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Take that Balance Board out of the closet
on October 7, 2009
If you're like me, you got the Wii Fit, used it a few times, and put it in the closet once the novelty wore off.
The best thing to happen to the Wii Fit was a little something called EA Sports Active. It was released by Electronic Arts a few months ago, and they raised the bar for what a fitness title should look like. The influence of EA Sports Active on Nintendo's Wii Fit Plus is very apparent, and the Nintendo folks did a great job of taking Wii Fit to the next level.
The first thing to note is that Wii Fit Plus is not a "sequel" to the original Wii Fit, but rather it contains all the content of the original Wii Fit and adds a number of improvements. In other words, if you don't have Wii Fit already, you can skip it, buy Wii Fit Plus with the Balance Board. If you already have Wii Fit, you can buy the Wii Fit Plus game only.
For those with the old Wii Fit, the conversion of your old profile data to the new is quick and seamless. It just takes a couple seconds and voila, all of your old weight data and workout data is available in Wii Fit Plus.
The first improvement, clearly influenced by EA Sports Active, is that instead of choosing individual strength and yoga exercises ad-hoc, you can choose from a number of pre-configured workout routines. "My Wii Fit Plus" is a virtual locker room, where your animated balance board (as chipper and encouraging as ever) walks you through the process of choosing a workout routine based on any number of specific goals, ranging from better health to improving specific parts of your body.
The activities are still broken out by category: Yoga, Strength Training, Aerobics, and Balance Games. All of these are identical to the old Wii Fit, except that there there are a 6 new Yoga and Strength training exercises which add some more variety and challenge to those categories.
But here's the part of the review I'm sure you've been waiting for. The biggest improvement in Wii Fit Plus is the addition of 15 "Training Plus" activities.
Perfect 10 (Workout intensity: 2 of 5, Fun 4 of 5): A game that tests your math skills as much as your flexibility. Numbers will appear on giant mushroom, and you bump your hips to hit the numbers that add (or subtract) to 10 or 15 or 20. You won't be losing huge amounts of weight from this one, but it's a great way to test your mind and body coordination and this is one you'll play over and over again to try to beat your high score.
Island Cycling (Workout intensity: 4 of 5, Fun 4 of 5): This is a game that uses the Balance Board (you step on the board with your left and right foot to simulate bicycle pedalling) and the Wiimote (which you use to steer). The game itself looks a lot like the cycling game on Wii Sports Resort, except you move your feet instead of your hands. Unlike that game, this game isn't timed; rather, you need to cycle around a large island collecting flags. The island is beautifully designed with amazing details. This is definitely one you can spend a lot of time on and not even realize you were exercising.
Rhythm Kung-Fu (Workout intensity: 3 of 5, Fun 5 of 5): This is the first game that put a huge smile on my face. Using your Wiimote, the Nunchuk, and the Balance Board, you have to strike different "kung fu" poses in rhythm to delightfully cheesy kung-fu movie music. It's essentially a game of "Simon Says", where you mimic the moves of a groups of Miis standing behind you (and if you have family or friend Miis on your system, you'll see some familiar faces).
Driving Range (Workout intensity: 1 of 5, Fun 4 of 5): Sure, golf has been done in Wii Sports, in Wii Sports Resort, and in games like Tiger Woods PGA Tour. Wii Fit Plus brings something a little different to the table, though. You position the Balance Board vertically, and swing your Wii-mote like a golf club. There's a "swing analyzer" which is surprisingly good not just for casual video game golfers but also for real golfers to analyze their form. It measures the straightness of your swing, your weight distribution, and gives a pretty good indication of how far your drive will go.
Segway Circuit (Workout intensity: 3 of 5, Fun 4 of 5): In a clever co-branding deal, Nintendo teamed up with the folks at Segway for this game. In it, you ride a Segway around the island trying to pop balloons that are being put up around the island by pesky moles. Like a real Segway, you lean forward to move forward and you lean back to go back, steering with the Wii-mote.
Bird's-Eye Bull's-Eye, a.k.a. Flying Chicken (Workout intensity: 5 of 5, Fun 5 of 5): This is the one you probably heard about, and it (along with Obstacle Course) is the winner. Your Mii dons a chicken outfit and has to fly from target to target. How do you fly? By flapping your arms. You can either flap your arms with your hands extended, or do a "chicken dance" type movement by bending your elbows. Either way, the Balance Board will amazingly detect how strongly, quickly, or slowly you're flapping. Like a real bird, you flap faster to get better control, and you flap slower to soar great distances. You control where you're moving by leaning on the Balance Board.
Snowball Fight (Workout intensity: 2 of 5, Fun 5 of 5): This one is just plain fun. You use the Wii-mote to shoot snowballs at an invading army of Miis (again, if you have custom Miis stored on your system you'll see some familiar faces), and duck left and right to hide behind a barricade to avoid getting hit yourself with snowballs.
Obstacle Course (Workout intensity: 5 of 5, Fun 5 of 5): This is the game I was most looking forward too, and I was not disappointed. You run in place on the Balance Board to make your character move forward and you straighten your knees to make him jump. In the process, you'll be navigating around huge swinging wrecking balls, moving sidewalks, and falling logs.
Tilt City (Workout intensity: 1 of 5, Fun 3 of 5): I admit, I'm not so crazy about these "tilt" games, maybe because I'm just not very coordinated. This is a game where you need to tilt the Wii-mote and shift your weight on the balance board in a coordinated fashion to steer colored balls into the right container.
Rhythm Parade (Workout intensity: 4 of 5, Fun 5 of 5): This was another one to put a huge smile on my face. You're basically a drum major, marching in place to the sound of a beat. Like rhythm games like Helix and Samba Di Amigo, you move your Wii-mote and Nunchuk to match on-screen cues. The better you match, the bigger your marching band becomes (and again, you'll see familiar faces join in the band if you have custom Miis).
Big Top Juggling (Workout intensity: 3 of 5, Fun 4 of 5): No, this one won't really teach you how to juggle, but once you're done you'll have the same satisfaction as if you did know how. It's a game where you have to stay balanced on a giant ball (using your feet on the Balance Board), while at the same time keeping 1, 2, or 3 balls in the the air by flicking your Wii-mote and Nunchuk.
Skateboard Arena (Workout intensity: 4 of 5, Fun 4 of 5): This seems like a pretty fair representation of riding a skateboard. You position the Balance Board vertically and stand on it like a skateboard. You can build speed by pushing off your back foot. You steer by moving your body back and forth, and you can jump by straightening your knees. You go through a series of exercises just like a real skateboarder, from jumping on ramps to riding on rails to doing tricks on half-pipes.
Table Tilt Plus (Workout intensity: 1 of 5, Fun 3 of 5): This one is a lot like those labyrinth games where you're trying to steer a ball around holes (in this case, you're trying to get balls into holes).
Balance Bubble Plus (Workout intensity: 1 of 5, Fun 2 of 5): Same sentiments as I wrote above. This is an improved version of the old Wii Fit Balance game where you're floating in a bubble trying to navigate your way through a maze.
Basic Run Plus (Workout intensity: 5 of 5, Fun 3 of 5): This is a variation of the jogging game in the Aerobic games section of Wii Fit Plus. Like that game, you control this one by running in place on the Balance Board, and you're treated to a lot of great scenery and new paths to explore on Wii Fit Island. An added feature is that at the end of the game, you'll be quizzed on things you saw, which is added to your final score, which surprisingly makes the run a lot more interesting, as you make sure to carefully observe every little detail as you're running.
1) The use of METs and report of calories burned. What does METs stand for? METs (which stands for Metabolic EquivalenTs) is a standard way to measure energy expenditure. One annoyance with the old Wii Fit was that whether you did an exercise that used no energy like a stretching exercise or one that expended vast amounts of energy like Super Hula Hoop, your progress was marked by the time spent or "Fit Credits" that didn't mean anything in the real world. With Wii Fit Plus, METs are used in conjunction with your body weight and the time spent to calculate the number of calories burned. There's even a neat little function in My Wii Fit Plus where you can see the number of calories you've burned in terms of food (you can even choose the type and amount of food you want to burn off and set it as a goal).
2) Balance Board improvements. With the old Wii Fit, each time you started a new routine, you'd need to wait for the Balance Board to calibrate. I suppose this was intended in the case where multiple people would be sharing the Balance Board, but it got annoying very fast. Wii Fit Plus is a bit more intelligent, in that it'll sense whether the weight has changed and give the option to recalibrate only if it has. I've experienced a number of "false positives" in which it thought my weight changed when it didn't, but that's just a minor annoyance compared to the old way. I was actually a bit puzzled as to why the Wii MotionPlus wasn't used in this game, but with the improvements to the Balance Board they really weren't necessary.
3) The ability to measure a child or pet. This is a gimmick, of course, but a totally fun one if you have the aforementioned child or pet to measure. :)
Overall, Wii Fit Plus is a winner. To Nintendo's credit, they weren't content just to rest on their laurels, but they came up with improvements that truly breathed new life into the Wii Fit.