It's here! A (very) first look at the Wii Fit

    Consumer Reports News: May 23, 2008 11:35 PM

    Nintendo's new, fitness-themed add-on to its blockbuster Wii gaming console, the Wii Fit, hit the shelves on Wednesday in the U.S. to great fanfare. We bought two of them and had 15 staffers try out a select group of games (the system comes with more than 40). Below you'll see some of our preliminary findings; a full report will be posted early next week.

    A few basics: The Wii Fit ($90) consists of a white "Balance Board"—a plastic pedestal that perceives the subtlest shifts in weight and balance as you move—and accompanying software. The activities offered fall into four categories: aerobics, strength training, balance games, and yoga (yes, yoga!). By shifting your weight and moving on and off the balance board, you can hula-hoop, slalom down a ski slope, do a yogic warrior pose, and learn how to do a perfect pushup. A personal trainer (male or female, user's choice) guides you through the yoga and strengthening moves. The system tracks your activity, in minutes, as you go.

    Less enticing to some users, perhaps, will be Wii Fit's Body Test, required to set up your Mii, or onscreen persona. It consists of several weight and balance assessments that the system uses to gauge your body-mass index ("That's overweight!" a cheery onscreen voice tells those whose BMIs fall above normal) and assign you a "Wii Fit Age" that may be startlingly higher than your actual age. But the idea, at least in theory, is sound: By getting your baseline info, the system helps you set goals and track your progress. Family members can even set goals together and compete to see who progresses fastest.

    Our testers ranged in age from 24 to 69 and included 10 women and five men. Users ran the gamut from regular exercisers to mostly sedentary folks. Among the preliminary findings:

    • Balance games win big. All 15 panelists said they enjoyed the Fit's balance games, making it the only category to get a unanimous thumbs-up for fun. Activities included a ski slalom, ski jump, and table tilt game.
    • Some multitasking required. Information appears on the monitor during the strength training exercises, requiring that the user read while doing the exercise. Some panelists found this difficult, while others found it distracting. 
    • Trainer as fantasy date? With only two exceptions, the participant's gender predicted his or her choice of trainer: Eight of the 10 female panelists chose the male trainer, while all five men went for the female.
    • Good audio, video presentation. Most panelists appreciated the graphic presentation and audio aspects of the games, though the whistle sounds and tones used to indicate several games' starting point or announce scores got on some users' nerves.

    And stay tuned for our full assessment, based on both our testers' impressions and our experts' observations, in the coming days.

    For more, read our previous coverage on advances in exergaming.

    Jamie Hirsh, associate editor

    UPDATE: On shoes and bare feet

    Thanks to the readers on our electronics blog who pointed out that the instruction manual for the Wii Fit states that it should be used barefoot.

    Several of the testers we had shown in our video were wearing shoes. Although we were aware of the no-shoe instruction, we allowed our panelists the choice to keep their shoes or socks on if they preferred, either for comfort or sanitary reasons. (The 15 testers shared just two Wii Fit boards.) The Wii Fit's no-shoes-or-socks stipulation was to prevent slipping. Because of the discrepancy, we've removed the test video that accompanied Saturday's posts on the health and electronics blogs.

    Additionally, please note that our panelists tested the game at a beginner's level. As you continue to use the game, players can eventually activate more advanced settings and games.

    Gayle T. Williams, deputy editor

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