Since 2009 I’ve reviewed console games that can be used for fitness and exercise on the Wii, PS3, the Wii U, and over at our sister site XboxFitness.Org for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. By most accounts, exergaming hit its peak around 2010-2011 on the Wii. Excellent games like Walk It Out, Wii Fit, Just Dance, EA Sports Active, DDR, Wii Sports and others turned the Wii from a curiosity to a bonafide platform for a new genre of games. When all was said and done, over 100 million Wiis were sold, and among them over 22 million people had purchased a Wii Fit or a Wii Fit Plus. At a retail price of over $80 (and when the Balance Board was constantly sold out, people shelled out a lot more), that was a pretty serious commitment to a lot of people to start using gaming to exercise.
Publishers started falling over themselves to churn out fitness games (most of them horrible). Microsoft and Sony scrambled to figure out motion gaming in an attempt to capture some of that “casual gaming crowd”.
And then the bottom cratered out.
What happened? A little thing called the iPhone, followed by Android, went mainstream and all of a sudden, the same “casual” gamers who had been boxing and hitting baseballs on the Wii discovered that they could fling birds, plant farms, crush candies, and waste their time in thousands of new ways that did nothing for the mind or the body.
The effect on the video game industry was swift. The Wii U will end up selling just about a tenth of the number of consoles the Wii did. “Hardcore” gamers reclaimed the console space by eschewing features that Sony and Microsoft were creating for “casual” gamers. They firmly rejected the Sony Move and when Microsoft tried to force users onto the Kinect they revolted by choosing the Playstation over the Xbox One two to one. Just last week, Microsoft threw in the towel, announcing that they were abandoning their vaunted Xbox Fitness service altogether.
Is fitness gaming on consoles dead? By no means. If you were to go on eBay and purchase an old Wii console and a number of the top Wii exercise game, you’d still have a fun and effective exergame workout system for your home gym (after all, your heart doesn’t care if you’re working out to video games from 2009 or 2016, it’ll beat just the same). But as far as new fitness games for any console to look forward to in the next few years, I think with the exception of a few scattered games on the Xbox One, you won’t be seeing many new ones. My prediction will be that the next wave of fitness games will happen with Virtual Reality–it’ll be interesting to watch whether active gaming takes off when the PSVR launches later this year.
But for now, the winner of the “casual gaming” space is clearly your iOS and Android smartphone. And thus begins a new phase for this site. I’ll still review Wii, Playstation, and Wii U workout games as they happen, but I’ll also start reviewing exergames for smartphones.
As you’ve probably seen, there are hundreds and hundreds of fitness applications for smartphones. The vast majority of them are either traditional workout routines such as 7 Minute Workout Challenge or Sweat with Kayla, two excellent fitness apps which are currently the #1 fitness apps on the iTunes store.
And of course, there are the ever-popular apps tied to wearable devices, the most popular being FitBit. There are also GPS tracking apps for runners and bikers that work with a variety of devices; my personal favorite (which I use every day when I bike in NYC) is one called Strava. Runtastic is also a popular one.
All of these apps, and many more, are very well made, but they all presume one thing–that you’re already committed to exercising. Of course the goal of this blog has always been to find games that are so fun to play that you forget, don’t mind, or don’t even realize until after the fact that you’ve gotten a great workout.
A few enterprising companies have created active motion fitness games for smartphones, and some of them are downright brilliant. And so for the next few months, until we see how Virtual Reality fitness games pan out in a few months, I’ll start identifying reviewing the best of the best games for your smartphone that you can use for fitness and exercise.
Granted, there’s a fine line between a “fitness app” and a “fitness game”. So here’s how I’m going to select games to review:
- It needs to be a bona-fide GAME, not just a regular workout app with “gamification” features such as giving you points for distance or reps. In other words, the primary purpose should be playing the game, and exercise would just come as a secondary benefit.
- It needs to run on multiple OSes, typically iOS and Android. This is usually a reflection of a game’s popularity and longevity.
- It has to have rave reviews, both in the App Store as well as in the press.
- It needs to be FUN–an experience where “you have so much fun you forget you’re exercising”.
Hope you’ll join me in this new frontier! 🙂