Wii Fit – 1st Day’s Take

Given my work at MIT on Cyclescore (a platform that fused original games with stationary cycling), you can imagine my excitement over Wii Fit. The Wii + Brain Age-style game design seems like a match made in heaven. Having now played Wii Fit, I think I can say with confidence that it absolutely will be a match made in heaven someday soon. Probably v2, but not quite v1. I’m sure I’ll have more to say after using Wii Fit for a month, but here are my first impressions:

The good

A virtual exercise group: in some exercises, there are several Mii avatars around you, participating in the routine. If you’ve created Miis for your friends and family, it will be those Miis exercising around you. I don’t know how long the effect will last, but in my first experience with Wii Fit, I really enjoyed seeing that!

Balance feedback: Many of the exercises do a good job of giving you real-time feedback on your balance and center of gravity. Minimizing wiggle and keeping yourself centered a challenge, no matter how graceful and fit you happen to be. My wife, who has been practicing yoga for years and is now being certified as a teacher, still found herself challenged by the need to stay perfectly still and to move smoothly (to be fair, she certainly looked still to me, but the WF balance board wasn’t fooled!)

In fact, Wii Fit’s entertaining (and demanding!) use of balance is ultimately one of it’s greatest triumphs. I have to admit, with my fixation on cardio, I never would have come up with this myself. I probably replayed one balance minigame, skiing, at least twenty times before moving on because I was so enthralled by the challenge. (“Maybe if I tuck my knees a little more, I’ll miss fewer turns.”) Not bad at all, given that I generally want to try as many modes as possible in as short a time as possible.

All the usual Brain Age tricks: Charts, milestone ages, etc.. it’s all there. In particularly, I’ve always appreciated the way these games unlock new minigames, new modes, etc, as time goes on. When I was at my 28th minutes of exercise, I wanted to play for two more minutes in hopes of unlocking something new at 30 minutes. I’m sure the same effect will kick in 5 to 10 minutes before every 30 and 60 minute mark in the future, as long as Wii Fit keeps rewarding me semi-regularly (but not always!) with cool, if sometimes minor things. Although I hate unlockables in some games — especially party games — it makes perfect sense in Wii Fit, which needs a wide variety of positive feedback mechanisms to keep you motivated.

The bad

Occasionally inconsistent and overly-negative feedback: When you perform poorly in some minigames, you’ll be hit with 1 out of 4 stars and your Mii will hang its head in shame. Immediately afterwards, you’ll be cheered for your score (easy enough when you first start out, and there are few high scores on the board.) This was terribly irritating — it felt like I was being mocked! Nintendo would do well to tone down the shame when you fail, and tone down the painfully-undeserved praise immediately afterwards!

This was part of a confusing pattern in the game — undeserved praise peppered with borderline-insulting comments (like “do you trip when you walk?”) Positive feedback is incredibly important to a successful exertainment experience, so I understand the desire to err on the side of excess there. But the excess negativity just mystifies me.

The ugly

Board size: I’m surprised more people haven’t written about this. People with really big feet are not going to be able to enjoy Wii Fit, in general. My feet, which aren’t particularly large, felt slightly oversized for the balance board, and it definitely (if rarely) detracted from my enjoyment of the experience. I’ve got a few friends who wear size 12 and 13 shoes, and I can’t imagine that they’ll enjoy Wii Fit at all.

So close to cardio, and yet so far: This is the single biggest knock against Wii Fit, and the single easiest thing to fix in v2 (which may very well be an important part of Nintendo’s upgrade plan.) Several reviewers have noted that you can’t string a bunch of exercises together into a “training regimen” and eliminate the fluff between the exercises, which means that you spend half your “exercise” time navigating menus and watching transitions. What a waste. You also don’t have the option of being “pushed” by a trainer to work harder, which means that if Wii Fit’s clever positive feedback loops don’t hook you, you’re guaranteed to quit early or spend too much time on the less exhausting exercises.

Really, truly, so close… I mean, they managed to make a virtual hula hoop game fun! The rest should have been easy. I think it’s a measure of just how high my esteem is for Nintendo (and how high my expectations were for this product) that I’m thoroughly disappointed by this particular oversight. But it’s an oversight that is guaranteed to be corrected by Nintendo or by a third party — I’d guess within 16 months, tops.

Relatedly, “running” (you stick the wiimote in your pocket and jog in place), which is probably the fastest way to work up a sweat playing Wii Fit, is also the least imaginative and most boring activity in the game. (Unless it gets more interesting after you unlock a hidden mode — unfortunately, I have no desire to do so. It’s that boring.) It would have been easy to spice up the running mode with the nunchuck, which you could use while the wiimote is in your pocket (btw, how many people have made the “is that a wiimote in your pocket” joke, yet?) Then they could have given you something to focus on while you jog in place like an idiot… coins to collect… targets to hit… anything would be better than staring at an underwhelming virtual landscape. And I don’t think the problem is “I’m too much of a gamer,” because Eve couldn’t get into the running mode either.

Sign off

So there you have it — my review, for what it’s worth. As an industry, this brings us much, much closer to the goal of popular exertainment in every home. Kudos to Nintendo for making it happen, and for doing not one, but several things brilliantly in the process. I have little doubt that they will correct the few significant flaws in Wii Fit, and that I will someday be spending $40 to $50 on “Wii Fit 2.”

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