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Archive for November, 2009

Review of Your Shape for Wii

3 out of 5 stars

A valiant attempt to create a new kind of Wii fitness game which unfortunately falls flat due to technological flaws.

Reviewer: Nutwiisystem November 29, 2009

jenny mccarthy your shapeLike others, I really, really wanted this one to work. Your Shape is an exercise game that, done properly, could have revolutionized the whole genre. At the end of the day though, Ubisoft bit off a little more than it could chew technologically. The result is a game which is nothing short of amazing those times you can get it to work properly (about 35% of the time), and just plain infuriating when you can’t (the other 65%).

Of course, what sets this title apart from the others is the inclusion of an “Innovating Motion Tracking Camera” to detect your movements. In actuality, this is just an ordinary USB Webcam. (Not exactly a technological revolution, but on the flip side if you don’t have a Webcam for your PC, you can use this one as a “free” one—I plugged it into my Windows XP laptop and it recognized it immediately).

Setup is a snap. You plug the camera into a USB port on the back of your Wii. When you put in the game CD for the first time, you’re prompted to perform a system update (presumably to install the driver for the camera).When you start the game the first thing you see is Jenny McCarthy giving a long laundry list of advice for how to set up your camera. Following these instructions will give you the best chance of success with this game but for reasons I’ll mention below, it may not be enough.

The video version of Jenny is then replaced with a slightly creepy animated version (with way too much computerized eye shadow on). An annoyingly frenetic, peppy cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” plays over and over and over again in the background, perhaps the game makers’ way of getting you to make your selections quickly.

Setting up your profile:

You start by setting up your profile. This works about the same as other games in the genre: you type your name, create an optional password, choose your units of measurement (not sure if people understand what “imperial” is, but it’s “not metric”), enter your gender and year of birth, and enter your height and weight. You still have to enter your weight by hand—in this day and age it’s inexcusable for them not to have added some balance board support.

Once you’ve entered all this, the game will turn on your camera and you’ll see yourself on the TV screen. From here, the system will “scan” your body and show an outline of your body. At first I thought this was amazing, but then I realized that the outline of my body was only just based on the height and weight I entered. In other words, the “body scan” is really nothing more than a gimmick. Its sole purpose is probably just to make sure your camera is in the right position.

You select a part of your body you want to work out: shoulders, arms, back, chest, glutes, or legs. For each of these, you can choose whether you want to burn, tone, and/or build strength. Ostensibly, your workout routine will be customized based on what you enter.

The Fitness Evaluation

The next step is taking you through an “evaluation”. Jenny will first ask you your current cardio level (sedentary, moderate, or active), as you how you’re feeling, and then send you through some typical exercises of the type you’d do in your daily workouts. And this is exactly where you start to see both the best parts and the worst parts of this game.

The first exercise is a warm up march. I loved how the on-screen animated Jenny is juxtaposed to your video image, so the two of you will literally make the same movements at the same time. Every exercise has an optional tutorial where you can learn how to do it; or, you can just mimic Jenny’s movements.

The first time I did it, it did a fairly amazing job at detecting whether I was moving my legs and my arms. And it wasn’t just looking for random movement on the screen—if I stopped moving my arms but not my legs, the screen would flash “Arms!”, and Jenny would also tell me to start moving my arms. “Okay”, I thought. “This is going to be cool”.

The next exercise was jumping jacks. This was a disaster. Not once did the system properly detect my arm movements. For hours I tried everything possible to get this working. I tried changing into different colored outfits, exaggerating my movements, changing the timing of my movements, standing toward the front and toward the back, and even changing the lighting in my room. Each time, Jenny would yell out “Uhp! Please check out your arms!” and the on-screen report of how well I was doing the exercise would always plummet. My percentage of correct exercises was always in the 30 percent range, even though I knew I was doing all the exercises properly.

The next few exercises were lateral raises, squats, plies with shoulder presses (basically an exercise where you move your arms and legs like a frog and move up and down), and cool-down stretching exercises. They were hit or miss as far as my movements being detected. Whenever it worked, it was amazing. But unfortunately, for every one time it detected my movements, it would fail several times.

At the end of your “evaluation” Jenny will then give you a letter grade, but chances are you won’t be happy, as your grade will be artificially low because the game couldn’t pick up your moves. Based on all the information you provided and your “fitness evaluation”, she’ll recommend a fitness calendar with preprogrammed workouts for the week. You can customize the days and the amount of time you want to spend exercising.

Daily Exercise

From there, you just start up the Wii every day you’re scheduled to exercise and click “Workout” to go to your prescribed workout session.

As other reviewers have said, from a pure exercise point of view, this title is really no different from Ubisoft’s previous title My Fitness Coach. The exercises are “old school” calisthenics moves with names like “double heel jacks” (jumping up and down while kicking your heels) to “turn steps” (walking to the left and right while turning and swinging your arms) to “grapevines” (walking to the left and right while swinging your arms and clapping). The package touts that it has “over 400 exercises”, but the truth is there are just 400 variations of jumping, swinging your arms, moving your feet, and stretching. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—it’s a very complete set of workout routines.

On other positive notes, it really helps that you can see your own video image next to the animated Jenny, to see precisely how she does the exercise. And I do like the attention to detail, for example in how the on-screen Jenny will know “the weather’s getting cold outside” or that “mornings are a great time to work out”, as well as how customized it feels (for example, how she’ll put together just the right exercise regimen to satisfy your goals).

The Achilles Heel of this title, of course, is how inconsistently the camera tracks movements. Poor controller response is the cardinal sin of Wii games. It seems that Ubisoft came up with a great idea and put in a valiant attempt to make it happen, but the technology simply isn’t there yet. I suppose the first warning sign was that they signed up Jenny McCarthy to be the star of the game. From Jillian Michaels to Daisy Fuentes, it seems to be the kiss of death for a Wii game when a celebrity is asked to headline a video game. Who knows what this title could have been had they spent the money they’re paying the celebrity for development and testing. I’m not a software engineer, but I wonder if there was anything at all they could have done to improve things, from providing reflective arms straps or leg straps which could be better detected by the camera, to doing more meaningful calibration than they do today, to supplementing the video information alone with Balance Board, Nunchuk, or Wii remote information.

From what I can tell, doing certain things gave you the best chance for success, but they were far from foolproof:

  • Stand in the middle of the screen. Make sure your on-screen image is about the same size as the animated Jenny’s image (stand 8-10 feet away).
  • Make sure the background is plain, and that your clothes contrast against the background (e.g., wear all black if you’re exercising against a white wall and wear very bright clothes if you’re against a darker wall). Clear away everything from the camera’s view.
  • Time your exercises to precisely match the animated Jenny’s on-screen movements. Your own video image will lag, so you need to match her movements. The music is completely useless (it’s just background music with a beat independent of the exercise).
  • Make sure the lighting is such that your images isn’t too bright (e.g. next to a sunny window) or too dim (have a lot of ambient lighting)
  • Make sure there’s nothing else in the image that’s moving.

To sum up? Ubisoft came up with a great idea here, but they just couldn’t get it working. You’ll get essentially the same exercises with the $19 My Fitness Coach, so you need to ask yourself if it’s worth an extra $50 for little more than a generic Webcam and a sometimes-brilliant, sometimes-frustrating experience.

To sum up? A great idea, and if everything worked, I’d be touting it as the new king of the hill. But at the end of the day the poor responsiveness makes it too frustrating to deal with. Exercise-wise, there’s nothing here you can’t get in the $19 My Fitness Coach. So the question you need to ask yourself is, is it worth an extra $50 for a low-end Webcam and the thrill of seeing your own image on-screen, knowing that the motion-detecting technology is frustrating and probably years away from being perfected.

Review of EA Sports Active More Workouts for Wii

This review is for an older version of EA Sports Active. For the latest version, see the updated Review of EA Sports Active 2 for the Wii.

5 out of 5 stars

An improved six-week exercise regimen, an impressive number of new exercises that use the leg strap and resistance band in new ways, and some new and very fun fitness activities catapults EA Sports Active back to the top of our Best Wii Exercise games list.

Reviewer: Nutwiisystem
November 13, 2009

EA Sports Active: More Workouts is the much-anticipated sequel to EA Sports Active. Unlike what Nintendo did with Wii Fit Plus, EA Sports did not port the exercises and fitness activities from the old game to the new, but actually give you 30 brand new exercises and 6 new fitness activities that weren’t in the original.

While it’s designed for people who already own EA Sports Active (it doesn’t come included with a resistance band or a leg strap for the nunchuk), you actually don’t have to have the original game to play it. in other words, if you choose to purchase a resistance band and leg strap separately (you would need to get the EA Sports Active Multiplayer Pack), you can play the game on its own.

When you start the disc up for the first time, if the system detects that you have a profile from the original EA Sports Active, it’ll let you import it in just a few clicks. Something else that’s new in EA Sports Active: More Workouts is the use of trophies to motivate you. You even get a trophy for successfully importing your profile 🙂

One improvement is that you can now use the Wii Balance Board to check your weight. In this sense, they’ve caught up to games like Wii Fit and The Biggest Loser. Speaking of the Balance Board, it’s still optional for use in the actual exercises—you can certainly do most of the exercises without one. That said, if you do have one, they did an excellent job of incorporating it into the exercises, and it definitely enhances the experience.
You start out by recreating your profile. Once again, you can customize your on-screen character. You’re still limited to only a handful of body types, skin colors, and hair styles, but for some reason you now have 25 caps to choose from and 24 pairs of shoes.

Once again, you can choose a male or a female trainer, still the same somewhat creepy animated figures who shout out encouragement to you.

Once you get to the main menu it looks about the same with the same catchy music. The biggest difference is that instead of a 30-day challenge, you now have the option to take a 6 week challenge.

The new 6 week challenge is a vast improvement over the 30-day challenge of the original, more in lines of the type of training program you’d sign up for in a gym. For those who found the workouts in the original too easy, you’ll be pleased to know that you still have the option to choose intensity levels of easy, medium, or hard, and hard really is hard. The workouts are expertly designed to focus on different muscle groups more intensively throughout the workout, an improvement over the original where you’d work on one set of muscles and then alternate to another. One other major improvement is the ability to choose the days of the week to work out, rather than being forced into every other day. For me, I chose Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, mainly because I’m too busy during the week to take more than two weekdays.

Setting up a 6-week workout.

Another improvement is the Journal. This is where you can keep a virtual diary of your diet and exercise. When you click on the journal, you’ll be able to take daily surveys which ask you questions such as “how many glasses of water did you consume yesterday” and “how many restaurant/fast food meals did you eat”. Like a personal trainer, the Wii will give you advice based on your answers. There’s also a place in the journal where you can enter other physical activity you did outside of EA Sports Active More Workouts, letting you choose from a wide range of activities from walking and running to dancing and yoga. By selecting “Other”, you can record workouts you did in other Wii games.

The reporting tools are also pretty impressive. You can look up a weekly fitness tracker that shows calories burned, a chart of your weight, and the number of workouts, total exercise time, and number of miles covered in your EA Sports Active workout.

EA Sports Active More Workouts has a huge array of new exercises. Something I found impressive is that while they didn’t reproduce the exercises from the original, they came up with 30 completely new exercises that work out every part of your body, from lower body to upper body. One other nice addition is a warm-up and cool-down period, instead of rushing straight into the more intense exercises. Something else that impressed me was that they thought of new and creative ways to use the resistance band. For example, to do one-arm rows, you’re instructed to fold the band in half and step on the band in a way that you really do get great resistance on your biceps.

Other new exercises using the Leg Strap and the Resistance Band

The highlight of the title has to be the new fitness activities. As with its predecessor, EA Sports Active More Workouts has some great fitness activities: water skiing, paddle surfing, cardio boxing, step aerobics, squash, and an obstacle course.

One of my favorite new fitness activities: Obstacle Course

As with the fitness activities of the original, the fitness activities are so much accurate simulations of the sports activities as they are clever ways to get you to mimic exercise movements (like squatting and lunges) in repetition without realizing you are. It’s tedious to go through dozens of reps of squats and arm movements; on the other hand, it’s a blast to be doing it playing a fast-paced game of virtual squash.

Squash, a clever way for you to do lunges and arm motions

The controls are spot-on. Unlike games like The Biggest Loser and Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2010, which passively “check” to see if you’re making the right movements once you’ve made them (and often give you false positives and false negatives—if I hear Jillian Michaels one more time yelling at me unjustly I’m going to scream). EA Sports Active More Workouts actually responds to your exact movements as they’re making them. And if you mess up, it doesn’t yell at you.

The game, of course, takes place on an island which seems to be a trend. After visiting Wuhu Island in Wii Fit, Jillian’s Island in Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2010, and the virtual Biggest Loser Resort, I feel like I’ve worked out all over the Carribbean. But I admit, there’s something soothing about escaping for 20 minutes a day with the sound of the surf pounding on the shores.

All in all, I was impressed with EA Sports Active: More Workouts, so much so that it will once again regain position #1 in the list of Best Wii Exercise Games. While it may not be as “fun” as Wii Fit Plus, and the graphics aren’t as good, the workout regimen itself is a tough one which really gets you working out, and the fitness activities are a good balance of fun plus an effective workout. It’s not a game you can play with the family (although there is an option to exercise with someone else, side by side), but on the other hand it does the best job of any Wii Exercise Game to balance fun and fitness.