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Archive for November, 2010

Review of EA Sports Active 2 for Playstation 3

ALERT: EA Sports Active 2 is currently $30 off at the EA Sports Store. Get it while you can!

On December 14 only, EA Sports Active 2 available at Amazon for $40 off list price. Order before 12/17 to get free shipping before Xmas!! (As of December 17, this deal appears to still be active!)

EA Sports Active 2

Reviewed by PS3Fitness.com on November 29, 2010 .
Summary: The best fitness game for the Wii makes a successful transition to the PS3.

review of ea sports active 2ea sports active ps3 reviewEA Sports Active has long been the king of the hill of fitness games for the Wii, along with its sequel EA Sports Active: More Workouts. But with the advent of the Playstation Move, EA had a decision to make. Should it continue to support the Wii and possibly cede the title of “best fitness game” for the PS3 to another game publisher? Or should it invest a ton of money into making the game work with the radically different Move controller?

EA Sports ended up doing something rather clever with EA Sports Active 2. It created its own controllers. Specifically, you have an arm controller to detect arm motions, a leg controller you strap onto your thigh, and a heart rate monitor that provides you with constant on-screen feedback of your pulse. So instead of awkwardly forcing you to hold a controller in your hand, now you can have full range of motion, grabbing onto the included resistance band (which is much less flimsy than the original Wii version) or even using free weights in your exercises.

One thing I really love about the new EA Sports Active is the innovation it put into the activities. There are over 70 to choose from, ranging from basic exercises to sporting events. As in the original version, most sporting events basically consist of you doing repetitions of exercise movements that approximate the movement that your on-screen character does. What I really like about EA Sports Active 2 is that they’ve incorporated much more interactivity and “video gaming elements” into the activities. For example, in the skateboarding and mountain biking activities, you need to leap at just the right moment to avoid obstacles. In the Basketball event, a cursor will move over the basket, and you need to time your release of the ball correctly to score.

There’s a new 9-week exercise regimen that you can follow. It’s not just a random assortment of exercises each day, it was clearly put together by a real fitness expert. Each day, you work progressively on different fitness goals. There’s a good variety of activities to keep the workouts interesting.

Another great improvement is the ability to work out with (and compete against) someone else, if you purchase a second set of controllers. There’s something about competition that makes exercise go by so much faster. If your Wii is connected to the Internet, you can also challenge your friends (or complete strangers) online or join an online workout group.

If there’s a gripe I have about EA Sports Active 2, it’s that it uses the same kind of “cartoony” graphics that you see on the Wii version. I’ve long hoped that EA Sports would start to incorporate more of the increasingly realistic graphics of its sports titles like Madden NFL into its fitness game, but it looks like that’s still some time away.

Overall, I’d say that EA Sports has made a very smooth transition to the PS3. Ironically, it doesn’t use the Move at all, but ends up providing a much stronger workout than if it did. For serious fitness on the PS3, this is a must-have.

If you have a Wii, read the updated Review of EA Sports Active 2 for the Wii!

5 of 5

EA Sports Active 2 Extra Motion Sensor Controllers

Read the updated EA Sports Active 2 for the Wii Review.

UPDATE: It doesn’t look like extra controllers are available on the EA Store anymore, but you can actually buy a brand new EA Sports Active 2 from Amazon for anywhere from $12.99 to $29.99 and get an extra set of motion sensors + resistance band PLUS another copy of the Sports Active 2 disc (in case yours gets scratched) all at $30 less than the cost of what EA is stilling the controllers for.

ea sports active 2 extra motion sensors

EA Sports Active 2 came out last week for the Wii, Xbox, and Playstation 3 (I’m still waiting for my copy to come in; when it does, of course you can expect a full in-depth review).

One of the great things about EA Sports Active 2 is its support for two players through the use of extra motion sensor controllers. This is all well and good, but as of this writing, extra controllers are nowhere to be found, not on Amazon, not on Toys R Us, nor on any other retailer site.

Lo and behold, today on the EA Store they popped up. Here’s how you can find it:

  1. Go to the EA Store Homepage.
  2. In the search box on the top of the page, type “EA SPORTS Active 2 Accessory Pack”.
  3. You’ll see a list of EA Sports Active-related items. Choose EA SPORTS Active 2 Accessory Pack for the Wii (make sure you don’t select the Xbox one nor the version for the first EA Sports Active), and click the “Preorder” button.

Voila! You’ll be able to order it for $59.99. The package comes with another heart rate monitor that you strap onto your arm, another leg motion controller you strap onto your leg, and another resistance band. If you have two players, it’ll track your movements and heart rates separately.

EA Sports doesn’t indicate on the site how long it’ll take for you to get these extra motion sensors, but if you really need them I would recommend putting in the pre-order sooner rather than later. Something tells me these are going to be difficult to come by in the holiday season, especially since Xbox, Wii, and PS3 all share the same controllers.

The alternative way to get an extra set of accessories is to purchase EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp. But if you don’t need that game, you can save a cool $40 by ordering your extra controllers through EA directly. 

Review of Dance Dance Revolution for Playstation Move

Dance Dance Revolution

Reviewed by PS3Fitness.com on .
Summary: A good, if not phenomenal, first-ever release of DDR for the PS3.

A lot of Playstation 3 owners have been waiting a long time for Dance Dance Revolution to make it to the PS3. Four long years later, it’s finally arrived. Was it worth the wait?

The first thing I noticed when I opened my DDR box was a brand new, sleek black dance pad. it definitely looks a lot “cooler” than the old white dance pads on the Wii and the PS3. The pad features the normal four directional arrows, as well as the Playstation X, square, triangle, and circle on the four corners. Installation is a snap, of course–just plug it into an available USB port and you’re all set.

The options on DDR should be familiar to anyone who’s played it on the PS2 or the Wii. You have an enthusiastic man’s voice shouting out the options as you select them.

  1. In “Free Dance” mode where you can just dive into dancing. You select te number of players (single player or multiplayer) and then you can choose any song at one of four difficulty levels (beginner, basic, difficult, expert).
  2. “Club Mode” is where you basically have to proceed thorugh different levels of difficulty to win the game. As with all the DDR games, this is a good way to learn the game and to gradually build skills. unfortunately, the developers decided to put in things which seem more like gimmicks than anything else. There are features like “TRICKS” which will suddenly change the difficulty level in the middle of a song. As you finish songs in other “clubs”, you can move them to your own “club”. Honestly, this section seemed much more confusing than it should have been, and the confusing and poorly written explanation of “How to Play” at the beginning only made things worse. Konami should have stuck with keeping this simple. I didn’t even bother.
  3. “Dance Off” mode is where up to four players can take turns dancing. There’s something called a “combo roulette” which does things like speed up the dancing, shift the top arrows around, make the arrows bigger. But what it ends up doing is make the competition confusing and frustrating. Seems like another situation where they tried to innovate, but ended up causing more of a mess.
  4. There’s been a lot of talk about how the new Dance Dance Revolution makes use of the Playstation Move controller. Turns out there’s only one menu option in which you can use them: “Move & Step”, which is basically “Free Play Mode” that uses the Move Controllers. So you can’t use the Move Controllers in Club Mode or Dance Off Mode. To start, you need to adjust your position so that you and your mat are in the middle of the screen–and you need to stay in that position throughout the song. I thought that maybe like Just Dance, the game might at least featured some hand movements that looked like real dancing. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, there are four new kinds of arrows (pointing diagonally to each of the four corners of the screen) added to the mix. To get points, you need to swipe your hand to that corner when you see the arrow. The controls are precise, of course, and you do see a visual “swoosh” when you move your hands in the right direction. For some inexplicable reason, when using Playstation Move controllers, not only does XMB navigation not work, the “X” button on the Move controllers doesn’t even work. So you’re in an awkward position where you’re holding two Move controllers, but when you need to select a menu option or even just move to the next screen, you need to drop the Move controllers, pick up your Dualshock controller, make your selection, and then pick up the controllers again. It’s a rather sloppy piece of programming on Konami’s part.
  5. The remaining modes are “How to Play” (for anyone who doesn’t know how to play DDR yet), “Training Mode” (which lets you break down any song at any difficulty to practice it–again, no Move support), “Music Store” (which lets you access DLC), “Workout Profile” (which tells you the number of calories burned), “Records” (which displays the high scores for each song on your system for Free Play Move and Move & Step), “Video Manager” (which lets you export videos to YouTube and Facebook) and “Options”

The graphics are much better quality than on the Wii or the PS2, of course. When you select the songs you see a high-resolution image of the song’s album cover. For the most part, the graphics are crisp and the colors bright. During the dance numbers, you’ll see a video of yourself, taken with the Playstation Eye, in the background (sometimes clear, sometimes stylized with a solid color). I first found this a pretty cool feature, but sometimes the stylized images were so garing and distracting I just had to turn the camera off.

The playlist, as usual, is a combination of licensed tracks and Konami’s in-house music composers.

  • According to You (Orianthi)
  • Animal (Ke$ha)
  • Bad Romance (Lady Gaga)
  • Battlefield (Jordin Sparks)
  • Celebration (Kool and the Gang)
  • crushcrushcrush (Paramore)
  • Dancing in the Street (Martha and the Vandellas)
  • Hey, Soul Sister (Train)
  • I Got You (Leona Lewis)
  • I’m Yours (Jason Mraz)
  • Love Like This (Natasha Bedingfield)
  • Love Shack (The B-52s)
  • Mission (Everything But the Girl)
  • My Life Would Suck Without You (Kelly Clarkson)
  • Need You Now (Lady Antebellum)
  • Plastic Beach (Gorillaz feat. Mick Jones and Paul Simonon)
  • Rio (Duran Duran)
  • So Fine (Sean Paul)
  • Venus (Bananarama)
  • We Are Family (Sister Sledge)
  • dreaming can make a wish come true (jim and NRG Factory feat. Anna Kaelin)
  • In the Zone (UI, NPD3 style) and KIDD KAZMEO
  • Let’s Get Away (NAOKI fear. Brenda Burch)
  • MAGIC PARADE (Lea Drop feat. Katie Dellenbach)
  • One Sided Love (D-crew with Melissa Petty)
  • Private Eye (atomsoak ft. cerol)
  • Rescue Me (NAOKI feat. fracus)
  • Rhythms Inside (DKC Crew)
  • The Island Song (TAG feat. Eric Anthony)
  • TIME (NM feat. Aleisha G)

There are a number of aggravating annoyances. You can’t pause when you’re in the middle of a song. No buttons will work, and even if you hit the PS button, the song will keep on going. So if you get a phone call in the middle of a song, you just have to let it play all the way through.

You have the ability to record your performance in Free Play Mode, Dance Off and Move & Step. I can see the usefulness of recording songs with a dance game like Singstar Dance where you’re dancing to “real moves”. But here, you’re just hopping up and down and waving your arms randomly. Something tells me that this isn’t the sort of thing most people will be sharing on their Facebook page.

In all honesty, I think this summarizes DDR’s main weakness. DDR was the king of the hill of motion gaming since it first launched as an arcade game in 1998. But the world has moved on. Now that you can dance “real dance moves”, stepping on arrows seems a bit passé.

Don’t get me wrong, die-hard DDR fans will love this new game, the improved graphics, and the new music tracks. It’s still one of the better workouts you can get, especially when you practice over and over again to nail a difficult song. And of course, no other game can match it in terms of precision. But everyone else will probably find more satisfaction in newer games like Singstar Dance for the PS3, Just Dance 2 for the Wii, and Kinect Dance for the Xbox where they can not just pattern match but actually learn real dance steps. In that regard, DDR seems almost antiquated.

Overall, I’ll give it a rating of three of five stars. Executed well enough, but there’s really nothing very noteworthy nor innovative about it. It’s basically the same as it was in 1998–the “improvements” the developers tried to make (including use of the Move controllers) seem for the most part forced and contrived, as if they knew they had to be innovative, but knew that there’s just not that much more that can be done to stretch a 12-year old platform.

That said, I’d say it’s still a good purchase if you’ve never owned DDR before, and especially if you have kids in the house whose gym classes offer DDR (it’s a great way to get kids to not only get some exercise, but also give them some bragging rights at school after they’ve practiced at home).

3 of 5

Comparison of Xbox Kinect, Playstation Move, and the Nintendo Wii

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I got the chance to two different parties, and it happened that one had the Xbox Kinect, and the other the Wii. And of course, I already have the Playstation Move and have been posting game reviews on Nutwiisystem’s sister site PS3Fitness.com (where you can read full accounts of my early impressions and the setup process for the PlayStation Move).

My friend Sandy had purchased Kinect Sensor with Kinect Adventures! for her Xbox. I helped her set it up. It was pretty easy to set up; like the Wii you just take a long camera device and put it in front of the TV facing the group. The Xbox will automatically detect the camera, and one thing that’s really cool is that the camera will move to track your progress. On-screen prompts will walk you through configuring the system, which basically consists of waving your hands. A tiny image of you will appear in the lower right-hand of the screen.

The technology had a definite “coolness” factor about it. Within minutes, I was navigating the Xbox menus like Tom Cruise in “Minority Report”, just waving my hands. We spent the better part of the night playing it, to the point where I feel pretty comfortable telling you my impressions of each.

I should preface this by saying that comparing the Wii, Playstation, and Xbox can be a dangerous undertaking, as many owners of each system tend to be fanatical and will defend their system with near-religious tenacity. And for good reason: once you choose a system, chances are you’ll be investing hundreds of dollars in hardware and thousands in software within a few years. The last thing anyone wants to do is admit they didn’t make the best choice.

The manufacturers of these products don’t make it much easier. You’ll see news reports about how such-and-such has sold such-and-such number of units, and somehow that’s supposed to mean that it’s better. You’ll also read reviews online and on Amazon which you’ll quickly find are dubious: half are written by fanatics who will stick to their system no matter what, while the other half are written by shills paid for by the companies’ PR agencies.

Anyway, I felt I owed it to you to give you my take, as unbiased as I can make it. So take these impressions with a grain of salt, and do your own comparisons of the three systems when you’re at various holiday parties this year.

Wii: B
Playstation Move: B+
Kinect: A

I have to admit that the technology for both the Playstation Move and the Xbox Kinect are impressive. Both system track movements with incredible precision. There’s a definite “ooh” factor the first time you rotate a Sports Champions ping-pong paddle in your hand, or contort your body to plug holes in an underwater tank for the Kinect. The Wii remote still gets the job done, of course, but as developers for the Xbox and Playstation start to tap the potential of the more precise motion controls, the Wii will start aging.

Graphics (Quality):
Wii: C
Playstation Move: A
Kinect: B+

I split graphics into two pieces: quality and gameplay. This is because as beautiful as the graphics are, if a software developer places form over function, that ruins the game. For this category, the Wii is definitely showing its age. When I look at the photo-realistic vistas in Sports Champions, it makes attempts at photo-realistic scenes in Wii games look very old. I noticed that the graphics on the Xbox are excellent, but the Playstation just had an edge, probably due to its use of Blu-ray discs.

Graphics (Gameplay):
Wii: A
Playstation Move: B
Kinect: B

The game we played at the Wii Party was, well, Wii Party. Overall, games that are produced by Nintendo (as my niece says, ones that “start with the word Wii, like Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit) are phenomenal. Even though the Wii lacks in graphics processing horsepower, Nintendo’s developers do the most with it. Their use of graphics is imaginative, creative, and downright hilarious (there’s a tree-swinging game where everyone in entire room was literally doubling over with laughter). This is a personal bias (which didn’t factor into my grade), but I much prefer the “cute” approach of Wii’s characters and the “realistic” approach of Playstation’s characters versus the “smart-alecky”, “impish” look of the characters on the Kinect. Put another way, I want to hug the characters on the Wii, shake hands with the characters on the PS3, and punch the living daylights out of the characters on the Xbox.

Wii: A
Playstation Move: D
Kinect: C

This is another place where the Wii shines and for good reason–the Wii has had a four-year head start. The number of quality games for the Playstation’s games is nothing short of disappointing: games like “Start the Party” and “Kung Fu Rider” are terrible. The only “showcase” games I’ve seen so far areSports Champions and The Fight: Lights Out. The Xbox fares a little better, with positive reviews coming in for games like Kinect Sports and Dance Central (although unfortunately, the game we played was Game Party: In Motion which evidently isn’t the best to showcase the Kinect). As time goes by, no doubt these grades will change–I do hope that the increased competition will start to put an end to awful “shovelware” games for the Wii, and force all developers to start producing quality stuff.

Precision and Response of Controller:
Wii: C
Playstation Move: A
Kinect: B+

This will probably come as no surprise, but the Move and the Kinect both get stellar scores on this one–as long as the conditions are perfect (see the next section for how things can go horribly wrong). As long as you’re one player standing exactly 6-8 feet behind the camera, the controls are phenomenal. With the Wii, on the other hand, we’ve all gotten used to games where controls are not as precise as they should be (on that note, Nintendo should seriously consider either improving the nunchuk as a motion detection controller or putting it out of its misery).

Group Play:
Wii: A
Playstation Move: B
Kinect: C

Here is where the Wii shines brightly and will probably continue to do so for some time. With both the Playstation and the Xbox, you’re physically limited to the number of people that can fit within the camera’s range. This is why the vast majority of early titles for these games are for a maximum of two players; in fact, for the Xbox games we even had to move furniture out of the way and tell people not to stand in certain places. For both the PS3 and the Xbox, players had to physically get up and stand in a confined area to play–and when they got too excited and moved out of the camera shot, their scores would suffer. With the Wii, on the other hand, we had players sitting on sofas, sitting on the floor, and we just had to toss the controller to them when it was their turn.

Wii: A
Playstation Move: B
Kinect: B+

To me, this is the most important criteria. Once the “wow” factor is done with, how much fun is each system to play? For this, the Wii still stands apart–for now. A game is most successful when you DON’T notice “coolness” factors like the graphics or the controller. If game manufacturers for the PS3 and Xbox are smart, they’ll focus more on immersing the players  into game play and less so on making their games the slickest or “coolest” games out there.

Wii: A
Playstation Move: C
Kinect: C

The Wii is anywhere from 30% to 50% cheaper than what the Playstation 3 with Move and Xbox with Kinect cost out of the gate. Factor in that Xbox and PS3 games tend to cost anywhere from $40-60 each (compared to $20-50 for Wii games), and you’ll find that the Wii is much, much more affordable over time.

And so when tallying up the grades, here are the results:

Wii: B+
Xbox 360 with Kinect: B
PlayStation 3 with PlayStation Move Bundle: B

I suppose it’s somewhat fitting that the Kinect and the Move should end up in a tie. A lot of this is, of course, because game developers have not yet produced stellar titles for either of them. This should change over the coming year. In the meantime, hopefully Nintendo will do what it takes to keep its system on par, if not through their graphics and controller, then through accentuating the things that do give them an edge.

Bottom line, when choosing a system for yourself, see which of the components above are most relevant to your needs, and judge accordingly. I’d also love to hear your experiences with each of the systems. Bottom line, the fact that there are three strong motion gaming systems out there now competing against each other is a good sign that we’ll see much better quality in the future.

Which system configurations to buy?

A question I hear a lot for each of these systems is which configurations to buy. It gets confusing, because most of the game companies sell different configurations, with  or without motion controllers. Here are the ones to get:

For the Xbox Kinect, I would recommend the Xbox 360 250GB Console with Kinect. It comes with the Xbox 360 console, a handheld controller, the Kinect camera, a headset, the awful Kinect Adventures game, AC cable, AV cable, and a built-in 250 GB hard drive (you can save some money by buying the 4 GB version).

For the Playstation, I would recommend the PlayStation 3 320GB System with PlayStation Move Bundle. It comes with the Playstation 3 console, a handheld controller, a Move controller, the Playstation Eye camera, the excellent Sports Champion game, an AC power cord, an AV cable, and a USB cable.

For the Wii, I’d just get the Wii Hardware Bundle – White, which comes with the console, a MotionPlus-enabled Wii remote, a nunchuk, Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, sensor bar, AC cable, and AV cable. To maximize your workouts, I’d also add on the Wii Fit Plus with Balance Board.

Review of Singstar Dance for the Playstation Move

Singstar Dance
Reviewed by PS3Fitness.com on November 26, 2010 .
Summary: SingStar Dance Party Pack carries on the excellent karaoke capabilities of its original, and now adds the ability for an additional player to dance to the music with precision controls of the Playstation Move. 

Back in 2009, Ubisoft released Just Dance for the Wii. This is the game which changed the face of dance games. Prior to this game, video game dancing pretty much consistent of pattern matching. But now, you could dance actual dance moves and have the system tell you how well you’re doing.

A year later, Sony released Move for the Playstation and Microsoft released Kinect for the Xbox 360. Suddenly, motion control was much more accurate and available with high resolution graphics. And not surprisingly, Sony came out with Singstar Dance and Microsoft came out with Dance Central.

I won’t comment on the relative merits of Move vs. Kinect–that’s something that time and the marketplace will ultimately decide. What I can say is that for those who own a Sony Move, Singstar Dance is a solid title that still carries on the excellent singing and voice evaluation capabilities of the original, while adding new features that use the Sony Move that make it feel like a next-gen version of Just Dance.

Like the original Singstar series, Singstar Dance uses proprietary microphones. They’re solid, high quality mikes that plug into a USB hub. The blue and red mikes from the original Singstar series will still work, but ordinary USB microphones will not. The “Party Pack” is pretty reasonably priced at $40, considering that it comes with both microphones.

When you get to the main menu, you have the option of viewing a tutorial on how to dance (basically the same as Just Dance, you hold the Move controller in your right hand and dance the mirror image to the onscreen silhouette). You can also start playing solo or with friends. You can also view your personal “media gallery”. More on this later.

Singstar Dance allows up to four players to play together. A maximum of two can sing at a time, and a maximum of two can dance at a time. When you have four players together all going at it the same time, it’s a lot of fun. As for those who want to sing and dance at the same time, you’re out of luck.

As with the original Singstar, for singers a meter will appear below showing how in-tune you are. The more accurate the singing, the higher the score.

When dancing, the original artists’ video will play in the background, while a silhouette figure appears to the right of the screen which you need to match the movements of. You can view a tiny video of yourself in the lower right hand corner. Or, you can switch views so that you’re taking up the entire screen.

The very cool part is that after you finish dancing, you can view a video playback of either part or all of your performance, which you can save (or in my case destroy and remove all evidence of). You can also see snapshots of your performance as well as “golden moments” (which I assume are the classic poses pre-identified in each of the songs). Each of these can be saved in the aforementioned “gallery”, or even uploaded to an online portal (where you can see others’ performances as well).

For both singing and dancing, you can choose a difficulty level. For the most part, once you get to the more advanced levels the dance moves are authentic (meaning they’re the same or very similar to the artists’ own moves). This means that to really experience the game to the fullest, you’ll need to practice and practice to get the steps right just like in real life. I would have liked to see a “practice” mode where they break down each of the steps for you or at least let you try it in slow motion, as trying to figure it out from the fast-moving silhouette can be difficult.

Here’s a video of me, playing the part of “Freakishly Huge Spice”, struggling through the Jackson 5 classic “I Want You Back”.

In this particular case, the “you” in the song represents “my dignity”.

It’s frustrating to get the moves right just by watching the on-screen character. But I imagine that as soon as you do, it’s definitely rewarding. When I tried it, the motion tracking using the Sony Move was flawless, even in a dark room.

Here’s a list of the tracks that come with the program. Additional ones will be available as downloadable content:

  • Backstreet Boys – Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)
  • Black Eyed Peas – Shut Up
  • Blondie – Heart of Glass
  • Chris Brown – With You
  • Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
  • Diana Ross and the Supremes – Baby Love
  • Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive
  • Gossip
    – Standing In the Way of Control
  • Gwen Stefani – What You Waiting For?
  • The Jackson 5 – I Want You Back
  • Jamiroquai – Cosmic Girl
  • KC & The Sunshine Band – That’s The Way (I Like It)
  • Kid Cudi – Day ‘N’ Nite
  • Kool and the Gang – Celebration
  • Lady Gaga – Poker Face
  • La Roux – Bulletproof
  • MC Hammer – U Can’t Touch This
  • New Kids on the Block – Hangin Tough
  • ‘NSYNC – Bye Bye Bye
  • OutKast – Hey Ya!
  • Paula Abdul – Straight Up
  • Pitbull – I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)
  • The Pussycat Dolls – Don’t Cha
  • Reel 2 Real – I Like to Move It
  • Ricky Martin – Livin’ La Vida Loca
  • Run-DMC vs. Jason Nevins – It’s Like That
  • Salt ‘N’ Pepa – Push It
  • Shaggy – Bombastic
  • Sir Mix a Lot – Baby Got Back
  • Soulja Boy – Crank That

As you can see, most of the songs are family-friendly, although a few may be a little too suggestive to play with children (the game is rated “T” for Teen).

One cool bell-and-whistle is voice-controlled menus, where the PS3 will use voice-recognition to bring you to the right place when you say an artist’s name, a genre, or a song. This was a little hit and miss when I tried it, so I kept it off. Playstation XMB navigation good enough for me.

One slight annoyance was that the game would “stutter” every now and again. It lasts for just an instant, but it happened enough times to be noticeable. I guess that may be to be expected with all the video information streaming to the screen.

All in all, this is a solid title that makes great use of the Playstation Move’s controller and the Playstation Eye camera fairly well. It’s not perfect, but with the dearth of really good launch titles for the Playstation Move, I’d say this one is a nice first attempt, especially if you’ll be playing with friends. Rating:4 of 5

Review of The Fight: Lights Out for Playstation Move

The Fight: Lights Out
Reviewed by PS3Fitness.com on November 20, 2010 .
Summary: A fighting game that provides a better aerobic workout than most fitness and exercise titles.

5 of 5

I review a lot of games that can be used for fitness and exercise. Very rarely has a game provided such an intense workout that just after a few minutes of playing with it, I’m covered with perspiration and my muscles feel tighter. It happened with The Fight: Lights Out.

It takes a while for you to get started with this game. When you pop the disc into your PS3, you need to wait a few minutes while the game data installs. You’re instantly introduced to “Duke”, your grizzled virtual trainer who looks like he’s been in a couple fights himself in his day (the graphics are so detailed it’s hard to tell if he’s a real person or a computer-generated image).

While this is primarily a fighting game, there are fitness elements throughout. You start out by entering your weight, height, and age. Your BMI is calculated for you.

You can then choose a look for your fighter. You select from a variety of faces, beards, hair colors, and hair styles. Chances are you can get someone approximating your look. In the next step, you divide 60 “ability points” into various categories: strength, speed, stamina, chin (your charater’s ability to take a punch), heart (your character’s resolve in staying up despite taking a beating), and technique. In the course of the game, you can win more “ability points” to further strengthen your character.

In the next step, you calibrate your Move controllers (you need two of them). The process is a bit more involved than usual. You need to center yourself in the camera, stretch your arms straight out, and then move your remotes back and forth. You can also take a picture of the background without you in it to enable head tracking, which will supposedly track your head movements just like a Kinect (I couldn’t get it to work on mine, possibly because I had objects in the background).

Duke will go on to tell you how to play the game. You’ll need to keep your feet in place when boxing. You hold down the Move button while angling your controller to the sides, front, and back to move your character. You’ll also learn how to read the various elements in the game which represent your character’s well-being. There’s a health meter and a stamina meter, neither of which you want to run out. There’s also a rage meter, which goes up each time you get hit and adds fuel for “dirty moves”. A diagram of a skeleton will tell you if any part of your fighter is injured and needs to be patched up.

Once you finished the tutorial, you’ll see four menu options:

  • Events: Takes you through different fights of increasing difficulty. With each fight, you’ll earn money, reputation points, and new moves.
  • Training: Will let you re-do the tutorial or take new tutorials on sparring, heavy bag, speed bag, target practice, and endurance sparring.
  • Fitness: Shows you how many calories you burn while playing.
  • Fighter: Lets you adjust your character’s appearance, assign new “ability points” you earn, heal from injuries, and apply “boosters” which you earn during your fights. You can also download cheats online (which, of course, come at an extra price).

As for the actual fighting, it is by far the best fight experience I’ve had in a video game. Your onscreen character reflect your motions almost perfectly–and even mimics hooks, jabs, and uppercuts pretty well. It does take a little while to get used to fighting on a two-dimensional screen–it’s hard to gauge depth, so often you may be swinging and missing at your opponent (the game does work with 3D, so I suppose with a 3D television this issue would be solved). You can also switch camera angles, which helps.

Other than that, it’s a remarkable simulation of actual fighting. After each fight, you can view the calories you burned as well as statistics (punches thrown, punches connected, “dirty moves”, and punch accuracy). You can even view a video replay of your fight. Like I said, after about 5 rounds I was breathing hard and felt my muscles tighten. What’s great is that I didn’t want to stop–I just wanted to keep pounding the tar out of my opponents. I have a feeling that of all the games I have to get in shape, this is going to be the one I go back to most often.

If you’re looking for a workout and exercise title that’s not like a wimpy and prissy Jane Fonda video, you’ll be thrilled at this one.

Review of Nickelodeon Fit

Nickelodeon Fit

Reviewed by Nutwiisystem on November 19, 2010.
Summary: Finally, a great great workout title for little kids featuring some of their favorite Nickelodeon characters.

nickelodeon fit reviewWith all the Wii exercise games out there, it seems that there’s been a paucity of active fitness titles suitable for younger members of the family. The two main attempts to reach this market have been D3’s Family Party Fitness Fun and Knowledge Adventure’s Jumpstart Get Moving Family Fitness. But both of these games have been dreadfully disappointing.
And so I’ll admit I was a little wary when I first tried Nickelodeon Fit. But after spending a few hours with it, I’m happy to report that finally, we have a kid-friendly fitness game that is a lot of fun and does provide some decent exercise value. And it’s a bonus that our familiar friends Dora, Diego, Kai-lan, and the Backyardigans are part of it.
Each of the four friends has seven activities you can choose from (as with most Wii games, they have to be unlocked as you go). There are also two activities that involve all of the characters.
Here’s a complete list of activities available. Each character basically has “beginner” and an “advanced” versions of three activities, and you need to play the beginner version to unlock the advanced one.
The Backyardigans
  • Skip Rope – Thrust the Wii remote upwards to jump over a jump rope.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (wii remote) or 2 (Balance Board)
  • Big Bowling – Help the Backyardians push a huge ball up a hill by thrusting the Wii remote forward in a circular motion. Then, once you’re over the hill, steer the ball with your Wii remote.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (wii remote) or 2 (Balance Board)
  • Color Bounce – Move the Wii remote left, right, back, and forth to kick colored balls out of the way.
    MVPA Rating = 2 (wii remote) or 2 (Balance Board)
  • Double-Skip – Like Skip rope, but you’re jumping double dutch over two ropes at a much faster pace.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (wii remote) or 2 (Balance Board)
  • Golden Pin – Like Big Bowling, but as you roll the giant ball up, you need to jump to get it over bumps in the road. As it rolls down the hill you have to steer to avoid obstacles and aim for a golden pin which is worth more points.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (wii remote) or 2 (Balance Board)
  • Shape Bounce – Like Shape Bounce but you’re matching shapes.
    MVPA Rating = 2 (wii remote) or 2 (Balance Board)
  • Great Stretch – Brings you through a series of stretches to warm up or cool down. All are proper stretch moves which are demonstrated very well by the Backyardigans.
    MVPA Rating = 1 (wii remote)
Go Diego Go
  • Rescue Boarding – Diego is racing sitting on a rescue racer board. Steer the board by tilting the Wii remote, and make him go faster by making circles with your arm. Quickly accelerate by speeding over acceleration panels on the floor, and steer to avoid puddles and bushes.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (Wii remote and Balance Board) or 3 (Wii Remote)
  • Beach Blast – Launch beachballs out to dolphins at sea with a giant slingshot by mimicking the motions of pulling back and leaning forward quickly with a pushing motion.
    MVPA Rating = 2 (Wii remote)
  • Rescue Rafting – Row Diego in a canoe by simulating rowing motions with the Wii remote. Row really fast as Diego approaches waterfalls to make him do a cool jump.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (Wii remote)
  • Skateboarding – Like rescue boarding, but you don’t need to move the Wii remote to accelerate. You do need to steer to pick up glowing bonus patches, and as you’re jumping on ramps you can move your Wii remote to do tricks.
    MVPA Rating = 1 (Balance Board) or 2 (Wii Remote)
  • Double Blast – Like Beach Blast, but you also need to control the direction of the ball to the left or right.
    MVPA Rating = 2 (Wii remote)
  • Extreme Rafting – Like Rescue Rafting, but as you enter rapids you need to steer around rocks and jump over logs.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (Wii remote)
  • Flying Condor – A pretty cool game where you control Diego as he flys on a giant condor.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (Wii remote)
Dora the Explorer
  • Hip Hoop – Move Wii remote in a circular motion (like stirring a pot). Toss the hoop to Boots the monkey when prompted.
    MVPA Rating = 2 (wii remote + Balance Board) or 2 (Wii remote)
  • Pogo Adventure – Bounce your Wii remote to make Dora jump on her pogo stick. You can make small jumps by moving the remote up, or make large jumps by making a jumping jack motion. Shake the remote when she gets stuck in the bushes.
    MVPA Rating = 2 (wii remote + Balance Board) or 3 (Wii remote)
  • Bike Explorer – Move arms in a circle to make Dora pedal her bike. When going downhill, steer Dora around bushes by tilting the Wii remote. “Pedal” harder to help her go uphill. There are cool little touches, like ringing the bell on Dora’s bike by pressing “2” and how the Wii remote rumbles when you go over rocky surfaces.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (wii remote + Balance Board) or 3 (Wii remote)
  • Double Hip Hoop – Like Hip Hoop, but you have two hoops, requiring you to occasionally toss the hoop and twirl in circles to your side.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (wii remote + Balance Board) or 3 (Wii remote)
  • Extreme Pogo – Like Pogo Adventure, but you need to master the controls to help her collect glowing stars, avoid icky sticky mud, and more. The high jumps are a bit difficult to master on this one.
    MVPA Rating = 2 (wii remote + Balance Board) or 3 (Wii remote)
  • Super Biking – Like Bike Explorer, but along the way you can bike over ramps and do tricks.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (wii remote + Balance Board) or 3 (Wii remote)
  • Explorer Bounce – Bounce Dora on a giant trampoline and help her do tricks.
    MVPA Rating = 2 (wii remote + Balance Board) or 3 (Wii remote)
Ni Hao Kai-lan!
  • Balloon Bounce – A fun game where you control Kai-lan to bump balloons with her head and try to get them to a vacuum bin on the side before they touch the ground.
    MVPA Rating = 2 (wii remote) or 2 (Balance Board)
  • Race, Race, Race! – A racing game where Kai-lan races against Rintoo on a track.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (Wii remote)
  • Football Throw – This was a timing game where you need to make a throwing motion with your Wii remote to throw it through swinging tires.
    MVPA Rating = 1 (Wii remote)
  • Super Bounce – An advanced version of the Balloon Bounce game. At one point in the game you have to bounce three balloons at once and watch out for special balloons.
    MVPA Rating = 2 (wii remote) or 2 (Balance Board)
  • Hurdle Race – Like the first racing game, but you also need to jump over hurdles.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (Wii remote)
  • Catch This! – An advanced version of the football throw where you have Kai-lan throw to her friends.
    MVPA Rating = 2 (Wii remote)
  • Fireworks Burst – An interesting game where you control Kai-lan as she causes beautiful fireworks to blast in the sky.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (Wii remote)
Everyone Together
  • The Great Relay – Dora, Diego, the Backyardians, and Kai-lan all compete together in a relay race.
    MVPA Rating = 3 (Wii remote)
  • Round Robin – All your friends take turns stretching and you need to copy them. It’s like a virtual game of Simon Says.
    MVPA Rating = 2 (Wii remote)
Some of the activities are simple (thrusting the Wii remote up to jump rope, moving it in a circle to hula hoop, etc.). Others are impressively interactive and fun. In one game, you help the Backyardigans roll a big ball up a cliff, and then once it starts rolling you steer it towards a giant set of bowling pins. There’s a similar game involving Dora and a bicycle.

There’s another fun game that involves Rintoo throwing a football into a set of tires on a tree. A lot of the games are just good fun, and even more so when competing against someone else.
One thing I love are the little details in the game. There’s a game involving Dora on a bicycle where you’ll feel a rumble in the Wii remote as she rolls over rocks. You can have her ring her bell by pressing one of the buttons. And of course, the whole time she’ll be shouting out exclamations like “fantástico!” and “excellente!”
The animation is impressive and true to the actual cartoons. The Backyardigans are rendered in 3D, just like on TV, while Dora, Diego, and Kai-lan are all their familiar selves. The background animation is beautiful, very much like on TV.

Happily, the controls are never too difficult for youngsters to learn. They mostly involve moving the Wii remote up, down, left, right, and in circles to control the on-screen character. Before each activity, Tyrone the Moose will explain exactly how to use the controls. And during the game there’s a stick figure in a box at all times that shows exactly what movement to make. Most games do support use of the balance board, but after trying a few times I decided to turn it off–kids will get better exercise using the Wii remote alone, and there are too many games where kids will want to jump on the balance board, which of course will eventually break the board.
One thing I also like is that each game gives an “MVPA Rating”. It took me a while to figure out what this was, but it turns out it stands for “Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity”. While few of the activities would be considered very vigorous for adults, chances are kids will get a pretty good workout from them, especially if they’re motivated by competing against their siblings (or parents!). Like the cartoon, I’d say the game is most suited for kids from 4-7. For older kids, I’d recommend the excellent Active Life Explorer.
There’s a whole section for parents where they can view statistics (including BMI and MVPA) in any date range for up to 5 different profiles, and even create different custom exercise routines for their kids by stringing together different activities.
If there’s a pet peeve I have about this game, it’s that navigating the menus is not very intuitive. You have to hold the Wii remote horizontally, and then use the 1 button (instead of B) to go back or the 2 button (instead of A) to select. Also, there are all kinds of icons that tell you what kind of exercise kids will get, but it’s impossible to figure out what they mean, and there’s no legend of any kind.

Overall, I was impressed with Nickelodeon Fit. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a solid title that’s better than the others out there. As I always tell parents, the best kind of exercise with kids is always outside with a ball or a bicycle. But on those days when the weather is bad, Nickelodeon Fit is a great way to ensure that the kids stay in shape.

4 of 5

Review of The Biggest Loser Challenge

The Biggest Loser Challenge

Reviewed by Nutwiisystem on November 17, 2010.
Summary: A must-have for fans of the TV show looking to lose a little weight themselves with the help of Bob and Jillian.

One of the nice things about video games is that they let you experience things you otherwise couldn’t. Most of us will never fly into outer space or face down a major league pitcher throwing 99 MPH. Similarly, most of us will never be invited to the real Biggest Loser Ranch for personal training sessions with Bob and Jillian. But The Biggest Loser Challenge comes remarkably close.

The scenery in the game should be familiar with anyone who’s seen the TV show. The opening screen is an exterior shot of The Biggest Loser Ranch, and throughout the game you’ll see familiar settings, from the gym to the Pool to Bob’s Yoga Pagoda and Jillian’s Boxing Ring.

The Biggest Loser Challenge is basically an exercise program where you can set up a regular schedule of exercises (anywhere from 2 to 6 days a week) over a course of 4, 8, or 12 weeks.

When you start the game, you’re asked to create a new profile. You enter your name and if you have a balance board your weight is displayed (warning: unlike other Wii exercise games, this one doesn’t conceal your weight, so anyone in the room can see it).

After this, you have the choice of selecting from one of 10 preset programs. These include:

  • Boot Camp: A 4-week detox program, perfect if you’ve taken a break from exercise and want to kick back into shape.
  • Marathon Man: A 12-week program at a very intense level of difficulty.
  • New You: A 4-week program for beginners.
  • Super Weight Loss: A 12-week program designed to help you lose weight fast.
  • Slimming Weight Loss: An 8-week program designed to help you tone and trim weight at a steady pace.
  • Enlightenment: A 12-week program with a focus on Yoga routines that help you destress.
  • Belly Buster: An 8-week program focused on slimming, toning, and strengthening your stomach.
  • Beach Buns: An 8-week program to help you tone and shape butt and thighs.
  • Armed and Dangerous: An 8-week program focused on building upper body strength in your arms and chest.
  • Fighting Fit: A 12-week program of box-fit routines to help your agility, coordination, and stamina.

You can also allow the program to create a personalized program for you . This is where things get pretty neat. The first step is for you to go through a 30 minute “fitness test”. This basically runs you through a series of different exercises at 5 different levels (light, moderate, challenging, hard, and intense). You perform the exercises as best as you can. The system will use the Wii remote and/or the balance board to check if you’re doing the exercises.

At the point where you can’t do any more, the system will automatically end the test and recommend that level for you. I really liked that the levels were really accurate–“challenging” really meant challenge, and “intense” really meant intense. For me, by the time I got to the challenging levels, I was already out of breath and sweating.

Once you have an intensity level set, you enter your gender and your birth date. Next, you go on to the “Body Analyzer”. This is where you verify your weight, and then enter your height, neck size, chest size, and hip size. You then select your target weight.

Finally, you’re ready to set up your daily schedule. You select the length of time you’re able to work out each day (from less than 20 minutes to over an hour) and then choose your trainer. Unlike the previous encarnation of this game, you can choose Bob, Jillian, or both of them.

They’ll take you through one sample workout session. It consists of different routines, basically reps of different exercises each a minute or two in length. You have to follow the on-screen image of Bob or Jillian as if you were looking at them in the mirror. A countdown clock will show you the amount of time remaining for each exercises. One nice touch is that you see a figure in the background that is the exact body shape and size you entered before (which I prefer over the first game, where you had to choose a former contestant to be your on-screen character).

Once you finish the sample workout, you can decide how often a week you want to work out (anywhere from 2 to 6 days), and then the duration of your fitness program (4 weeks, 8 weeks, or 12 weeks). Optionally, you can turn on calorie tracking, so you can enter the number of calories you eat every day.

The first time you start your exercise routine, a new “health and lifestyle task” will appear on your calendar. This is where you can customize that on-screen character to look like you. You can adjust its ethicity, its age, its starting weight, and even tweak features such as its eyes, eyebrows, nose, ears, lips, and jaw. You probably won’t get it looking exactly like you, but you’ll definitely get it “close enough”. It’s neat seeing yourself (with your exact body shape) in the world of The Biggest Loser.

After this, you’re ready to begin your routine. A calendar will show you the upcoming workouts that are scheduled. Workouts range from core exercises to circuit training to specialized workouts like “box-fit” or yoga. Every now and then there’ll be a challenge game. You’ll also have a regular weigh-in, just like on the show, which will use the balance board to measure your weight.

The training exercises are basically core, calisthenic, boxing, and yoga exercises. There are a lot more exercises available since the first game (I counted 117). They range from jumping jacks to jump rope to boxing to lunges and twists. It’s a very complete set of exercises.

The challenge games are based on challenges shown on TV: Slipstream, Boom or Bust, Light Cycles, Sprint and Slide, and Punch Clock. As in the first game, you’re not actually doing the actual movements of your on-screen character, but you’re doing an exercise routine, following a small image of Bob or Jillian. The more accurately you do the exercise, the better your on-screen character will perform in the activity. Like the TV show, you go through rounds of competition. It’s a fun way to add a little variety to your exercises.

From your personalized workout menu, you can view your calendar and choose ad-hoc exercises or challenges (which are added to your daily total).

The Profiles and Settings option allows you to run the Body Analyzer again, or view achievements and trophies. You can also choose additional exercise equipment to use in your workouts (either a stability ball or a resistance band. I didn’t see free weights as an option, even though the advertising material said they’d be in there).

There’s also a “Health and Lifestyle” option which lets you view recipes, get tips and advice from trainers and former contestants (these are also randomly displayed for you throughout the game), and calculate your Biggest Loser Know Your Number “KYN” HeathScore.

Some other thoughts about the game:

  1. There are options which allow you to exercise with someone else. This is great motivation when you get tired of exercising by yourself.
  2. The motion controls were mostly accurate, with a few glaring exceptions. For the life of me, I couldn’t get my motions to register for exercises like jumping jacks and jump rope. By now, I’ve come to realize that this is just something endemic in Wii games.
  3. As with most exercise games, you need a lot of room, especially for exercises which use the balance board.
  4. The game is definitely more affordable than other games such as EA Sports Active 2 or fitness games on Kinect, yet makes you sweat just the same.
  5. One thing that some may find a little annoying is that the game will often tell you to switch the Wii remote from the left hand to the right hand and back. I realize this was in the name of precise controls, but after a while it just got a little tiring.
  6. One thing I really liked was that the encouragement that Bob and Jillian shout out isn’t just empty platitudes as in other video games, but they actually teach you proper technique and form.

All in all, this game provides a very solid and complete exercise routine which you can use to lose weight. I admit I would have liked to see some more “video game elements” in the game to make it more fun (e.g., being able to actually control the on-screen character in the challenges), but at the end of the day this title is a traditional exercise and fitness title, nothing more, nothing less.

If you’re a fan of The Biggest Loser TV Show and have always felt you could use a little personal training from Bob and Jillian to lose a little weight yourself, this is definitely the Wii exercise title for you.

4.5 of 5

Review of The Cages: Pro Style Batting Practice for Wii

The Cages: Pro Style Batting Practice for Wii

Reviewed by Nutwiisystem on November 6, 2010.
Summary: An excellent batting practice game–as long as you go in with the right expectations.

I love baseball. As most baseball fans, I’ve dreamed of walking up to the plate with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth and crushing the game-winning home run. I’ll never know this feeling in real life, of course, but that’s what video games are for.

Since my first Mattel Electronics Game when I was a kid, I’ve been living vicariously through video games. In my formative teen years, played entire seasons of Hardball on the Apple II, had a V-Tech Talking Baseball game, played many epic seasons of World Championship Baseball on the Turbografix-16, and got a Playstation 3 with MLB: The Show every year.

Most of these games were exercises in timing. Press a button at just the right time, and it’ll result in a hit or an out. But what was missing was the real experience.

Another of my lifelong dreams has been to own my own batting cage. But living in an apartment, if I were to install a batting cage, I’d have to knock down a couple walls, and 60 feet, 6 inches would take up my entire living room, dining room, and half the neighbor’s apartment. And last time I looked for a batting cage in my town, I found that almost every one close to me has closed down, and the ones that are still open are an hour away. And they cost a ton of money. The batting cages near my park cost $3 for 25 balls. Given the way I hit, the math comes out to about $0.75 for each time I make contact, which adds up quickly.

And so when I heard that Konami was working on The Cages: Pro Style Batting Practice for Wii, I was beside myself with excitement. With the Wii, and especially the Wii MotionPlus, could it be that finally we had a true “virtual reality” baseball game?

The opening menu of The Cages is very simple. You can select from the following options:

  • Training, which will teach you the basics of batting through 30 lessons. To get to the next lesson, you need to pass a challenges of increasing difficulty. Like the real game, you really need to practice and practice to make it through some of the more advanced levels (and like the real game, when you finally pass the challenge you get an incredible rush). This mode reminded me a little of Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution, where the higher level “challenges” get maddeningly difficult–but once you clear them you feel incredible elation. In this video, it took me many, many sessions to finally finish this challenge of hitting a ball a certain distance.
  • Free Batting, which will let you just bat away. You configure your own “pitching machine” to practice any style and speed of pitch, as well as throwing styles. You start with a basic fastball, and as you master each level you unlock more pitch types. Here’s a video of me trying to hit a 95-mile per hour fastball. Note how I adjusted the swing each time higher and lower, slower and faster until I finally smack a dinger at the end!
  • Panel-Type Baseball allows you to compete against another player in a simulated game. You choose a certain number of innings and try to rack up as many runs as possible before getting three outs. A single lets you advance your runner a base, while a strikeout will use up one of your outs. Instead of real fielders, there are “panels” all over the field which you need to try to hit (doubles, triples) or avoid (out, double play) with your batted ball.
  • Multiplayer allows up to 4 people to compete against each other in a home run competition, distance competition, or “panel type” competition.
  • Calorie Counter will let you see the numbers of calories you burned in a session. While swinging a bat doesn’t seem like it’d burn a lot of calories, you’d be surprised at how many you burn off when you’re obsessively trying to beat a challenge in #1 or unlock a new pitch in #2.
  • Player Data is a cool feature which shows you statistics over the history of your playing the game, including batting average, hits, home runs, best distance.

The Cages was released in July 2010. It has been out only a few months, and the reviews are not stellar. 37 reviewers on Gamefly gave it an average of 3.3 stars. On Amazon, it’s averaging about two and a half stars as of this writing.

I have to admit. I love this game. But I love it because I approached it with the right expectations.

I’ll start off by saying this game is very, very technical and very, very realistic in its approach. If you’re the type who wants to just close your eyes, swing your bat with all your might, and hit towering home runs, this is not the game for you at all. In fact, you will probably find the game incredibly frustrating. For that, your best bet is still good ol’ Wii Sports.

The Cages is a batting cage simulator. Nothing more, nothing less. You can’t play 9 innings of baseball, you can’t pitch, run, or bunt. You just stand in a cage and let a pitching maching throw to you.

The pitching machine will throw you up to 20 different types of pitches (from fastballs to sliders to curveballs to knuckleballs and changeups). The pitches are very realistic, and appear to come at you very much like they would if a real pitcher was throwing them at you (just like the real thing, it’s maddeningly difficult to hit a fastball after you’ve been served a bunch of breaking balls). The machine will throw at different speeds, and the virtual ball travels the virtual 60 feet, 6 inches in the exact same time it’d take on a real ballfield.

To prepare to hit the ball, you hold your Wii remote straight out at chest level and press and hold “B”. To hit the ball, you swing while holding down the “B” button. Sounds simple enough. But what’s remarkable (and enervating) about this game is that it doesn’t just take the timing of the swing into account like most video games. It takes your bat speed, the angle of your swing, your bat height all into account, just like real life.

After each swing, the game will instantly show you a split-screen video showing your swing in slow motion from the top and the side. Here, you can analyze your swing and make adjustments. For example, once I kept fouling pitches off the plate. I could see clearly from the side view that while my swing was timed correctly, my swing was too high. Same thing happened when I started fouling pitches off to the right. I could see from the top view that my swing was too late. After making the adjustments, I was hitting again. Baseball is a game of millimeters, and this game does an incredible job capturing that. The video shows you every tiny detail of your swing in relation to the pitch. It is actually the single best implemention of Wii MotionPlus I’ve seen in a game yet.

Tips for Success:

Probably like most people who first started up the game, I started out by trying to time my swings and swing for the fences. This resulted in me striking out time after time. For most games, I probably would have stormed to Amazon to write my one-star review. But as a die-hard baseball fanatic, I took it as a challenge and decided to keep trying. Surprisingly, I was my most successful when I followed the fundamentals of hitting.

  • Keep a loose grip on the “bat” (admittedly, a little difficult when you’re trying to keep the “B” button pressed down)
  • Get into a comfortable, loose stance
  • Take your stride. If it helps, find a timing device like Johnny Damon’s waggle or Gary Sheffield’s wave.
  • As you swing,
    • Your weight should shift from your back foot to your front foot
    • Your hips should open up and your elbows should lock
    • Your shoulders and your swing should be level as the bat head goes through the hitting zone. It helped me to imagine a batting tee in front of me.
    • Keep your head still and your eye on the ball through contact
    • Your wrists will naturally roll as you make contact with the ball
    • Follow through on your swing.

Unlike most video games which provide instant gratification, this video game rewards you after you practice and practice the fundamentals, just like the real thing.

Was it realistic? Almost too much so. When I go to a batting cage, I typically strike out or foul off pitch after pitch and get unbearably frustrated. And before I know it, I’ve spent $20. Eventually, with enough time and money, I’ll finally start making solid contact. And boy, does it feel good when I do.

When I first start up this game, I invariably strike out or foul off pitch after pitch after pitch. But the difference is, after I watch the video replays and make the adjustments, eventually I start making contact (the “bling” sound effect doesn’t provide quite the same satisfaction as the crack of a bat, but it’s close).

There were, of course, things I wasn’t too crazy about with this game, as other reviewers have pointed out:

  1. It is aggravating to have to press the “B” button to swing. After a while, you learn to compensate for it, but it really messes with your ability to do the fundamentals.
  2. The graphics and sounds are really very shoddy. I’m willing to overlook this, as whatever development resources they didn’t put into the aethetics of the game, they did put into making a very realistic simulation.

The burning question, of course, is: will this game help you hit a real baseball? The answer is, yes and no. Swinging a plastic game controller doesn’t feel at all like swinging a real baseball bat (although you can improve your arm strength by playing the game in conjunction with Riiflex Weights). And as much as a video image of a 99-MPH fastball coming to your head is accurate in terms of how it looks, it’s not the quite feeling as seeing a real one buzzing by your head. On the other hand, if you study and adhere to the fundamentals of hitting and use the in-game tools to analyze and adjust your swing, it’s a surprisingly realistic experience and helps you understand the real things you should be looking for in your mechanics when you do get in front of a real pitcher. It’s also a blast to be able to go to your own virtual “batting cage” any time of the day or night, no matter what the weather.

I’m guessing that the poor response and reviews of this game may have resulted in less-than-stellar sales for Konami. That’s too bad, because I hope they keeps trying–the concept and execution were great, but they were probably hampered by the limitations of the Wii. Perhaps this idea was just a little before its time. With its improved motion sensor capabilities, 3D capabilities, and high resolution graphics, this may be a game more suited for the Playstation Move. Or, the technology in this game would be amazing if it were incorporated into the “advanced” level of a game like Sony’s MLB: The Show or 2KSports’ Major League Baseball.

Casual gamers will probably want to pass on this game. But those who are baseball fanatics and want to experience the process (and frustrations) of training to hit Major League-type pitches, this is by far the best simulation out there.

4 of 5