Namco Bandai hit upon a good formula for rhythm games with the We Cheer series. While the scoring system and mechanics were too stiff the first time around, the second game was more in line with what a casual audience expected and had a soundtrack that fit quite well with the routines. Unfortunately, the general public wasn't really interested in a cheering game, so very few discovered how good the title was. After a hiatus, Namco Bandai has returned to the series's core mechanics and used it to build an exercise title. ExerBeat is the result of that, and while it may not be an excellent exercise title, it is a fairly decent one.
Those familiar with the We Cheer series will know exactly how the game is supposed to work. Utilizing a Wii Remote in each hand, you simulate the movements of the on-screen avatar and score points based on how well you mimic those movements. To help, there's an on-screen arrow with a star. As the star travels along the path, you match that path with the same pace shown on-screen. The closer the match, the more points, and your final tally is totaled when the session ends.
The game contains activities in several different categories and disciplines. When you start the game, you're presented with three different exercise categories with their own exercise disciplines attached to them. Dance Exercises are split into three categories that have been traditionally used for workouts in recent years. Both Aerobics and Hip Hop have 20 routines each while Latin Dance comes with 10 routines and 10 more that deal with hip rotations and thus exclusively use the Wii Balance Board. Body Conditioning is a mix of 20 yoga routines and 10 stretching exercises that should be familiar with those who've played exercise games in the past. Then there's Martial Arts Exercises, which bring 20 boxing and 20 karate routines as well as 10 karate form exercises that are really stretches and karate combined. Of the disciplines presented, the boxing and karate prove to be the most fascinating since no other title has tried to make them part of a workout routine. They also end up being the most intense ones and really work out the upper body if you start to put some force behind the punches and blocks. For exercise game fans, this alone makes the title worth considering.
The last category features five minigames that try to incorporate some of the things learned in the other exercise disciplines. You have Swimming, where you end up doing swimming strokes to get as far as you can within the time limit. Dance Fever is much like We Cheer, except for the fact that you only have a disco beat playing instead of your own choice of song. Pizza Toss has you following the motions to successfully twirl pizzas to your customers while Wall Smasher has you trying to punch various wall types until they crumble. With the exception of Wall Smasher, all of the minigames feel the same. With the only real differences being locales, it's something you might only go back to if you encounter it as a daily challenge.
The fifth minigame, Pirate Attack, is different from the others in just about every aspect possible. You have to slash at incoming cannonballs and fruit using your sword, though each item can only be cut a certain way for it to be destroyed. One of the things that makes this different is that it's the only activity that requires you to use the Wii Motion Plus add-on for extra precision. The device works well with the game, but the activity is fundamentally broken in its intended form. The idea is that everything is tied to the rhythm of the music, but everything feels like it's off beat, resulting in many missed opportunities to cut down items. The sense of scale is also off, making it very difficult to judge when an opportunity to slice the incoming item will arise. Once you finally get everything down, it becomes mildly amusing, but the payoff just isn't worth the effort, especially when you consider the Wii Motion Plus requirement and the learning curve.
Aside from a general count of how many calories were supposedly burned by the activities, ExerBeat ties together everything with a World Tour mode, which starts from London. Your total game activity is represented by a walking world tour, where you get to travel from country to country in a quest to visit every major city around the world. Travel is dictated by the number of calories you burn overall, so more calories means more steps taken to the next city or country. All of this traveling isn't for show, though, as visiting new places also unlocks new exercise courses and modes.
The unlocking process may end up being the biggest gripe that some have against the title. With most exercise games, everything is presented up front, and if there are unlockable items, it usually ends up being nothing of real worth. Here, only about one-fourth of the routines are available, so a large part of the game is tucked away until you're good enough to pass everything else, with medals to show for it. Additionally, things like the weekly routine planner, personal trainer and daily challenge are locked away until you've reached the appropriate distance in World Tour mode. This not only makes the game seem barren by comparison but will also be a turn-off for those looking to get into those aspects right away instead of learning the system before engaging in those activities. It's not that big of a deal if you were looking to explore the game before starting up something serious, but it is something to keep in mind.
The controls feel slightly dodgy, depending on what you're doing. Straightforward movements seem to work best, so punches, side thrusts and curls get read almost immediately. Anything requiring round movements rarely gets read while slow, deliberate movements have a 50-50 chance of being recognized. It's a slightly frustrating system for beginners to overcome, but once you get used to how they want you to move, it's not that bad. It could have used more Wii Motion Plus support for better accuracy, but for what's there, it works well enough. Like We Cheer, the game supports two controllers per hand, and it becomes the preferred method since the one controller experience doesn't feel as fulfilling.
Graphically, the game is below the quality set by the company for its Wii games. Character models for the exercise routines look decent though not as detailed as you would expect. Everyone wears one or two types of plain-colored clothing with nothing else adorning it. Their general animations look fine, but don't expect much mouth movement when they speak. The environments, though, look great even though some of them feel like they're just touched-up versions of what was seen in We Cheer. The minigames go for more of a cartoon look than a realistic one, though they don't look very proportional; the upper half of the bodies look more bulky than muscular. One big thing plaguing the game's look is the lack of anti-aliasing throughout every mode. Things don't look so bad when viewed up close, but once the camera pulls back for a wide view, everything becomes a jagged mess, making it hard to see faces, let alone little things like the drawstring ties on some pants.
Like the graphics, the sound serves as an example of quality slightly moving in the opposite direction. The instructors are unusually peppy, much like you'd find in the announcers for the Ridge Racer series, though it's needed for this type of game. They talk often, and while they usually dole out words and phrases that encourage you to push forward until the end, they also offer some good advice on how to do the exercises properly. The music is generic and forgettable, but it is high-energy material. Some of it fits well, such as the tunes heard for aerobics, boxing and karate while the ones heard for hip-hop don't even resemble anything close to the genre. The minigames fare a little better but, like Pirate Attack, don't expect your movements and beats to match.
ExerBeat is a very interesting title on so many different levels. As an exercise game, it works well at reading basic movements and seems to do a good job of dealing with upper body activity. The number of exercises is great — once you've started to unlock the content — and the detailed instructions help you figure out what you should be doing. The overall goal attached to the game via the world map provides a nice little hook to get players interested. It's too bad that it doesn't look very appealing and doesn't have any good exercise music. The initial learning curve in terms of getting the game to recognize some of the more complicated movements also doesn't help workout newbies in determining whether they did things correctly. Still, the low price of the title can help one overlook those flaws, and if you're looking for a good complementary piece to Wii Fit Plus, this would be a good candidate.
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