Let's get this out of the way: Wii Fit does work. Why wouldn't it? It's based on time-trued exercises. Stuff like doing sit-ups, push-ups and jogging. Well, jogging in place. But, to what extend does it work? For the past month, I've used Wii Fit on nearly a daily basis. Wii Fit isn't something you can review in 8 or time hours of play. You need weeks, months even! My Wii Fit workout was interrupted by two breaks: One for when my wife was sick (and I then got sick) and another when my wife was sick again (Nintendo, please make Wii Healthy, kthanxbai). Like with most things, results do vary from person to person. For me, some of it worked brilliantly. And some of it not.
"...when I started regularly going to the swimming hall, my weight dropped quite a bit, and it felt like my overall fitness had increased as well. I started thinking that getting fit could actually be fun."
Last year, I began power walking. This writing job involves a great deal of sitting. And since I work at home, there's not much impetus for me to leave the house. (Getting dressed is a challenge most days as well.) Back before I got married and I spent my time talking to semi-pretty women and getting in bar fights (no, really), I weighed in at a meek 130 pounds. Know: I'm 5 foot 11 inches. I was super model thin, and shopping at chic Japanese boutiques was no problem. Then I got married, decided to quit smoking two packs a day and get very, very fat. I jumped up to 177 pounds. Blame Mrs. Bashcraft's delicious cooking or being able to down a half a bottle of sake. A big bottle. All of my super swank designer clothes were too small. I suffered a horrible embarrassment at a Paul Smith boutique, where I used to shop regularly, where none of their sizes could fit me. Hello fat American! But, as I approach thirty, the slow realization has set-in: We don't live forever. (That, and you can buy big designer clothes in America.)
So, I started trying to take better care of myself. You know, take vitamins, stop drinking entire bottles of sake and power walking. Power walking was great. An excuse to get out of the house and away from my job. Escape. I live right next to a river, and it was great to get exercise as the evening sun was glistening on that brown, cloudy river. During that course, I dropped five or six pounds, felt better about life. Then winter hit, I got cold, and I got wrapped up with several big magazine features and writing a book. I became a hermit. Well, a bigger hermit. Too busy to get out in the fresh air, I wanted something that would let me stay in shape inside. Something like Wii Fit.
"You don't join a company like Nintendo and expect to work on an accessory that can weigh players, do you? (laughs)"
Back when Wii Fit was introduced at E3 last year, we were pretty dumb founded. Nintendo's made a ton of crazy peripherals, but those were gaming peripherals. This wasn't. Nintendo planned on taking Wii Sports one step further. There was an instant appeal for the title for both gamers and casuals players. Here was something that could make us not tubby. Hooray! This isn't the magic bullet that many gamers are looking for. If you want results, you'll need to put in the time. During the course of my Wii Fitting, I ended up losing weight. Not much, but still. Likewise, Vinnk over at 4 Color Rebellion has dropped the pounds. He's recorded his progress in-depth here, here and here. A must read if you are serious about losing weight. Thing is, I'm not exactly sure how much credit to give Wii Fit. Gaming-wise, it's revolutionary, but exercise-wise? Go jogging everyday for thirty minutes. You'll lose weight. Promise. And it's totally free!
And it sounds so stupid. But weighing yourself everyday does make you aware of your own body. It is a bit like watching a kettle boil, though. You become aware of how your body weight changes during the course of the day, and that's something so obvious that I hadn't every really thought of it before. I noticed that I was eating less, because I knew pigging out would totally muck up my progress. Below is my weight chart for the past month. I started out at roughly 79 kilograms (174 pounds), which is almost overweight for someone of my height. (Ironically, that's about where I ended up!) Even as I was doing Wii Fit on a regular basis, I noticed odd spikes up and down. I ballooned at one point, it seems, but then got that back down during my training. Since your weight changes during the day, when you weigh yourself seems to matter as much as, well, what you do. Oh, and that huge upwards spike? Mrs. Bashcraft thought it would be funny if she pressed her foot on the Balance Board while weighing myself (she didn't know it was for work). Hilarious!
"I don't think Wii Fit's purpose is to make you fit..."
Like when anyone starts a new exercise program, I went all out when I started. And like most, my goal wasn't to be fit, per se, but to drop a few extra pounds. Wii Fit is divided up into several sections: Aerobic Exercise, Muscle Conditioning, Yoga and Balance Games. Wii Fit doesn't recommend exercises, so when you start, there's stuff in each of these categories and stuff you can unlock. But, if you are looking for guidance, this isn't the place. (Wii Fit does explain how each individual exercise tones muscles and whatnot.) Remember: All the game knows about you is your real age, your Mii name, your age, your height and your weight. Still, more than any exercise video. An advantage exercise DVD has is that the program is already laid out for the user. Wii Fit doesn't lay anything out. So if you don't know what you are doing, then you'll likely stay that way. I experienced with several different of the exercise programs. But my goal was the same: Spend approximately thirty minutes on the board approximately the same length of time I spent power walking.
A lot of the exercises seemed ideal for toning muscles though, several of them are extremely challenging. The exercise that got me too bust my ass the most? The Hoola Hoop balance game. It's fun and doesn't have that dry text-book feel of most of the exercises do. It feels like a game, raises your heart rate and brings back those fond Wii Tennis memories. You know, the ones before I started hating it. The object is to move your hips around in a circle and try to "catch" hoops your family members toss at you without letting the hoops you're spinning fall. It has you rotate your hips clockwise and counterclockwise, working belly muscles in both directions. The Hoola Hoop game gets your heart racing, and it's super easy to break a sweat in a concentrated period of time. I was wiping the bottoms of my feet off between sets and enjoying it. I'd do two of three sets of it everyday, and I could feel it. In a short period of time, I was really seeing results and dropping stomach blubber like that. My personal hit score: 818 rotations, clockwise and counterclockwise.
Then I felt it. Remember that sharp pain you'd get from playing too much Wii Tennis? I was getting it in my knees. Getting it bad. When you use a regular Hoola Hoop, you can move your feet around, lift them up off the ground. With Wii Fit, you can't really. That is, unless you want to fall off the Balance Board. Everything's concentrated on your knees, and it actually got so painful that I stopped doing the Hoop game altogether. In its place, I tried other games and exercises. None of them seemed to be as effective for me. There's a jogging game, which doesn't even use the Balance Board, but has players run in place with the Wii-mote in the pocket. While doing it, I kept wondering why I just didn't, you know, go outside and run? Didn't really do much for me. There's also a Dance Dance Revolution-style stepping game. The gap for hitting the steps is so huge that it hardly feels like A). exercise B). a game. There are more "traditional" exercises, but do I really need Wii Fit to help me do push-ups and sit-ups?
"Yoga was originally part of a separate plan from Wii Fit. Yoga was undergoing an upsurge in popularity in Japan at around the same time as we were conducting the planning meetings, so there was a staff member who wanted to make yoga-related software. But I rejected it outright by saying, "You can't just put something into a product because it's popular, you know! It might look like a good plan, but it's no good as a product.'"
Back when I was in college, several of my friends started yoga. They loved it and went on and on about it. I smiled, nodded and quietly labeled them freaks. Years later, I cannot say enough good things about Wii Fit yoga. If Nintendo makes an separate Yoga game, I will totally buy it. If another publisher makes a half-decent one, ditto. Wii Fit Yoga does a brilliant job of incorporating both the Balance Board and a sense of accomplishment better than a lot of the muscle training exercises. Actually trying to stand perfectly still while breathing is changing and incredibly relaxing. When I did ten minutes or so of yoga, I seriously felt better. And the more and more poses I was able to do, the better I felt about myself. Whether that was transferring into weight loss really seemed somewhat irrelevant. I was feeling fit and eager to use the hardware.
"Sometime during development, I started looking at the Wii Balance Board as more than just an accessory that could weigh players and more like a controller used with the feet."
Takao Sawano, Wii Fit lead
This is Nintendo's biggest mistake. If, if Nintendo has announced the Balance Board as a Foot Controller, everyone would be saying that's the greatest thing imaginable. Because, well, a foot controller sounds pretty cool! Instead, Nintendo called it Wii Fit, promoted it towards casuals and then told us that Wii Fit's purpose wasn't to make you fit, but so that you can weigh yourself. Sure, Nintendo's just covering its own ass with that assumption, but even then, that sounds like mehsville. The Balance Board games on Wii Fit actually are pretty great. If you can still stomach mini-games (ungh), then these games are entertaining and, in a way, more fulfilling than Wii Sports. I've never played video games with my feet. Thing is, the games and Wii Fit cover a good deal of ground, and it's hard to say how much breathing room is left. Why would I want to buy a Balance Board snowboarding game when Wii Fit already has one? Ditto for Balance Board Monkey Ball as Wii Fit already has a clone. Not sure how much room there left for innovation, but I'm eager to see what (if anything) Nintendo and other developers can come up with.
I must confess: When I saw Wii Fit at E3 last year, I hated it. Really, really hated it. And when I bought it for this feature, I still hated it. Then I started using it, and the hate started dissipating. Nintendo's doing its own thing now, for better or worse. And taking Wii Fit for what it is, the game works. My wife and my kid really enjoy it, and it's a horrible cliche, but playing it with them has been good fun. Yes, it doesn't have online. Yes, there should be downloadable exercises. Yes, it should do more. Things can always be made better, and hopefully, Nintendo realizes that. Will I keep using Wii Fit? Probably. It's going to be Spring soon, you know. And I'll need something to track my progress while I go power walking by the river.