The trouble with Wii Fit

I loved the idea of Wii Fit from the moment I heard it. On paper and in the ads, the concept is brilliant:

  • A fun exercise "game".

  • An innovative peripheral, the balance board, providing bio feedback and enabling a whole new class of exercise and gaming experiences.

  • A full set of exercises including yoga, strength, cardio, etc.

  • The usual, super cute design we expect from Nintendo.

Wii Fit promises to provide a fun way to exercise and keep in shape, all in a very sexy package. So, what's the problem?

The initial user experience is very, very good. You pair the balance board and right away you're tested with tests based mostly on balance. The assumption is that balance is a good measure of your overall core strength, fitness, etc. Since the balance board can weigh you, you first get your BMI and a rather dry assessment of your current state, where it's quite easy to be overweight, even for little kids. Then you do the randomly selected balance tests and are assigned your Wii Fit age, which is disclosed with great fanfare. My initial Wii Fit age was a sobering 59. Quite depressing for an active 40 year old. But I digress... the point here is that right away you see your goal: to lower your Wii Fit age. The game also asks you to set up a 2 week goal, usually expressed in a target weight. Having done all this, on with the gaming...

And here is where the problems start. There are lots and lots of mini games and exercises, split across a few different areas (yoga, strenght, aerobics, balance games). It is your job to pick what you want to do, navigating the interface. And while your personal trainer is friendly and the user interface is quite competent, there is way too much overhead. If the exercise lasts a minute, you probably waste as much time getting to it. And worse, once you're done with the exercise, you need to decide what to do next. So, you stop exercising, think about what to do, pick it, wait for the UI to do its cute dance and then do the second exercise. Extremely annoying.

The games themselves are not really all that fun. Yes, you can head soccer balls for a while, do a long ski jump, navigate bubbles on a river, etc, etc, etc, but these get old very quickly. The staying power is with the exercises, which are boring but dependable.

My main point: as a grown up, whose goal is to exercise half an hour a day to stay flexible and strenghen my core, Wii Fit was just a nuisance. I have half an hour, just have me done a set of exercises that lasts this long and be done! But Wii Fit has nothing like that. No preset routines, just the constant waste of time. Unfortunately, you only find this out after you try the program for a while.

The Wii Fit age concept has a fatal flaw as well: as soon as you get familiar with the balance board, your Wii Fit age improves like crazy. After 1 week of using Wii Fit my age had gone from 59 to 23. I know that in that week I had not become that much stronger or more flexible.
My best Wii Fit moment happened when I turned it on after not having visited in 1 whole month. The program let me know that my personal trainer (I had picked the woman trainer) was not currently available and I would have to exercise with the other trainer. I did find this extremely amusing. Was she in the shower? Servicing other customers? What?!

I assume 90% of Wii Fit copies purchased are not being used at all.

Fortunately, there's a cheap way to fill this need: UbiSoft's "My Fitness Coach", currently for $27.99 at Amazon.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="400" caption="UbiSoft's My Fitness Coach for Wii. "]UbiSofts My Fitness Coach for Wii. [/caption]

This game is exactly what I was looking for. You tell it how long you want to exercise for (15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes), what optional training equipment you have (hand weights, ball, step platform, etc), make a couple of silly selections (training location, music) and that's it: it generates an exercise program of the desired duration. There are short rest periods, but it feels totally like a class, with no overhead. It's easy and effective.

It's not pretty, the music is a bit annoying, the graphics are substandard and there's no bio feedback going on at all. The trainer on screen does the exercise and you're supposed to do it in the same way. Once in a while she asks you how you did in the last section and you can pick one of three options: no sweat, working hard, or could not keep up. Based on your responses the program adjusts the difficulty of the routine. It's an extremely primitive adaptive mechanism, but it works. You can also go to the settings and ask to increase the difficulty of the workout at any time. You can also turn down the music volume letting you completely ignore it.

This simple approach works. I've been using it for a month, almost every day. It's as much fun as a class (for me not really fun at all), but it's easy, it's in your house and you get the amount of exercise you want.

In case the good people of UbiSoft are listening, there are a few minor annoyances which prevent me from giving it a perfect rating. I repeat that these are minor, but annoyances nonetheless:

  • The buttons in the user interface are too thin. The interface presents you with 3 button choices. It could use much of the screen to increase the hit area for each button. By making them too small you end up clicking the wrong one once in a while. Specially when using the wiimote on your back right after doing crunches. You can end up saying "no sweat" when you meant to say "I'm working hard". The horror!

  • The personal trainer has this annoying canned animation when she "tries to find a beat". She does this even for exercises that have no rhythmic aspect at all. And the music is so square that "finding the beat" should be instant. This is a light touch that introduces silly pauses in the exercise routine.

  • Every 10th workout you get your fitness test. I know the game wants to be able to measure your progress somehow, but I find it a total waste of time. It asks for your weight and then has you get a tape measure and measure your biceps, chest, waist, hips, thighs, etc. This is a royal pain. Then it has you do 2 minutes of vigorous jumping jacks to measure your heart rate at full exertion, then it checks how many crunches and push ups you can do while maintaining proper form. I assume the idea is that these stats will keep increasing and you'll look at the graphs and be awed by your progress, but I just want the workouts, not to waste half an hour on this every 10 times. There's no way to skip this test.

  • You set up a commitment calendar in which you tell the program your intention to work on certain days of the week. If you say you'll train every day and then skip a day, because maybe you've played 2 hours of soccer and are already exhausted, then the next time you come back the trainer might make a snappy comment about you missing work outs. Annoying. I've decided to commit to a workout every other day and still show up almost every day, to avoid being screamed at.

  • The music is terrible. I just lower it to a very low volume.

These minor problems would be very easy to fix. For extra credit, why not allow me to put some MP3s on an SD card and use those instead of the built in music? If these issues were dealt with, this game would be ideal.

UbiSoft has already announced that the next version will come with a camera and the software will check your image against the expected proper form and correct you on the fly. I don't know how well this approach will work in general and I'm certain it won't work at all in my tiny room, so sadly I'm not looking forward to the next version.

Wii Fit had all the flash and excitement, and the initial sales, but in the end, a well executed, simple approach resulted in a much more useful application with lasting power. There must be a lesson there for someone...


  1. Thanks for this review. I totally agree with your comments on the Wii Fit. I felt the same. I have since upgraded to Wii Fit Plus which is slightly better and fixes some problems but not all. At least it gives you a routine option. I might check out the My Fitness Coach though, sounds like it gets the job done. Thanks.

  2. Nice to know that Wii Fit Plus is better.

    Update: since I posted this review, My Fitness Coach came up with a new version, which I have not tried. Unfortunately all the reviews at Amazon seem to indicate that they destroyed what was good about the original version and that the new one favor fluff over the exercise. Too bad. Here's a quote from one of the reviews:

    "If you liked the original stay as far away from this one as possible. The developers removed all the positive aspects of the original My Fitness Coach and replaced it with flashier graphics and less quality workouts."

    Read all the dismal reviews at the Amazon page for the product.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts