This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Nintendo's peripheral-bundled fitness title Wii Fit, which critics claim is "absolutely worth giving it a try if you have a Wii, $90, and some extra pounds to lose."
Originally released in Japan in December of last year, Nintendo's Wii Fit won acclaim for its unique focus on physical training and self-improvement as gameplay mechanics. Using its included weight-sensing Balance Board peripheral, players participate in a variety of exercises and minigames daily to improve personal fitness and health.
Wii Fit achieved quick sales success upon its UK release late last month, and remained a difficult find in the weeks thereafter due to supply shortages resulting from high demand. Wii Fit hits North American shores this week to a Metacritic-averaged score of 80 out of 100.
Adam Riley at Cubed3 scores Wii Fit at 9 out of 10. "Nintendo took Japan by storm on the DS with Brain Training and now it has managed to create the equivalent for Wii in the form of the Wii Fit package for the more health-conscious folk out there," he writes. "With the game and Wii Balance Board peripheral already nearly at the two million mark in Japan after only being on the market since December 2007 and showing no signs of slowing down just yet, Nintendo has a hot property on its hands."
Riley praises Wii Fit's simple aesthetic as having widespread appeal. "What is on offer in terms of presentation right off the bat is the standard whites and pale, pastel colours that aim to relax players and create a peaceful atmosphere," he describes. "It may seem like a simple set-up to many, but the approach works wonders and is so inoffensive that it will ultimately appeal to anyone that chooses to pick this up."
"All in all, everything glows with the usual Nintendo professionalism and the routine addition of Mii characters adds more familiarity," Riley continues. "This time each Mii seemingly has more facial expressions than ever before and has a more well-defined body, with its shape actually changing dependant on your actual real life weight as your measurement is taken by the Balance Board, meaning as you get thinner, so does your Mii."
Riley explains that Wii Fit's daily weight calculation breaks down in a way similar to Nintendo's Brain Age series on the Nintendo DS. "Each day the Board measures your weight and compares that against your height to work out a Body Mass Index rating," he says, "and then mixes in your actual age to provide users with a 'Wii Fit Age', with the various graphs and charts on offer helping people track their progress over time.
"As the programme says, if the Wii Fit Age is much higher than your actual one, then it appears the body in question is weaker than it should be, so clearly aiming to bring down that age is imperative for success in Wii Fit."
Though Riley is pleased with Wii Fit's various workout modes, he warns that some may feel that its minigame variety is lacking. "There are a slew of Balance Games, and although many are quite limited, they are thoroughly good fun nonetheless," he claims. "Tilting platforms around to roll ball-shaped Mii characters into holes is Monkey Ball-esque in how frustrating it is, yet immense fun all the same; moving your centre of balance to guide a bubble safely through a perilous ravine without touching any outcrops is nerve-wracking entertainment."
Riley finds that Wii Fit is a worthy overall package. "Seeing your exercise efforts actually paying off each day is going to impetus enough for those seriously considering losing weight or even toning up," he concludes. "Thankfully there is the 'fun' element to Wii Fit as well, and family members will come back at times purely to have just one more go on the Ski Jump or to see how quickly they can cross the treacherous tight rope and hula hoop like crazy to beat that previous high score."
Wired's Chris Kohler shares much of the same praise, awarding Wii Fit a rating of 8 out of 10. "Fitness-themed videogames are about as fresh as a sweaty gym sock," he admits, "but Wii Fit might be the exercise title that finally gets gamers off the couch."
Kohler describes Wii Fit's Balance Board as effectively creating a new control scheme. "The Balance Board measures the force applied to its four different quadrants. In so doing, it can measure your weight, but also your center of gravity," he explains. "Around this simple-yet-ingenious control scheme, Nintendo has built a series of exercises, yoga poses and 'balance games,' all with a virtual trainer to walk you through the routines."
How effective are Wii Fit's training regimens? "Even if you only use it as an at-home yoga trainer, Wii Fit might be worth the $90 price tag," Kohler asserts. "In 15 different poses, from Standing Tree to Downward-Facing Dog, an on-screen trainer will walk you through the routines and measure your balance as you attempt to stand on one leg without falling over."
"Same with the strength-training exercises," Kohler continues, "of which there are another 15 -- push-ups, jackknife sit-ups, lunges, etc. By measuring the changes in force that you're applying with your legs and arms to the Balance Board, the game knows if you're doing the exercises right. As you complete them, you'll unlock tougher routines, as well as the option to turn up the heat by increasing reps."
Kohler finds that Wii Fit's minigames don't have the same impact, however. "There is also a selection of cartoony games that use the Balance Board for sillier aims: Walking a tightrope, heading soccer balls, hula-hooping," he describes. "These can be a workout, especially the Tae Bo-style rhythmic boxing game, but I found it was much more efficient to just stick with the real-life exercises."
"But does it work?" Kohler asks. "Well, that depends on what you mean. Is Wii Fit a magic bullet that will, through the mystical power of Nintendo, transform flabby gamers into bodybuilders? Insofar as no such thing could ever possibly exist, the answer is no.
"If by 'work,' however, we are asking if the exercises do what they're supposed to, then absolutely. After half an hour of Wii Fit, I'm generally dripping sweat onto my Balance Board, totally drained. Wii Fit knows when I blow a push-up, and it always registers when I've done one correctly."
Kohler expresses disappointment in Wii Fit's lack of customizable workout routines and soundtracks, but feels that the package is nevertheless worth a purchase. "Wii Fit feels very much like a version 1.0 trial run that's going to be made obsolete by a better sequel in six months," he warns. "For now, it's absolutely worth giving it a try if you have a Wii, $90, and some extra pounds to lose."
Randolph Ramsay at GameSpot gives Wii Fit a score of 7 out of 10. "It's a decent alternative for those bored with the repetitiveness of going to a gym or too self-conscious to join a yoga or aerobics class," he writes. "Unfortunately, Wii Fit is hamstrung by some odd omissions (such as not being able to create your own program from the available exercises) and questionable health advice, limiting its effectiveness both as a fitness tool and as a game."
Ramsay is quick to explain that Wii Fit shouldn't be viewed as a complete weight-loss solution on its own. "Despite its moniker, Wii Fit isn't a total fitness solution, with its included exercises focusing more on improving muscle tone and balance than on cardio and weight loss," he explains. "It's no more going to make you super-fit than Wii Sports is going to make you a tennis pro, but it can provide a strong anchor for a more expansive fitness regime should you have the motivation."
Ramsay expresses concern with Wii Fit's user profiling and the resulting health advice. "As a title focused on health, Wii Fit makes some fairly significant judgments about its users' fitness," he says. "From the height and weight data, a user's BMI is calculated, with the user tagged as underweight, ideal, or overweight depending on the BMI score. A simple balance test then occurs before your Wii Fit Age is displayed."
"It's here where Wii Fit could possibly become problematic for some," Ramsay cautions. "Judgments such as BMI and fitness levels usually come from doctors and health care professionals, not cartoon versions of a computer game peripheral--and Wii Fit frankly doesn't do a good enough job of explaining the science behind its measurements."
Ramsay continues: "While BMI, for example, is a well-established tool for measuring a person's ideal weight, Wii Fit fails to make players aware that variables such as muscle mass and age can significantly affect a score (giving an otherwise healthy person with more muscle an overweight rating, for example)."
Wii Fit's minigames show the potential inherent in the Balance Board peripheral, according to Ramsay. "You'll be anchored to the balance board for most of these exercises and activities, with the board giving you on-the-fly feedback on just how well you're performing," he writes. "In this, the board is a remarkable piece of tech, with even the slightest quiver of your feet registering as a shift in balance."
"Wii Fit's included exercises do have the potential to positively impact your health, but thanks to its lack of exercise options, poor support for multiplayer, and shallow health advice, this title isn't a gaming fitness revolution," Ramsay notes in conclusion. "What it does do is serve as a great introduction to the very impressive balance board, a peripheral which is already being lined up for use in other games."
While critics agree that Wii Fit may end up being a disappointment for those in search of a quick-fix weight loss solution, many claim that the title succeeds in generating interest in one's own physical fitness. The included Balance Board controller may also make a purchase worthwhile for its promised compatibility in future Wii releases, though until these titles appear, critics maintain that Wii Fit succeeds at providing both innovative gameplay and a satisfying workout.