The full report is in and we've got more-specific details on what our 15 male and female staff testers thought of the Wii Fit, Nintendo's new fitness-themed add-on to its Wii gaming console. The unit, which consists of a Balance Board ™ and gaming software, adds fitness and balance activities to Wii's standard sports fare. Note that you need to already own a Wii console ($250) in order to use the Wii Fit ($90).
Wii Fit's activities break down into four categories: yoga, strength training, aerobics, and balance games. But before you get to those, there's the required Body Test, in which you enter some general information (height, age) and complete a brief balance test, then wait for the Wii Fit to respond with your body-mass index, or BMI, and "Wii Fit Age"—the system's assessment of how old your performance and body characteristics indicate you are. The Body Test has some shortcomings. For one thing, there's controversy over whether BMI is an accurate gauge of relative fatness or thinness, since people with a lot of muscle mass (think of a personal trainer or serious athlete) can score in the "obese" range when they're anything but. But it provides a decent baseline marker that you can store in the system in order to compare and track your progress over time. If you would rather not record Body Test data—say, if a guest is playing your Wii Fit—there is a Trial mode available that allows access to just 15 of the Wii Fit's more than 40 activities.
Don't feel surprised if the system tells you your balance leaves something to be desired. Only three of our panelists, all women in their 30s or 40s, successfully completed the balance test within the allotted time of 30 seconds and all of our panelists were told their balance was "off center." At least it gives you something to work toward.
Once through the balance test and advised of their Wii Fit Ages—which ranged from eight years younger than to 25 years older (ouch!) than their actual ages—our panelists hit the games. Here are their impressions of the activities they experimented with in each category. 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. Each panelist was instructed to pick one game from each category.
YOGA. Users had a choice of several postures. Most male panelists preferred the more macho-named "warrior pose," while female participants tended to choose "half moon" or "tree."
The yoga activities incorporated interesting visual feedback elements. The indicator for successfully performing the yoga poses was maintaining a red dot, representing your center of gravity, within a yellow rectangle on the screen. But testers found the panelists could keep the dot centered without doing the pose properly. Practicing yoga properly really requires a trained instructor who can guide inexperienced practitioners through the proper alignment and breathing techniques that form the core of the practice. For that reason, our experts don't think the Wii Fit is an effective learning tool for yoga beginners. For experienced yogis or yoginis, the Wii may provide a new perspective on balance and an interesting way to practice.
STRENGTH. Testers chose among push-ups (done with hands on the Balance Board), torso twists, single leg extensions, and lunges. Most panelists found the activities challenging in both strength and balance, though only two of the five men found them enjoyable. The women were bigger fans, with nine out of 10 rating the activities enjoyable.
AEROBICS. Since we wanted to keep the Balance Board involved in all our testing, we limited participants to two of the four aerobic games available at the basic play level: hula-hoop and basic step. (The other two activities involved jogging in place, off of the board.) In the hula-hoop activity, you rotate your hips as quickly as possible while leaning to catch additional hoops thrown to you by two Miis on the sidelines. In basic step, you step on and off the board in a choreographed pattern, aiming to stay in sync with your "classmates" onscreen. Most panelists found the activities entertaining but not terribly demanding aerobically, though hula-hooping appeared more challenging than stepping: Fifty percent of the women who hooped felt they got at least some muscle workout.
BALANCE GAMES.These were the big hit among our panelists. Activities we sampled included soccer, where you try to "head" the ball as it comes at you while avoiding foreign objects like wayward cleats and panda bear heads ski slalom, where you race down a course, shifting your weight from side to side to pass between the designated flags; ski jump, where you compete in an Olympic-style Nordic event; and table tilt, where you manipulate a table to drop a ball through a hole. Nine of 10 women and four of five men felt the games challenged their balance, and everyone found them enjoyable. In short, a big thumbs-up.
SO WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE? There's no question the Wii Fit provides entertainment. Whether it will enhance your fitness depends largely on how fit and active you already are and how intensely you exercise while using the Wii Fit. Each exercise lasts only one to three minutes at the basic level, and the system stops after each game for a scoring and explanation sequence; that disruption could prove vexing for serious exercisers who'd rather just keep moving. But for folks who need motivation to get off the couch, or people interested in a different, more health-oriented approach to gaming, Wii Fit definitely offers a unique and potentially appealing package. And even very fit players may find the quest to master the games, and the fun of getting the whole body into it, enough to keep them going: We were tickled to discover one active, 24-year-old male tester still trying to perfect his ski-jumping score, nearly a half hour after testing had ended.
—Jamie Hirsh, associate editor