7, and I was very happy with that. If you have 12 friends, you can get around the 4-player limit on a local Wii by connecting them online, forming your own Room, and competing against each other.

They did seem to do away with the "driver's license" feature of Mario Kart Wii where you could keep track of which tracks you've played, but that was no great loss. What is a bit annoying is that it's not easy to change your Mii in case someone else want to play, so unless you quit the game, select a different Mii, and restart the game, all the videos and progress will be attributed to one Mii. The exception to this is online multiplayer, where player 2 will be able to select their own Mii to play online.

Simply put, this is not just the best game on the Wii U, it's one of the best games Nintendo has ever released, and one of the best racing games on any platform. It's a shame they didn't have the foresight to bundle this with the original Wii U when it first came out, because I think this game could have boosted sales of the Wii U by millions of units, just like Wii Sports did back when the Wii was released. Still, they did a smart thing and are running a generous promotion where if you register this game, you'll get another great game for free (Pikmin 3, Super Mario Bros U, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Walker, or Wii Party U). It's a nice way for Nintendo to thank those who purchased the Wii U early on, as well as push people on the fence to get on board.

While this game is hardly original (the concept is the same as it's been for over 20 years), the graphics, gameplay, and precise controls make it a must-have for anyone who has a Wii U, and a reason to run out and buy a Wii U for those who don't.


Wii Fit U w/Wii Balance Board accessory and Fit Meter - Wii U
Wii Fit U w/Wii Balance Board accessory and Fit Meter - Wii U
Price: $79.99
62 used & new from $60.99

96 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent upgrade to the original Wii Fit that adds Wii U-specific enhancements and offline activity tracking, January 12, 2014
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
I wrote a rather detailed review about Wii Fit U under this product page: Wii Fit U w/Fit Meter - Wii U. The bundle you see here is identical to that one, except that it includes a Wii Balance Board.

In case you're wondering, the Balance Board included in this bundle is identical to the one bundled with the original Wii Fit in 2007--unlike the Wii Remote Plus and the Wii U itself, there haven't been any upgrades to the Balance Board's technology since then. So if you already have a Balance Board, you'll be better off buying just the Wii Fit U w/Fit Meter - Wii U.

You might want to consider whether to get this bundle or to purchase a used Balance Board separately (they go for as low as $15 at places like Gamestop or Craig's List). Better yet, chances are you have a friend or relative who has one in the basement collecting dust who's willing to give it to you. (Here's a hint: there's a common problem where old Balance Boards appear to be "dead", but there's an easy fix for it. Just Google "Broken Balance Board" and you'll find the solution, which just required a screwdriver).

Now that that's out of the way, here's a summary of my thoughts on Wii Fit U:

As with the original Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus, there are several categories of exercise activities:

- Yoga - A set of 18 Yoga poses, where you follow an on-screen trainer's instructions. It's greatly enhanced over the original Wii Fit in that you can view the trainer's body with a 360 degree view to ensure that you're matching it precisely. Furthermore, you have the option of viewing your own video image next to the trainer's using the GamePad camera (it doesn't automatically detect whether you're precisely matching the trainer, but you can eyeball whether you are easily enough). The Yoga poses are traditional ones like "half moon", "downward facing dog", etc. 15 of them are the same as in the original Wii Fit Plus, while 3 are new ones.

- Strength Training - A set of 15 activities to strengthen specific parts of your body, such as lunges, planks, extensions, and so on. Again, you follow a trainer to learn the correct technique, and as with Yoga you can view the trainer from any angle or view your own video image on screen. 12 are the same as in the original Wii Fit, 3 are new ones.

- Aerobics - These are cute games that use your Mii to do various activities to get your cardio going. 11 of the activities are the same as in the original Wii Fit, including Hula Hoop, Rhythm Boxing, and Island Cycling, although most of these activties have been enhanced with new features using the Wii Remote Plus, HD graphics, and "second screen" support on the GamePad. There are 4 new activities, including Puzzle Squash (sort of a first-person, 3D version of Breakout) and Rowing Crew (where you use both the Balance Board and the Wii Remote Plus to simulate rowing). The one gripe I have about aerobics activities is that they're far too short for you to get into a decent cardio heart rate zone, so you have to string together a lot of activities to get any kind of meaningful workout.

- Dance - This is a new category. I expected it to be something like Just Dance, but it's actually more like a step aerobics class with different kinds of music and focus on different parts of your body.

- Balance Games - These are cute games that use your Mii to work on balance and coordination. Returning are 11 old favorites like Rhythm Kung Fu and Bird's Eye Bullseye, which like the Aerobics games have been enhanced for the Wii U. There are 7 new balance games. My favorite by far is one called "Dessert Course", which ingeniously integrates the GamePad and the TV screen; you're a waiter who's trying to balance a bunch of rolling and jiggling desserts on a tray (your GamePad) while delivering it to guests in a crowded restaurant. Another one I love is "Ultimate Obstacle Course", which is an excellent upgrade to the original Obstacle Course (which is also included).

Another thing I like about Wii Fit U is the ability to play many activities on the GamePad, while freeing up the TV for others.

All of this would be an excellent upgrade alone, but the addition of the Wii Fit Meter adds a whole new dimension to the game. The Wii Fit Meter is a smooth, round device that's about 1 3/4" in diameter that you clip onto your belt and wear throughout the day. Like a FitBit or a Nike FuelBand, it tracks your daily activity outside of the game, and is able to detect not just your steps (as a pedometer does), but also your level of exertion and your altitude. The unit also gives you time and temperature, and even displays a little LCD version of your Mii's face.

Each time you start up Wii Fit U, you'll be asked to sync the data (the unit stores up to 2 weeks of data). Once you've done that, you can see some cool graphs that help you visualize the amount of activity you've done by date and hour, as well as your level of exertion and your altitude changes.

There's a feature called "Fit Meter Challenge" where you can apply your Fit Meter data to complete "challenges" from around the world. You can choose walking challenges, such as a stroll through New York City or Tokyo. Each time you open the map, you'll be given the option of getting "credit" for the miles you've put onto your Fit Meter since the last time you synced the data. You'll see your little Mii progressing along the path, with buildings being filled in to the blank map, factoids and photos of the places you're "visiting", and coins "blinging" along the way. Similarly, you can choose altitude challenges; for example, climbing the equivalent of the Statue of Liberty, Mount Fuji, or Mount Everest. It's a nice added incentive to rack up as much activity as you can outside of the game itself.

While the Wii U has been maligned in the media and by the purchasing public (and sadly not unjustified in some cases), Wii Fit U is an excellent example of why I think the future is still bright for Nintendo. Whatever missteps they might have made in their console's hardware design and relationships with third party developers, their first party software development is still second to none. Every single activity and feature in Wii Fit U is polished and substantial ingenuity, is "addictive" enough to make you want to play more (an excellent trait in an exercise game) and is just a pleasure to start up and play. Many of these components alone (the Yoga classes, the Balance Games, the Fit Meter graphs and challenges) would make excellent standalone titles on their own, but they're all bundled together in one very affordable package here. And while there's been a lot of hype about new exergaming features on other systems like Xbox One, bottom line is that the Wii U is still the only video game console that lets you take (and track) your weight, track your offline activity, and play games that are as fun as they are exercise.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 8, 2014 8:23 AM PDT


Wii Fit U w/Fit Meter - Wii U
Wii Fit U w/Fit Meter - Wii U
Price: $39.99
59 used & new from $30.53

51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Carries on the high quality of the original while taking full advantage of the Wii U's new capabilities, January 10, 2014
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Wii Fit U is the sequel to Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus, and is playable only on the Wii U. While the game is downloadable on the Nintendo eShop, there may be reasons you want a physical version of the game; perhaps you want to save storage space on your Wii U, to not keep your Wii U constantly connected to the Internet, to be able to bring the game to play at family and friends' houses, or perhaps you just want the green version of the Fit Meter that comes with it. In these cases, you'll be able to purchase this version of the game with a physical disc and a Fit Meter (For those who don't have a balance board yet, you'll want to purchase the bundle with the Balance Board here: Wii Fit U w/Wii Balance Board accessory and Fit Meter - Wii U).

The Wii Fit U opening screen starts with same familiar logo and music from Wii fit and Wii Fit Plus. The system will let you copy over any old data from Wii Fit or Wii Fit Plus either through a full System Transfer (a long and rather painful process), or by copying your old data from your Wii onto an SD card. Once I did this I was able to see my old Mii and select it for use.

As with Wii Fit, an animated Balance Board will be your host, welcoming you back and explaining the new features of Wii Fit U. First, it explains there are new training modes that have been designed for the Wii U GamePad. Next, it explains that the Wii U GamePad can be used as a personal display, so the TV can be turned off for certain activities, such as the Body Test.

The initial Body Test works very much like it did in the original Wii Fit in terms of tracking how your weight and center of balance change over time. One clever new feature is that you have the option of taking photos of your face each time you do the Body Test using the GamePad camera. It'll store the image of your face and you can see how your face changes over time (it'll be displayed in the calendar along with your BMI and Center of Gravity). Photos are saved for three months, but the first photo you take each month is saved for five years so it's a clever way for you to visually keep track of the progression of your weight loss through your face.

You then proceed with the Body Test. You'll hold the GamePad in your hands throughout the test, but the weight of the GamePad will be subtracted from your results. As with the old Wii Fit, you test your Center of Balance by standing on the Balance Board as straight as you can. The difference this time is that you're holding the GamePad at eye level, so you have to stand up straight while keeping your face centered on the screen in a frame. As with the original Wii Fit, you'll then see a plot of how balanced you are when you stand. If you're off balance, you'll get advice on how to correct it and the benefits of doing so. They've added some new balance tests that make further use of the Wii U GamePad; in one of them you use the GamePad to "track" a moving ball as it floats in front of you, all while the system is tracking your balance.

Next you'll see your BMI (or optionally, your weight). As with the old Wii Fit, you see a colored bar telling you in you're underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese, and your Mii will grow chubbier or thinner depending (sadly, mine got a bit rounder over the last few years).

After all this is done, you get your Wii Fit Age, "stamp" your progress into the calendar, and proceed to the main menu.

The main menu is called "Wii Fit Plaza". You can select or create new profiles, play the game as a guest, or play multi-player games (unfortunately, since there's only one Balance Board, you have to take turns with these games, there's no way to play them simultaneously nor compete online). Assuming you have a Fit Meter associated with the profile, each time you select the profile you'll be asked to sync it to collect all your offline activity.

The Main Menu seems a bit busy at first, but you'll get used to it in time. It's divided into a couple areas:

1) A series of windows scrolling across the top of the page will allow you to:

- View a monthly calendar of your progress
- View graphs of your progress
- Register or read more about the Fit Meter
- View an album of "snapshots" taken of your Mii during gameplay
- View a Notice Board of events that have occured in the game, such as unlocking features, new players being added, and so on.

The main options include:

2) Body Test - this allows you to take (or re-take) the Body Test

3) The Balance Board - when there's an exclamation point over the Balance Board it means he has a message for you. The little guy is full of interesting tips (you'll learn all you ever wanted to know about METs, or Metabolic EquivalenTS, for example).

4) User Settings - clicking on your Mii will let you adjust your height, birthdate, calendar stamp design, trainer (creepy male dude or the creepy female dudette from Wii Fit who's slightly less creepy than she was before), outfit, privacy settings (whether you want pictures taken or a password to be entered to access your profile), and even when the date should change over to the next day (either 12 AM or 3 AM for those who work out after midnight).

5) Fit Meter - you can click on the Fit meter to learn more about it or to register your Fit Meter (and unlock the trial).

6) Training - this is the "meat" of the game where you can access all the training activities.

When you click on Training, the menu has these options:

A) "Select Exercise" will let you choose an individual activity to exercise to. For each exercise, you'll see the number of METs expended, as well as the number of times you've done the exercise and whether the Balance Board is required. The categories of activities are the same as in Wii Fit Plus, with addition of a new "Dance" category. The activities consist of some old exercises that have been carried over from Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus, as well as some brand new ones.

The categories are:

i) Yoga (18 activities): here, you basically follow an on-screen trainer and mimic him or her in various yoga activities. These are mostly the same Yoga exercises from the original Wii Fit, including deep breathing, half-moon, warrior, tree, sun salutation, standing knee, palm tree, chair, triangle, downward-facing dog, dance, cobra, bridge, spinal twist, and shoulder stand. In addition, there are three new activities: spine extension, gate, and grounded V.

ii) Strength Training (15 activities): As with the original Wii Fit, these exercises are meant for strengthening specific parts of your body. Again, you follow an on-screen trainer and again, these are mostly the same strength training activities from Wii Fit. They include single leg extension, push-up and side plank, torso twists, jackknife, lunge, rowing squat, single-leg twist, sideways leg lift, plank, tricep extension, arm-and-leg lift, and single-arm stand. The three new activities are balance bridge, side lunge, and single-leg reach.

iii) Aerobics (15 activities): These are exercises that promote aerobic activity. They include a number of the same games from Wii Fit, including hula hoop, super hula hoop, basic step, advanced step, free step, rhythm boxing, basic run, two-person run, free run, island cycling, and driving range. Most of these games are the same as before, but many have interesting enhancements. For example, on the Hula Hoop, you can now twirl hoops not just with your waist but with your wrists as well with the Wii Remote Plus. On Island Cycling, the graphics are much improved, and as you "bike" you can see a beautiful day turn to a beautiful sunset and then turn into a starry evening, reminiscent of Walk It Out. Many of these activities also have a new "extra" mode that provides an additional level of challenge beyond the original.

In addition, they have four brand new Aerobics activities. (BTW, I've provided descriptions of all the new activities here; if you want to read about the old activities that have been ported over, you can check out my review on Wii Fit Plus from five years ago).

- Puzzle Squash - here, you use both the Wii Remote Plus and the Balance Board. You basically have to use the Wii Remote to hit a squash ball, and "walk" on the Balance Board to get your player to move to the right position in a sort of 3D version of "Breakout". It's a simple concept and fairly easy to master, but also surprisingly addictive.

- Free Boxing - this uses the Balance Board, the Wii Remote Plus, and either the nunchuk or another Wii Remote Plus. This game is a lot like the Rhythm Boxing game except you're using both your hands and your feet to punch in certain patterns.

- Orienteering - this one is like the basic run, in that you're travelling through Wii Fit Island. The difference is that you're not using the Balance Board or the Wii Remote Plus, but you're holding the GamePad in your hands. As you walk in place, the accelerometer and gyroscope in the GamePad can detect that you're moving and if you're turning to the left or right, and your Mii will respond accordingly. It's a "hide and seek" type game where you're walking around the island looking for Miis whose photos you see on your GamePad. You need to remember your surroundings and different faces, but you can always ask a random Mii for help too.

- Rowing Crew - This one uses the Balance Board and a Wii Remote Plus. You can either site on a chair and put your feet on the Balance Board or (as I prefer), sit right on the Balance Board. You then grasp your Wii Remote with both hands, and make a rowing motion by bending your body up and down almost as if you're doing sit-ups. You need to use the right technique-row to the cadence that your coxswain is setting, match your fellow crew members, and make sure your oar is out of the water when you're not rowing by rotating the Wii remote the right way. You can see a first-person view on your GamePad and a side view on your TV. This one is hilarious-when you don't row properly to the rhythm all your fellow rowers in your boat look back at you and give you dirty looks. But once you get the hang of it it feels remarkably authentic-and gives you a great aerobic workout.

iv) Dance (8 activities): I wasn't sure what to expect with this one. The first thing to know is that this is isn't a clone of Just Dance or Zumba Fitness. Rather, it's a simplistic but still pretty clever set of step aerobics exercises that actually come close to simulating the basics of actual dance moves. You work out with the Balance Board and two Wii Remote Pluses, and basically have to move your arms and feet to match the trainer. There's a wide variety of music with unique "moves" that let you work out different parts of your body. Hula music lets you relax, jazzy music helps you work your waist and thighs, hip-hop music lets you work out your thighs, locking let you work out your upper arms, flamenco lets you work out your arms and legs, salsa lets you work out your shoulders and back, and burning beats gives you a calorie burning challenge. The first time you run through the dance the instructor will give you an explanation of the moves, but then after that you can dance all you want.

v) Balance Games (18 activities): In every version of Wii Fit, this has always been the section of the game that's the most fun, and it's true with this game as well. Returning are old favorites from the original Wii Fit like Soccer Heading, Ski Jump, Table Tilt, Rhythm Kung Fu, Ski Slalom, Perfect 10, Snowball Fight, Obstacle Course, Tilt City, Balance Bubble, Bird's Eye Bulls-Eye. But they have a number of fun new games as well. As with Wii Fit, there's a Beginner level and an Advanced level to unlock for each activity. And as before you're not necessarily going to get a very strenuous workout from these games; they're more designed to help you improve your balance and coordination vs. provide you strength or aerobic training. And they're a blast to play with friends and family.

The new Balance Games include:

- Trampoline Target - This is a fun one that uses the Balance Board where you're jumping on a trampoline. The only problem is, you still can't actually jump on the Balance Board, so you have to bend and then extend your legs at the right time, and then when you're in the air you need to shift your weight to "steer" yourself back over the target in the middle of the trampoline. The more accurate you are with your "jumps" and your targeting, the higher your next jump will be. Like a lot of the others, this activity makes great use of the GamePad by showing you a top-down view on the GamePad and a side view on the TV. This one is a whole lot of fun, and works your legs, hips and overall balance, but it takes a while to get used to not actually jumping (as with earlier versions of Wii Fit, if you do accidentally jump the game clears your progress and resets to the beginning). I give this a 4 out of 5 for fun, and a 4 out of 5 for exercise.

- Hosedown - This one uses the GamePad and the Balance Board. You hold the GamePad in front of you and point it at the TV. Miis will throw mud balls at you and you have to hose them down with water. You press one foot down on the Balance Board to spray the water, lift your foot off the Board to refill your water tank, and use the GamePad to aim and shoot at specific targets, while the TV has a wide angle view of the scene. I get the sense this one doesn't really give very much exercise (1 out of 5), but it's so fun (5 out of 5) it doesn't really matter.

- Dessert Course - This game is pure genius. You're a waiter in a crowded restaurant who has to collect desserts from the chefs situated in the corners of the room and deliver them to people standing and waving you down throughout the room. You hold your GamePad flat like a tray (balancing your desserts on it), walk in place on the Balance Board, and "steer" by rotating your tray like a horizontal steering wheel. You see a first-person view of the room on the TV-and a first-person view of the desserts on your tray on the GamePad (which look delicious)! As you advance in the game, you start getting all kinds of desserts, from jelly rolls and round cream puffs that roll off your tray to jiggling cups of pudding and have to try to deliver them without bumping into your guests. This one is probably a 3 out of 5 for exercise, but easily a 5 out of 5 for fun.

- Ultimate Obstacle Course - I think back in the day I described the Wii Fit obstacle course as sort of a "3D Super Mario Bros", and wrote that I wished it could be longer and have more variety. Happily, this game delivers on that. As with the original version of this game, you walk in place on the Balance Board and try to avoid obstacles like giant rolling balls and falling off cliffs. Something new is the ability to "turn" by turning your feet on the Balance Board while walking in place, admittedly something it took me a while to get used to, with with enough practice I finally figured it out. This one is a 4 out of 5 for exercise (mainly because you'll be playing it over and over until you get it right). As for fun, it's a bit frustrating at first as you try to figure out the "turn in place" thing, but once you do it's a ton of fun. A nice bonus is that your Wii Gamepad displays an overhead map of the course.

- Core Luge - This is another of those really cool simulations that almost feels like the real thing. You sit on the balance board and just like a real luger, you start out on the course by pushing off with your hands to get some speed, and then lean back and navigate the luge course by moving your butt. Exercise value is about a 2 (you really don't work out your core as much as you'd hope), but fun value is a 4 or a 5.

- Scuba Search - This is a treasure hunt game that uses the Balance Board and the GamePad where you're a diver searching for different kinds of fish and treasure. You can see a first-person view on the GamePad, and a map of the entire area on the TV. You basically shift the weight on your legs to make your diver swim, and you can bend and straighten your knees to make him zip forward. This one reminded me a little of Endless Ocean for the Wii. It has a lot of replay value because you're always wanting to go back and find the fish or the treasure you missed. I give it a 3 for exercise value and a 4 for fun.

- Climbing - This is a rock climbing game that uses the Balance Board and two Wii Remote Pluses. You use the Wii remotes to grab towards the rocks (pressing A to grip them), and use walk in place on the Balance Board to climb. Technique and speed are important: you need to grab onto small (red) or medium (blue) rocks with one hand, and large (green) rocks with two hands, keeping your balance the whole time just like in real life. 3 for exercise value, 5 for fun.

Other options under "Training" include the following:

B) Personal Trainer will let you input a certain goal (for example, calories you'd like to burn in a workout session, amount of exercise time, type of exercise, and activity level), and will put together a custom workout for you pulling together different activities and exercises.

C) Wii Fit U Routines are collections of routines (made up of three specially selected activities each) that are designed to help you work out specific goals, such as easing tension in your shoulders and back, relaxing, trimming your waistline, improving your posture, and even helping with your digestion and circulation.

D) My Routine allows you to put together your own custom workouts based on your favorite activities.

E) Ranking shows you statistics of how many times you've played each activity, which activities you've played most recently, and the total amount of calories burned and time spent playing each activity.

F) Finally, there's a Group option that lets you select a group to work out with. You'll be able to view the group's statistics and leaderboards as a way to further incentivize you to work out.

There are substantial improvements in the Wii U version of the game:

- For Yoga and Strength Training, unlike with previous versions of the game, you can choose either a male or female trainer. The female trainer has gotten a bit of a makeover-she has a little more color and definition than before doesn't look at pale and ghostly as she once did. They're done an amazing job with the trainer's animation so you can see exactly what the proper form is from any angle. You can use the GamePad or Wii remote's arrow buttons to get a 360 degree view of the trainer from any angle, and use the 1 and 2 buttons (or X and Y buttons) to zoom in and out to get a close-up view.

- For Yoga, Strength Training, and Dance, there's a new feature called "mirror mode" that lets you see an actual video image of yourself next to the trainer. This one is a little tricky to set up-you definitely need a GamePad stand, and you need to put it in just the right place, preferably about 5 or more feet away from you (obviously, you'll need to do the navigating with a Wii remote instead of the GamePad). Once you get it set up right, you can see a real-time video of yourself next to the Wii Fit U trainer, and you can match his or her moves precisely. The system doesn't attempt to use video to judge if you're using the right form, but you can easily eyeball whether you're doing the moves correctly or not.

- You can press the "-" button to swap the action between your Wii GamePad and the TV. This way, if you or someone wants to watch TV, you can continue your exercise unabated.

- After you finish an individual exercise you'll get a recommendation of which one to do next.

- As I've mentioned the game makes great use of the GamePad to provide a new dimension (literally) to many of the activities. It adds a lot more depth to the games to be able to view the action from multiple angles.

- Your "piggy bank" of calories and time expended in the lower right-hand corner has a personality now and will change colors and hop around as you progress in the game.

- I like how there's an option to switch players without having to restart the game, for situations at parties or family gatherings where you want to take turns playing. Speaking of taking turns playing, there's also an option on the main menu to load up certain games where users can compete against each other by taking turns. I would have liked to see them support multiple balance boards for head-to-head action, but it looks like that's just something they're going to support.

As for negatives, I have to admit there aren't many. I do have the same gripe with Wii Fit U that I had with Wii Fit, that many of the activities (even the aerobics and strength training ones) are so short they don't really get your heart pumping at an elevated rate at a vigorous or even a moderate intensity zone. But then again if you string enough activities together and do them in a rapid-fire you can certainly get close. My other gripe is about the GamePad battery-it runs out way too fast, especially when you're trying to use it as your main screen, so you basically have to keep it plugged in most of the time.

All in all, Wii Fit U gets a solid 5 out of 5 stars from me. It's that good. It takes all the best things from the original Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus, but also adds a lot of enhancements and new features that take full advantage of the Wii U. For example, graphics are faster and cleaner, and the GamePad isn't just a gimmick like it is in some other games-they did a great job of using it to really enhance the enjoyment of the game. There are enough new activities to make the game feel fresh and new, and yet they kept enough of the old to keep it familiar. And the games are easy to learn, but have great replay value as well, something great for workouts or friendly competition between family and friends.

Would I go so far as to say that if you don't have a Wii U, that this game is so good that you should run out and get one? It really depends. If you're just looking at the Wii U solely for fitness gaming, there are a growing number of alternatives out there such as the Xbox One's Xbox Fitness service (which "gamifies" old exercise videos), products such as Goji Play) which let you turn your iPhone or iPad into an exergaming system, and of course a ton of fitness trackers from the likes of FitBit, Nike, and Jawbone that let you track daily activity. Each of these has their strengths and weaknesses.

That said, if you're already considering the Wii U because you to play some of the excellent first-party games that have recently been released such as The Legend of Zelda, Pikmin 3, or Super Mario 3D World (or upcoming games like Mario Kart 8 or Super Smash Bros), I'd say Wii Fit U is definitely a title that would put me over the edge. Many of the new fitness activities are a ton of fun just to play as games, the Wii Fit Meter makes a viable alternative to the more expensive FitBit or Nike Fuel for tracking daily activity, and for all of its recent struggles, Nintendo is still the one to beat for the humor, creativity, and originality in their games.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 14, 2014 9:53 AM PST


Zumba Fitness World Party - Nintendo Wii
Zumba Fitness World Party - Nintendo Wii
Price: Click here to see our price
38 used & new from $27.49

112 of 117 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another very good Zumba title with improvements such as live action video instructors and a world travel theme, November 9, 2013
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
Zumba Fitness World Party is the latest version of Zumba Fitness to hit the Wii. For those keeping score, the other versions have been Zumba Fitness, Zumba Fitness 2, and Zumba Fitness Core.

When you start the game, you'll see a video of Beto, Priscilla Satori, Gina Grant, Loretta Bates, Peter Lee, Nick Logrea, Melissa Cruz, Heidi Torres, Armando Salcedo, Kass Martin, Eric Aglia, and Dr. B and the Bhenga Bros dancing in locations around the world. It's a great way to introduce you to the instructors and the locales you'll be encountering in the game.

The options on the main menu are:

-World Tour
-Full Class
-Quick Play
-My Zumba
-Options

"World Tour" is a new "adventure mode" where you can travel virtually to different parts of the world. The areas of the world you'll be "visiting" include Brazil, the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, India, Los Angeles, and Puerto Rico. When you visit each part of the world, the playlist reflects the music of that region, which is pretty cool. Here are the songs in each region, along with the genres and exercise intensity:

Brazil (Afro Samba, Capoeira, Brazilian Funk, Samba, Axe, Brazillian Pop, Reggae)
------
Na Ponta Do Pe - Medium Intensity
Batucada Dance - High Intensity
Garota Nacional - Medium Intensity
Ruas Encantadas - High Intensity
Coisa Brasileira - Medium Intensity
Mas Que Nada - High Intensity

Caribbean (Dance Hall, Cumbia, Calypso, Reggae)
---------
Vibes - Warm Up
Marioneta - Medium Intensity
Loco - Medium Intensity
Caribbean Dream - Medium Intensity
Pega Pega - Medium Intensity
True to Myself - Cool Down

Europe (Irish Step, EDM, Burlesque, Russian Folk, Flamenco)
------
Clarity - Warm Up
The Beggerman Jig - High Intensity
Una De Salao - Medium Intensity
Russian Dances - High Intensity
Put the Gun Down - High Intensity

Hawaii (Hawaiian Pop, Traditional Hula, Modern Tahitian, Hawaiian Reggae)
------
Maoli Girl - Low Intensity
Haleiwa Hula - Low Intensity
1865 (95 Degrees...) - Low Intensity
Jungle - High Intensity

India (Bollywood)
-----
Mashallah - Medium Intensity
Indian Moonshine - High Intensity
Boro Boro - High Intensity
Kaim Rahe Sardari - High Intensity

Los Angeles (Pop, Hip-Hop, Swing, Blues)
-----------
Beam Me Up - Warm Up
Born This Way - Medium Intensity
Shake Your Hips - High Intensity
Next to Me - Cool Down
Exotic - Medium Intensity
Puttin' on the Ritz - High Intensity
Do You Feel Like Moving? - High Intensity
Came Here to Party - High Intensity

Puerto Rico (Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Latin Pop, Reggaeton, Girly Funk, Bomba/Plena)
-----------
Limbo - Medium Intensity
Bailando Por Ahi - Medium Intensity
Echa Pa'lla - Medium Intensity
Corazoncito Bonito - Low Intensity
Perros Salvajes - High Intensity
Aguanile - Medium Intensity
Zumba Boricua - HIgh Intensity

For each country, you earn "Zumba Miles" for dancing to the first two songs, and then use those to unlock subsequent songs. Note that this only applies to the World Tour mode; in the Full Class and Quick Play modes, all 40 songs are already unlocked.

During the course of the "World Tour" you'll unlock "passport stamps", "souvenirs", and "postcards" as you dance. There's really not much challenge to earning these-just dance with some semblance of accuracy and you'll see these goodies awarded to you throughout your dancing.

To get started, you first put your Wii remote into your Zumba Fitness Belt, which is included with the game. There's nothing really special about this belt other than having the Zumba logo on it, it's just a piece of flimsy plastic with a pocket that your put the Wii remote in. As with prior versions of the game, the key is to put the remote "up-side up" so that the power button is closest to your face and the "A" button is facing towards the TV.

Next comes the dancing. You'll see a scene from the area of the world you're visiting, and a Zumba instructor will be in the center of the screen. As with all these kinds of games you'll need to mimic his or her moves as if you're looking in a mirror. You'll also see a running count of the "Zumba Miles" you earn.

You'll also see a number of attractive professional Zumba dancers dancing along; the better you dance, the more Zumba dancers will join in. In a clever touch of humor and realism, in some scenes you'll also see a crowd of "amateur" Zumba dancers in the background who like you and me may not exactly be following the moves correctly (but like you and me, are trying their best).

As with other games of this ilk, you'll also see an animated preview of the next dance move that's coming in a postage stamp-sized window in the upper right-hand corner. I didn't find this very helpful, as it didn't really break down the moves for me, but as I play the game more I can see how this can be helpful in anticipating the next moves.

Unlike previous versions of Zumba Fitness, instead of an animated cartoon figure or a faceless silhouette, you'll see the actual video image of the instructor. This makes it a whole lot easier to pick out the moves they're doing, and is a lot more like a realistic Zumba session than ever before.

When you hit the right moves, you'll see the words "Zumba!", "Nice!" or "Hot!" appear on the screen, and the more precisely you dance, the more stars you earn. To test the motion controls, I did a little experiment where I just sat on the couch and waggled the remote--and sure enough the game was smart enough not to give me credit for doing that. That said, when I actually danced the way I was supposed to, it wasn't difficult for me to get 4 or 5 stars each time--even though my form was really, really bad. It seems that as long as you're "close", the system will reward you for trying. So you're kind of under the "honor system" to really put your all into the dancing and to try to learn the precise moves each time you play.

The "Full Class" option is more like a traditional Zumba class where you can choose one of 15 Short Classes (between 9 and 22 minutes), one of 15 Medium Classes (each about 40 minutes), one of 15 Full Length Classes (about 60 minutes each), or your own custom class. In the Full Classes, you basically dance to songs in the playlist continuously until the time is up. Your star rating will appear under each class, so if you don't hit five stars, you'll have incentive to go and play the class again.

With "Quick Play", you can jump in and start dancing to any of the 40 songs.

"My Zumba" lets you view your progress. You can see how many days you've been playing and get weekly reports on the amount of time you've played, the calories you've burned, the number of sets you've danced. You can also set goals for yourself and view the bonus videos, levels, and awards you've unlocked.

You can also view the postcards (signed by Zumba instructors standing in front of scenes from the different countries) and souvenirs (photos of cultural trinkets and knickknacks) that you've earned in your "World Scrapbook".

This section also has "Learn the Steps" where you can choose a dance style, basic step, and speed and master it. As I mentioned before, there's no training option where they break down each individual song, but by mastering the basic steps for each song you'll basically be able to tie them together when dancing the full songs.

Here are the Dance Styles and Steps you'll be able to practice:

Axe Samba - Basic Samba, Samba Box
Bollywood - Basic Bollywood Step, Step Together Cross Arms
Brazilian Funk - Booty Pop, In-Game Step
Burlesque - Hip Up and Down, Throw Arms
Capoiera - Balanco, Ginga
Cumbia - Front and Back, Sleepy Leg
Hip Hop - Cat Daddy, In-Game Step
Hula - Kaholo, Umi
Irish Step - Cross Over Leg, Knee In and Up
Merengue - 6 Count, Pas De Bouree
Pop - Booty 180, Kick Ball Change
Reggaeton - In-Game Step, Knee Lift
Salsa - In-Game Step, Side Step

Another nice things about the Wii version of the game is that is supports up to four simultaneous dancers, who can be dancing anywhere in the room. With the Xbox 360 (and One) versions, you're limited to two players standing within camera range.

My impression of Zumba World Class is pretty much the same as my reviews of past Zumba games. It's quite literally the next best thing if you can't make it to a real Zumba class. You get instruction from the top Zumba dancers in the world, you get 40 great songs to dance to, and you can dance any time of the day or night.

There are some minor annoyances in the game, mostly having to do with really bad user interface design. To select menus, you need to be ultra precise with the Wii remote to click on menu options, and you generally can't use the arrow button to navigate. During the Tutorial mode, you can't just use the arrow button on your Wii remote to move to the next dance, you need to take out your remote from your belt each time. While you're dancing the World Tour, between songs you'll see a screen that flashes for about half a second, which doesn't give you any time to read what it says. There are many more user interface annoyances that a fourth-generation game really shouldn't have.

Also, anyone who's expecting a game that'll help your Zumba technique might be disappointed in the motion tracking, which really only measures whether you're putting in an effort.

Still, as before, if you're a Zumba enthusiast, chances are you'll be able to overlook the flaws and be very happy with this one. The live action video dancing is an excellent new feature, and the new "world travel theme" that really provides incentives for you to keep dancing.

So the 5 stars I gave it is based on the assumption that if you're on this page you're already a Zumba fans or are someone who's interested in trying Zumba. But for those just looking for a general exercise and fitness game, the user interface annoyances probably move it closer to a 4 star game, and I'd probably still give the edge to a game like Wii Fit U or Your Shape 2013.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 26, 2014 9:33 PM PDT


Wii U Fit Meter
Wii U Fit Meter
Offered by C3 Computer Consultants
Price: $16.95
70 used & new from $13.12

155 of 159 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For owners of the Wii U and a Balance Board, a great alternative to FitBit or FuelBand, November 2, 2013
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Wii U Fit Meter (Accessory)
As most people know by now, Nintendo has a special deal for anyone who's a Wii U owner and already owns a Wii Balance Board. If you download the free 31-day trial version of Wii Fit U from the Nintendo eShop, all you have to do is purchase this $19.99 Fit Meter and register it in-game to convert the trial version into the full version. Considering that the retail bundle of the physical game + Fit Meter will cost $49.99--and won't even be released until 1/10/14--you can save $30 and get the full game right away. (The deal is only good until 1/31/14).

The unit itself is about the size of an Oreo cookie. The unit is fairly light, and its edges are smooth and rounded. While marketing images of the Fit Meter showed it in a lovely green color, Fit Meters currently come just in black/grey in North America.

The Wii U logo is on top, and on the bottom there are three buttons: a left and right arrow and a round button in the middle. The unit has a 1" x 3/4" LCD screen. As light as it is, the unit seems fairly durable; I've dropped mine a few times already and it's none the worse for wear. That said, I'd still handle it with care; the unit is covered by Nintendo's 12-month warranty, but that likely won't cover dings and scratches.

There's no backlight but the LCD display is pretty readable. Happily, the battery appears to be easily replaceable. You unscrew a single Phillips screw on the back of the unit, which reveals a CR 2032 watch battery. Because of some smart battery-saving techniques, the one battery should last you many months, if not longer (the LCD screen display only turns on when you press the button, but after a few minutes the screen will go into "sleep" mode, shutting off the display but still tracking your motions throughout the day).

When you power up the unit (by removing the plastic tab covering the battery), you'll see an icon of the Fit Meter next to an icon of the Wii U GamePad on the LCD screen. I took this as my cue to start up Wii Fit U to register it. When you do so, make sure that you're signed in to the profile that you want associated with the Fit Meter. While multiple users in Wii Fit U can use a Fit Meter, each person would need to have his or her own.

To get started with the registration process, you can simply click on the bouncing Fit Meter in the game. Then, click on the "Register" button. You'll be told to point the Fit Meter to your Wii U Gamepad. It took me a few tries before I realized I had to point the *top* of my Fit Meter to the *top* of the GamePad.

You then press and hold the middle button on the Fit Meter, and then you'll see a "Transmitting Data" screen. Lo and behold, in a few seconds, you'll see your Mii's face magically appear on the LCD screen. In a way that reminded me of a Tamagotchi, your Mii's facial expressions will change from time to time, giving your device a bit of a personality.

You basically clip it on your waist, and your movements will be tracked throughout the day. The Fit Meter is a pedometer that track steps, of course, but it does a whole lot more. It also tracks your altitude, displays the current time, displays the current temperature, and shows how many calories you've burned. I was pleasantly surprised that unlike other pedometers, this one seemed to be pretty accurate at tracking actual steps and of negating false positives (other pedometers I've had would give me 10 steps just for sneezing or dropping it). Walking is based on both number of steps and stride, so brisk walking or running is differentiated from casual movement. Similarly, it's smart enough to differentiate altitude changes when you walk vs. when you go on an elevator and "credit" you the right numbers.

There are actually a lot of neat little features on the unit itself. Pressing and quickly releasing the middle button let me scroll through various tiny graphs on the unit, including a METs graph (Metabolic Equivalents, basically a measure of exertion), an altitude chart, a chart of calories burned by week, and settings for volume (of the various chirps the unit makes) and for contrast of the LCD display.

Moving forward, whenever you start up Wii Fit U and select your profile, the system will ask you first to point your Fit Meter to the GamePad and sync the data.

After you register your device some things in Wii Fit U will change as well. First, you'll notice that your Mii is now wearing the Fit Meter on his or her waist. There'll also be two new menu options:

The first is called "Fit Meter Data", where you'll be able to view data transferred from your Fit Meter, with detailed information for each day. You can see the number of METs expended each day, by the hour of the day, whether you're running, ascending, descending, walking, doing light activity, or resting. Over time, it's fascinating to look for patterns in your daily activities.

The second is called "Fit Meter Challenge" where you can use your Fit Meter data and challenge yourself to complete "courses" from around the world. You can choose walking challenges or altitude challenges. For example, if you choose a walking course in New York, you're shown a blank map of New York City with a running path from Midtown, up to Central Park, down through Times Square, and down the West Side to Battery Park for a total of 13 miles. Each time you open the map, you'll be given the option of getting "credit" for the miles you've put onto your Fit Meter since the last time you synced the data. You'll see your little Mii progressing along the path, with buildings being filled in to the blank map, and coins "blinging" along the way (which, ever since the first Mario Bros. game provides me with a Pavlovian sense of happiness). You'll also get some nice encouragement from the animated Balance Board with each milestone you hit. Similarly, you can choose altitude challenges; for example, climbing the equivalent of the Statue of Liberty, Mount Fuji, or Mount Everest. It's a nice added incentive to rack up as many miles as you can on the Fit Meter.

If you have exercise goals set up in Wii Fit U, the system will determine from the synced data if you've met those goals through your daily activity, and if not, will suggest additional activities within the game for you to complete your goals.

Overall, I'm very pleased so far with the Fit Meter. I'm not a hardcore athlete, but I do run to catch the train most mornings, and many afternoons after work I opt to take the 20 block walk back to the train station rather than taking the subway. I've been thinking about getting a FitBit or a Nike+ to track my exercise, but those have been prohibitively expensive. I've also tried using iPhone apps, but it's always hard for me to remember to turn them on and off. For me, the Fit Meter seems like a natural and hassle-free way for me to give myself "credit" for the energy I exert through the day--and to use the data to find ways to improve. It's definitely a "must buy" if you own a Wii U and a Balance Board.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 8, 2014 8:24 AM PDT


Just Dance Kids 2014 - Nintendo Wii
Just Dance Kids 2014 - Nintendo Wii
Offered by Budget Video Games Inc.
Price: $18.47
69 used & new from $4.99

112 of 116 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good family-friendly alternative to Just Dance 2014, but still in its shadow, October 23, 2013
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Just Dance 2014, as all of its predecessors, is a great video game, but it can be a bit of a dilemma for parents. On the one hand, it's a great way to have fun as a family and to get some great exercise. But on the other hand, some parents may feel uncomfortable having to explain songs like "Get Lucky", "Blurred Lines" and "I Kissed a Girl" to their very young kids.

Ubisoft's answer to these parents is Just Dance Kids 2014. The gameplay is essentially the same as Just Dance 2014, with a few differences that make it more kid friendly. While it's not without its flaws, Ubisoft did a pretty good job of making it a game that the whole family can enjoy.

The first difference is that a lot of the extras you see in Just Dance 2014 aren't there. There are no "Sweat Mode" and no "Mojo Points" to earn. The tracks have one set of dance steps, unlike Just Dance 2014 that has multiple routines per song. And of course, there's no "JDTV" nor online play options. You also can't create dancer cards nor track individual dancers' performances (everyone plays as "Player 1", "Player 2", and so on).

The next difference is in the track list. It's not the typical fingerboards-on-the-chalkboard-please-put-me-out-of-my-misery collection of kiddie songs sung by someone who's breathed in too much helium. It actually has a soundtrack which, dare I say, is pretty "cool". You have pop songs from stars who got their starts on the Disney Channel like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Bridget Mendler, as well as popular songs from groups like One Direction and Owl City that tweens in the family will enjoy. You also have oldies like "Magic Carpet Ride", "Footloose" and "The Hustle" that Mom and Dad will appreciate; a few kid-friendly songs from the likes of the cast of Fraggle Rock and The Wiggles; and even "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Hickory Dickory Dock" for the toddlers in the family (the former which inexplicably has a difficulty rating of 2/3 stars).

Here's a complete track list:

789
Day O
Do You Love Me
Fireflies
Footloose
Fraggle Rock
The Freeze Game - Yo Gabba Gabba
Get Down On It
Get Ready to Wiggle - The Wiggles
Give Your Heart a Break - Demi Lovato
Hickory Dickory Dock
Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Hit the Lights - Selena Gomez and The Scene
The Hustle
I Like to Move It
Interstellar Simon
Magic Carpet Ride
Make It Shine - Victoria Justice
Mary Had a Little Lamb
One Thing - One Direction
Party in the Kitchen
A Pirate You Shall Be
Power Ups
Problem (The Monster Remix) - Becky G feat. will.i.am
Put Your Hearts Up - Ariana Grande
Ready or Not - Bridget Mendler
Shout
Skip To My Lou
The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room
Walking on Sunshine
We Go Well Together - Goldheart

Each song is marked with 1-3 stars for difficulty and 1-3 sweat drops for energy level, something which has been in all the versions of Just Dance but which some reason was taken away from Just Dance 2014.

The other big difference is in the graphics. Instead of a faceless silhouette as your dance guide, your dance guide is a video image of actual kids dancing to the songs. My guess is that they decided to use real animated figures instead of abstract ones because they're easier for kids to follow--there's even a glowing trail on the dancer's right hand that makes it extremely easy to follow. The animations are also whimsical and again, have a bit more realism and a bit less abstraction than the grown-up game.

I'm not sure if I was having a bad night, but motion tracking wasn't working as well for me as it did on Just Dance 2014, which can always be a bit frustrating. Interestingly, Just Dance 2014 for Kids uses the Wii Remote, while the grown-up version uses the Wii Remote Plus, so that might account for some of the difference.

There are three dance modes. The first is "Just Dance", where just like the grown-up version 1-4 players can dance to the song and are scored on accuracy.

The second is "Freeze and Shake", which is kind of a cross between "Red Light, Green Light" and "Simon Says" where in the middle of the song you'll see icons next to your avatar telling you to shake your Wii remote or to freeze, and you'll get points for following the instructions correctly. While I assume this mode was meant to appeal to younger players who are frustrated because they can't do the dance moves, but want to get points for following instructions, this feature kind of fell flat for me. Even as an adult, it was hard for me to focus on the dance moves and constantly be looking in the upper left-hand corner to see whether I should shake the remote or move it.

The third mode is "Team High Score", where all the players will dance, and while a "spotlight" shines on a certain player's avatar, that player will dance while the other players will shake their remotes vigorously to collect the "stars" that the player generates. Again, probably a good feature for young players who want to feel like they're earning points just like the older players, but not a very appealing feature for everyone.

While I appreciate the addition of these extra modes to try to make it more fun for the family to play together, I'm not sure if these particular modes will be appealing to anyone except for the very young players to "fit in". That said, I'd definitely like to see future versions continue to try to come up with ways the whole family can play together.

There's a "Parents" section of the game that has six options: "Play Tracker", where parents can view the gameplay history; "Progress" that shows top scores for each of the songs in each of the modes, as well as the number of times each song has been played; "Medals", which shows achievements of various kinds; "Options", which lets you toggle lyrics, next move icons, progress meter and usage tracking on and off, and also lets you choose your language (English, Spanish, French). There's also a "Philosophy" button in this section; when you click it, you read a personal note from the designers, artists, producers and programmers of the game who talk about their approach to making this game.

I definitely appreciate this team's philosophy, and they did do a very good job of making a game that's really family-friendly and age-appropraite. But I was a bit disappointed that the new modes weren't as compelling for all ages as they could have been. Also, there are plenty of songs and features on the grown-up version of Just Dance that are perfectly family-friendly, and kids who see their friends with Just Dance 2014 may feel a bit slighted that Just Dance Kids 2014 doesn't have the same level of features or songs.

I almost wish that instead of "penalizing" parents by making them purchase a new $29.99 game, Ubisoft could just incorporate some of these songs and features into the regular version of Just Dance and provide parental controls for parents who want them.

But that said, if you're a parent who has young children, Just Dance Kids 2014 has a great selection of songs and dances for kids aged 6-14, and you can rest assured that you won't be blushing trying to explain the lyrics to the songs.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 22, 2014 9:10 AM PST


Goji Play - Make 30 minutes of exercise feel like 5!
Goji Play - Make 30 minutes of exercise feel like 5!
Offered by Blue Goji Corp
Price: $99.99

53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathes new life into your old elliptical, treadmill, or exercise bike, October 14, 2013
If you're like me, you have an old exercise machine somewhere in the basement collecting dust. In my case, it was an elliptical that I paid too much money for, but I justified it by saying that I was saving money by not paying for a gym membership, and that after just a few weeks this thing would pay for itself.

It's about 10 years after I bought that thing, and it hasn't paid for itself yet. I think I can count the number of times I've used it on my fingers and toes. It's just too...danged...boring. I tried reading (I bounce too much), watching TV (I can't do both things at once), and staring into space (not fun), and nothing makes the experience enjoyable.

That all changed with this product. It's actually quite ingenious. Rather than try to sell you yet another overpriced piece of exercise equipment, Goji Play works with the equipment you have.

The concept is simple: you have two "game controllers", each of which are basically a plastic box with two buttons. You strap these onto the handles of your equipment (or if you have a treadmill without a handle, you can use two "batons" made of dense foam that you can grasp on to.

Then, you have an activity sensor that you clip onto your waist or put in your pocket.

Finally, you download the free Goji Play app to your iPhone 4S or higher, iPad 3 or higher, iPad Mini, or iPod Touch 5th Generation (unfortunately it doesn't work with an iPad 2, which I have, so I used my 4s. It also doesn't support Android devices, but I'm sure they're working on it).

Within the app, you'll configure your equipment (it's really seamless) and then you can download games from the App Store. Right now they have eight different games you can download and play (all free as of the time of this writing). Once all this is done, place the phone or tablet in front of you so you can see it as you're working out.

This is where the magic happens. What was once a dull, boring piece of exercise equipment now becomes a really addictive video fitness trainer. Suddenly, you're a ball rolling at breakneck speed down a path, a snowboarder going down a hill, a bicyclist weaving through city traffic, and so on. The faster you run, or pedal, or...elliptisize, the faster your character moves on screen!

And you're so focused trying to accomplish tasks in the video game, such as collecting diamonds or avoiding obstacles, that you forget that you're exercising. I literally tried out two games just to see what they were like, and before I knew it I had exercised 40 minutes.

What's very cool is that you can return to the Goji Play app, and you'll see statistics of your exercise and how you're progressing towards your goals, such as calories burned or number of steps.

I've played a lot of exercise games on the Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. In a lot of cases, these video games just try way too hard, whether it's trying to do overly complex motion detection, over-stylizing the graphics to the point where performance is hit, or stuffing in a lot of features you don't need, like cookbooks.

What I really like about the Goji Play games is that they're simple, easy-to-understand, and as such as really addictive. If there's a gripe I have about them, it's that the games themselves do have a bit of an amateruish feel about them in terms of visual design. I understand that a certain amount of prettiness had to be sacrificed for performance, but I would rather, for example, have seen them make some deals with some existing game publishers to "Goji-ize" already-successful games rather than attempt to re-create them from scratch. Perhaps they're working on this, or partner with a seasoned game company to build a game that's just as compelling to play without the equipment as it is with it (a FPS or track-and-field game could be really interesting, for example, as could an app like Wii Street U that uses Google Street view).

Overall, I was pretty impressed by this product so far. Its inventors were also inventors of the phenomenally successful Guitar Hero franchise, so I hope for more exciting things from them in the future.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 26, 2014 10:32 AM PDT


Just Dance 2014 - Nintendo Wii
Just Dance 2014 - Nintendo Wii
Offered by Deal Cavern
Price: $24.75
92 used & new from $18.64

79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent improvements that continue to push the franchise forward, October 10, 2013
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
What I like about Just Dance 2014 is not only that they've added some great new features, but they've also kept what's worked from past versions.

Some of the things they've kept:

- Good motion detection. They've been continually improving motion detection on the Wii since Just Dance 2, and they've just about perfected it by finally supporting the Wii Remote Plus. It's not as precise as a Kinect or a Playstation Move, but it's still very good--if you do the dance correctly and hold the Wii remote correctly, you will get a high score. The Wii Remote Plus is a little less "forgiving" than in previous versions of the game, but as long as you use the proper technique (grasp the Wii remote like a baton with buttons facing toward you, don't twist your wrists while dancing, etc.) you'll do fine. (I was actually convinced that my Wii remote was broken when I kept losing points to a certain song, until my 10 year old nephew used the same remote and instantly got 5 stars on the same song. :P)

- Simple, fast graphics and animation. I much prefer to try to follow a simple silhouetted figure than an overly stylized, overly realistic character. And I love the sense of humor of the animators--in certain songs you might be dancing as a panda, zombie, flower child, or ghost.

- Just Sweat mode. You can play 10, 20, or 40 minutes at a time, or turn on "free mode" to count calories on any song you play during the game. As another reviewer has stated, you can't save playlists; one is randomly generated for you each time. You can customize the playlist each time prior to working out.

- Excellent variety of different choreography for each song. Each song comes with a standard set of dance moves, but for many songs you can unlock other variations, such as "On Stage" (where multiple players interact with each other as they're dancing in a musical), "Mashup" (which consists of moves from past Just Dance games) and "Sweat" (which maximizes moves that give you a great workout).

Here are some of the newer things in Just Dance 2014 I like:

- Dancer Cards. You can set up a profile, give yourself a nickname, and then any time track your total kCals burned in Just Sweat Mode, your favorite songs, your average star rating, and your online level. You can even choose from an oh-so-cute set of avatar faces to identify you, a huge improvement over the past when you could only be identified by color and a generic name like "Happy".

- Online gameplay. I wasn't sure if they could pull this off but they did. When you log on, you'll see an icon called "World Dance Floor" and see the number of online players dancing. You can join in and participate in friendly competitions, voting for songs, or just dancing with the group and seeing who gets the highest score. The good news for those who want to keep their online identities secure is that you're only identified by your Dancer Card nickname.

- A better points system. Unlike Just Dance 4 where you had to collect Mojo Points and then wait for a random thing in the game to be unlocked, Just Dance 2014 uses a "shopping" system where you can collect points and then use them to "buy" different things to unlock, such as alternate choreography or mash-ups.

- A great new mix of contemporary songs and oldies. I'm not sure why Amazon doesn't publish full lists of the tracks, but for your convenience here's a complete song list that lists artist, song name, and the number of dancers and difficulty level of the classic choreography. (They've done away with separate rating for difficulty and exertion, and have simplified it to easy, medium, and hard.)

One Direction - Kiss You - 4 - Easy
Lady Gaga - Just Dance - 1 - Hard
George Michael - Careless Whisper - 2 - Hard
Ke$ha - C'mon - 2 - Medium
David Guetta ft SIA - She Wolf (Falling to Pieces) - 1 - Medium
The Girly Team - Flashdance-What a Feeling - 1 - Hard
Disney's Aladdin - Prince Ali - 4 - Medium
Daft Punk ft. Pharrel Williams - Get Lucky - 2 - Medium
Jessie J ft. Big Sean - Wild - 1 - Hard
PSY - Gentleman - 1 - Medium
Robin Thicke ft. Pharrel Williams - Blurred Lines - 2 - Easy
Ray Parker Jr. - Ghostbusters - 4 - Medium
Gloria Gaynor- I Will Survive - 1 - Easy
Will.i.am ft. Justin Bieber - #thatPOWER - 4 - Hard
Daddy Yankee - Limbo - 2 - Hard
Ariana Grande ft. Mac Miller - The Way - 2 - Easy
Nicki Minaj - Pound the Alarm - 4 - Medium
Frankie Bostello - Love Boat - 1 - Medium
Olly Mira ft. Flo Rida - Troublemaker - 1 - Easy
Lady Gaga - Applause - 1 - Medium
Mick Jackson- Blame it on the Boogie - 4 - Easy
Imposs ft. Konshens- Feel So Right - 1 - Hard
Mungo Jerry- In the Summertime - 4 - Easy
Chris Brown - Fine China - 1 - Medium
Louis Prima - Just a Gigolo - 2 - Medium
Rihanna - Where Have You Been - 1 - Hard
Ricky Martin - Maria - 1 - Hard
Abba - Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) - 1 - Easy
Dancing Bros - Moskau - 2 - Hard
Pitbull ft. Christina Aguilera - Feel This Moment - 1 - Easy
Wisin Y Handel ft. Jennifer Lopez - Follow the Leader -1 - Hard
Village People - YMCA - 4 - Easy
Far East Movement ft. Cover Drive - Turn Up the Love - 2 - Hard
Bob Marley - Could You Be Loved - 2 - Easy
Nicki Minaj - Starships - 1 - Hard
Rutschen Planeten - 99 Luftballons - 2 - Easy
Robbie Williams - Candy- 2 - Medium
Katy Perry - I Kissed a Girl - 1 - Medium
Bog Bog Orkestar - Isidora - 1 - Medium
Gwen Stefani ft. Eve- Rich Girl - 1 - Easy
Duck Sauce - It's You - 1 - Medium
The Sunlight Shakers - Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In - 2 - Easy
Sammie - Misunderstood - 1 - Medium
Sunlight Express - Nitro Bot - 2 - Medium
Jason Derulo - The Other Side - 1 - Hard
Ivete Sangalo - Dancando - 1 - Medium
(Free download) Katy Perry - Roar

There were a few things I wasn't crazy about:

- Headaches of getting online. It's just confusing having to sign in with a Nintendo account and then to have to create a separate Ubisoft "Uplay" account. And there appear to be glitches in the early going of the system--for several times I tried to log on and I either got a "The Ubisoft servers are down" message or it just kept saying "waiting" until I had to reboot.

- The shared videos. I admit, after a while I found the videos that amateur users upload a bit repetitive and annoying, especially when they go through the automated editing process that shortens them. I'd rather see full dance performances from really good dancers, the kind you can pull up on YouTube.

Still, the negative aspects of the game didn't detract from the main gameplay, so I can let it pass. All told, the new features of Just Dance 2014 along are a vast improvement over Just Dance 4 and prior. Highly recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 22, 2013 5:16 AM PST


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