Release Date: TBA 2008
It must be an odd time to be a hardcore Nintendo fanboy. After a decade of playing second fiddle to the likes of Sony (and more recently, Microsoft), Nintendo is flying high on the success of the Wii and Nintendo DS. But in crafting these blockbusters, the company is, in some ways, turning its back on the old guard of Nintendo fans.
Nowhere was this more evident than at the E3 Media & Business Summit in Santa Monica, where next month's Metroid Prime 3: Corruption was kept out of the hands of Barker Hangar attendees and Super Smash Bros. Melee, the hugely anticipated sequel to the best-selling GameCube game of all time, was nowhere to be seen. Sure, we got some significant hands-on time with Super Mario Galaxy, and Mario Kart Wii was finally revealed, but the title that concluded Nintendo's media briefing was none other than ... Wii Fit?
As Nintendo's response to the burgeoning fitness gaming craze explored by EyeToy Kinetic and Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Fit mixes the Wii Sports aesthetic with yet another new type of motion controller. The Wii Balance Board is a wireless, Wiimote-independent floor unit that uses the natural shifting of weight to interact with specific Wii games. As the first game designed for the Wii Balance Board, Wii Fit will include at least 40 distinct activities, including fitness exercises and creative mini-games.
Created (at least in part) by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, Wii Fit has been designed with the intention of bringing families together through the shared experience of fitness. Daily tests for Body Mass Index (BMI) and Wii Fit Age will be included, and the game will track ongoing results for multiple profiles. A user's Wii Fit Age is determined by a combination of BMI, his/her center of gravity, and a handful of balance tests.
During the media briefing, Nintendo of America President and COO Reggie Fils-Aime underwent a "body check" of sorts, which began with the Wii Balance Board determining the outspoken executive's weight. To get a better sense of his actual size, Wii Fit asked Fils-Aime if his clothing was light or heavy (he deemed his three-piece suit "heavy") and noted that he could put down the Wiimote to further reduce auxiliary measurements.
Finally, after determining his center of gravity on the Balance Board, Wii Fit displayed his BMI on-screen and called the man overweight. Either Wii Fit is insensitive or Reggie is a brave man; regardless, it was entertaining and fairly charming in its simplicity. To have a video game tell players that they need a little work is a curious turnaround, considering their scapegoat status as one of the reasons why so many Americans are overweight.
Some 40 (or more) activities are planned for inclusion in Wii Fit and will be divided into four distinct categories: Aerobic Exercise, Muscle Conditioning, Yoga Poses, and Balance Games. On the aerobic front, the game will include several 10-minute exercise sessions to get the blood flowing, while the conditioning exercises will be all about controlled movements with the arms, legs, and torso. The sensitivity of the Wii Balance Board will be used to execute the yoga activities, which will task the player to simply hold a pose with minimal movement. On second thought, "simply" probably isn't the right word.
Those familiar with Wii Sports and Wii Play should feel right at home with the mini-games included in Wii Fit, most of which utilize the user-created Mii avatars to act out the balance-based movements of players. Like those previous Wii-branded mini-game collections, the games in Wii Fit appear to lack depth or complexity, but with luck, the sheer number of included games will make that somewhat irrelevant. It is unclear just how many games will make the final cut, but four were available to play at the Barker Hangar.
We started with Ski Jumping, a self-explanatory exercise in ... well, standing. As your Mii barrels down the slope, you must crouch and lean slightly forward to pick up speed before jolting upright at the apex (marked in red) to begin your lengthy descent toward the ground below. Despite its simplicity, Ski Jumping will succeed solely because of the one-upmanship that will come with trying to gain an extra foot (or inch) on successive attempts.
Soccer Heading was probably the most uproarious of the games we saw, with a constant stream of objects (roughly 100 in total) flying toward the player, including soccer balls, cleats, and plush panda heads. The goal is to put your virtual head on only the soccer balls by shifting your weight from left to right. Heading successive balls will earn the player more and more points, while each headed cleat or panda head will subtract points from the accumulated total. Doing well in Soccer Heading depends on keen visual recognition, as well as knowledge of the sensitivity of the unit. We put up some 50 points in our first attempt, but the demo operator claimed to have hit the 300+ mark earlier in the day.
Hoop Twirl is a sweat-inducing hula-hoop simulation in which players must sway their hips to keep the hoop aloft. The game tallies rotations of the hoop around the torso, and after several seconds, another Mii will toss a second hoop in your direction. As you continue to shake your moneymaker, you must toss up your hands and shift in the direction of the oncoming hoop, thus manning two (or more) concurrent hoops. It's a fun diversion, but more importantly, it is physically taxing, potentially triggering beads of sweat within seconds of starting play.
The final game we played mines similar territory as Kororinpa: Marble Mania, with floating platforms, rolling balls, and cut-out holes that serve as goals. However, instead of the Wiimote, players must use their bodies to shift the balance of the platform, thus guiding the ball(s) to the hole(s). While fairly easy at first, the addition of multiple balls and holes increases the challenge considerably, though allowing a ball to drop off the platform does not end the game. Once a puzzle is completed, the next will appear, along with 20 additional seconds on the game clock. Just eight stages were included in the playable build at E3, though more may be added to the final game.
Wii Fit and the Wii Balance Board are expected to ship together sometime in the first half of 2008. Aside from that, several questions remain concerning the pricing and continued utilization of such an accessory. Like the Wiimote, the Wii Balance Board works well and has a fairly nonexistent learning curve, but history has been unkind to the vast majority of non-essential console accessories. However, with the success of the Wii and the warm reception to waggle controls, we suspect that Nintendo will have more than just Wii Fit up its sleeve for its push into fitness-based gaming.
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