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Fitness video game reviews

Your Xbox, Wii, and PS3 can help get you into shape

Published: May 2013

Ever since the Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo Wii, and Sony PlayStation added motion controls, couch potatoes have had the ability to transform into fitness freaks. We evaluated five of the most popular fitness games to see how much of a workout they provide and how much fun they offer.

Each game requires the optional motion controls for your gaming consoles: Wii Remote for Nintendo Wii U, the PlayStation Move and Eye for the Sony PlayStation3, and the Kinect for the Microsoft Xbox 360. Kinect games have a distinct advantage in this category since they track your full body movements, though accuracy varies from game to game.

How we tested

We had two of our in-house fitness experts and our resident gaming expert evaluate each game. On the gaming end, we paid special attention to:

Visual elements. The onscreen trainers should be detailed in appearance and well-animated so that their movements are easy to follow.

Fun factor. We looked beyond traditional workout routines to see what else the games had to offer. For example, some of the games offer dance routines or mini-games such as dodgeball, which players might find more fun than a traditional grueling workout.

Accuracy of movement tracking. This is important in fitness games so that the game can provide proper feedback on form. The whole point of these games is to get in shape, and doing exercises incorrectly can diminish the value of the workout or even cause injuries. To test each program’s tracking, we did the moves correctly to see how accurately they were tracked, and then performed them incorrectly to see if the game caught us "cheating."

In terms of fitness, our experts evaluated the games on criteria including the following:

Session sequencing. This refers to how the workout is structured. A good session should include warm up, conditioning, and cool down.

Conditioning elements. These include strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular conditioning, and flexibility. Each of these elements was analyzed based on the appropriate metrics for that type of exercise. For example, we measured active heart rate for cardiovascular exercise, fatigue level during repetitions for strength or muscular endurance exercise (these will differ based on a person's current level of strength), and the amount and type of stretching during flexibility training.

Skill-based elements. This refers to the speed, power, balance, reaction time, agility, and coordination required for the program.

The fitness evaluations also included our experts' general impressions of the programs’ flow, level of challenge, and feedback given by the game. They also looked at each programs' appropriateness for different abilities, and the systems’ and games’ ability to recognize motion during standing and floor exercises. 

If it's been a while since you exercised regularly or if you have a high risk of coronary heart disease or a chronic health problem, refer to this advice from the American Heart Association before you start an exercise regimen.

Nike+ Kinect Training: Best for a serious workout

Nike+ Kinect Training for Xbox 360 ($40; ESRB rating: Everyone) is for people who are determined to get or stay in shape and who take their workouts seriously. The game evaluates your fitness and athleticism and creates a customized training program based on your fitness level.

You choose a male or female virtual trainer and pick a fitness goal on which you want to base your workouts: strength building, toning, or weight loss. You can also skip the customized plan and jump right in to a preset workout with the Quick Start or 5 Minute Sessions options. Some of the strength exercises require the use of weights.

Highs. The trainers look realistic, as does the background of a simulated gym. Your onscreen avatar is a blocky representation of your body that moves as you move; you can watch it to make sure you have proper form. Some of the exercises include fun elements such as jumping over virtual hurdles, guiding your avatar through an opening in a pane of glass, and playing dodgeball.

You can track your progress from multiple devices by setting up a Nike+ account. That gives you access to the Nike+ site, which monitors your fitness and that of your friends who have also signed up, so you can compare (and compete!). You can also work out with a friend remotely using Xbox Live and video-chat to keep each other motivated.

Lows. While the Kinect does a decent job of tracking your movements, it misses a rep here and there. You get some verbal feedback from your trainer, but most of the corrections come from visual aids on screen, a problem because sometimes you’re told not to look at the screen. So your reps may not be counted, and you won’t realize it.

There’s also very little upper bodywork; most exercises involve the lower body. Hopping and jumping are prevalent, but you shouldn’t attempt those unless you’re already relatively fit.

Bottom line. Anyone who wants to lose a few pounds or is looking for an intense home workout system will appreciate this game. The workouts are extensive, challenging, engaging, fun, and well paced. It offers a well-rounded fitness program that draws on a vast library of exercises. While the game addresses cardiovascular and muscular endurance, it doesn’t do as well with strength.

Did Jay Glaser's Perfect Punch as-seen-on-TV workout knock out our testers? Find out in our video.

Zumba Fitness: Core is a solid cardio workout

Zumba Fitness for Wii and Xbox 360 ($40; ESRB rating: Everyone 10+) is a dance-based game based on the popular Zumba workout. It focuses mainly on cardiovascular fitness. The menu gives you the option of dancing to a single song; choosing a preset workout of short (about 20 minutes), mid (about 45 minutes), or full-length (about one hour) duration; or creating your own custom class. You can also choose “Learn the Steps” to get a tutorial on different dances that are incorporated into the workouts. Each workout mode offers a choice of different dance styles and intensities. We did the short workout mode, which consists of five separate dances that vary in style. (We reviewed Zumba Fitness on the Xbox 360.)

The steps are taken from freestyle moves, break dance, Latin ballroom, and other ethnic dances and combined to form each dance segment within the workout. You’re represented onscreen by a small shadow image that you use to make sure you’re doing the moves correctly. Once you’re able to keep up with the on-screen animation, you're in for an intense cardio workout.

Highs. The dancers and venues look realistic, with a good amount of detail. You have several venues to choose from initially and can unlock more within the game. The custom class lets you make a playlist and choose your own venue. You can also play with a friend on the same console.

The game tracks your movement for accuracy and rewards you with “Zumbas” and “stars” if you get the moves right. Earning five stars during a song propels you into Euphoria mode, a virtual fiesta with special effects and changing camera angles.

The game has a progress tracker that lets you check your statistics, achievements, unlocked bonus content and leaderboards. You can also view community goals and set goals of your own from this mode.

Finally, the Zumba World feature lets you search for real-world Zumba classes in your area.

Lows. If you’ve never tried to learn choreography before, it can be challenging and even frustrating. Also, the game offers no warm-up or cool-down.

Bottom line. Though it lacks resistance and flexibility training, Zumba Fitness Core gives a solid cardio workout that's challenging, engaging, fun, and well paced. It would be a nice cardiovascular component of a well-rounded fitness routine.

For more game tips, advice, news, and reviews, visit our guide to video games, consoles, and tech toys.

Just Dance 4: More fun than fitness

Just Dance 4 for PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, and Xbox 360 ($40; ESRB rating: Everyone 10+) is the latest in a games series that features popular music tracks. You perform specific dance routines to the songs, mirroring virtual dancers onscreen. (We reviewed Just Dance 4 on the PlayStation 3.)

Highs. This game will definitely get you off the couch. The visuals pop, with bright colors and trippy backgrounds. Just Sweat mode, specifically for fitness, lets you choose the length of your dance workout and counts the calories you burn. You can also choose from five workout types, each one with a different musical theme.

The game comes with 48 songs and you can download additional ones for $3 each; artists range widely, from Carlie Rae Jepsen to Barry White. (See if you can get your friends to put on a One Direction performance; now that’s fun.)

Lows. The warm-up and cool-down dances are pretty similar to the workout dances, which are taken from basic freestyle dance moves. It’s easy to cheat, at least with the PlayStation 3 version, which lets you achieve a good score by mimicking the dance moves with the controller instead of your body. The choice of workout sessions is limited, and the intensity is pretty light.

Bottom line. This is more of a party game than a true fitness routine. The Just Sweat mode will have you moving, but the cardiovascular challenge is only moderate. If you play the right way, though, it’s a lot of fun. (If you like dance games, you may also want to check out Dance Central 3, a similar game for the Xbox 360.)

Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2013: Good for entry-level exercisers

Your Shape for Wii U ($50; ESRB rating: Everyone 10+) is a mix of fitness and fun. It offers ultra-customizable workouts, a multiplayer mode for up to four people, and online components that let you share your progress with friends. The game is best for a self-directed exerciser with some knowledge of fitness, but it also works well for those who might not be in great shape (yet).

You start by creating a profile, including your height, weight, age, and sex. Workouts are relatively short and focus on specific body areas. The exercises are simple, consisting mainly of aerobics-style moves that are performed at low to moderate intensity and require mostly muscular endurance. A program consists of three or four exercises and variations repeated in a circuit-style format, and concluding in some cases with an abdominal crunch series.

An interesting use of Nintendo’s GamePad tablet-like controller is for relaxation exercises called Zen Flow: You use the GamePad’s camera to follow a light along a path on the screen, and you’re scored on how closely you follow the light.

Highs. The tempo and pace are good, and the exercises are explained while they’re being demonstrated onscreen. The game allows for a lot of self-direction and self-programming. A Fitness Pal feature recommends healthy meals and recipes. If you’ve set a fitness goal, it will even tailor these recommendations to help you achieve that goal.

An onscreen calorie bar shows how many calories you’ve burned, and you can earn coins for burned calories that you then use to buy new workouts, dances, or outfits for the trainers. You also earn medals for reaching goals.

You can share your progress online with friends through Nintendo’s Miiverse service. By registering for a uPlay account, you’ll be able to link to yourshapecenter.com, where you can set goals, join the game’s community, and create challenges for yourself and others.

Lows. The visuals are fairly basic. Most of the time there are simple floating shapes on a white background, though the trainers look fairly lifelike.

None of the workouts includes a warm-up or cool-down section, though there are separate warm-up and cool-down programs that you can choose. (So the burden is on the exerciser to structure a complete program.)

Since you’re using the Wii remote, the tracking of your movements isn’t exact. One tester received a high score several times just by randomly waving the remote instead of attempting the exercise. While this won’t be an issue for honest exercisers, it can get a little frustrating, and it makes it easy to cheat.

Bottom line. Your Shape does a decent job as a personal trainer. It offers fun activities and motivates you to burn calories via in-game rewards and competition with fellow players. You’ll need to have some knowledge of fitness, since the programs are self-directed. The exercises are pretty entry level, so this game is best for people who aren't already very fit.

These health gadgets track calories, how fast you eat, and even how well you sleep.

UFC Personal Trainer: The Ultimate Fitness System is not that challenging

UFC Personal Trainer for PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360 ($30; ESRB rating: Everyone) transforms the popular Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) into a fitness game. You start by inputting your height, weight, and gender, then take a fitness test consisting of sit-ups, push-ups, and jumping jacks. (It’s unclear whether the game then customizes its programs based on your level, though.) You're also given the option of using weights or resistance bands, which you can decline if you don’t have any available. (We reviewed Just Dance 4 on the Xbox 360.)

Planned workouts vary from fundamental to advanced and include tutorials that range from basic striking techniques to more complex striking and kicking combinations. You can select a 30- or 60-day fitness plan based on a goal of strength building, weight loss, or endurance.

Highs. The animations are well-done and easy to follow. Several well-known UFC fighters and trainers appear in the game, and they’re detailed and recognizable. Your onscreen avatar is a small green shadow of your body that you can use to check your form and make sure the Kinect can see you.

Fun activities include sparring with a UFC fighter, free striking, and speed bag. You can also compete in these activities with a friend playing right next to you or over the Internet.

Lows. Although the game is instructive, its pace is slow, the exercises are low-intensity, and it doesn’t give much feedback based on the Kinect’s body tracking. Because of the slow pace and low intensity of the movements, you won’t get a solid cardio workout. While the workout sequences include a decent cool-down, the warm-up left something to be desired. We found that the "mountain climber" exercises during the warm-up session were the most taxing in the workout, and that’s not a good sign.

Faster strikes weren't tracked correctly in UFC, though it seemed to be capable of capturing general strike direction. Testers found it fairly easy to cheat the system on push-ups and sit-ups, as the game's tracking seemed to recognize only upward and downward motion, not form. The number of correctly performed push-ups was also miscounted.

Bottom line. For fans of mixed martial arts, this could be used as a very basic skill-learning game. But it isn’t very physically challenging and doesn’t give enough feedback to really get you in shape.

   

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