Written on June 16, 2012
Well, I’m a year late, but it’s come time for me to review the Cyberbike Magnetic Edition exercise bike for the Wii. This was actually introduced to the US market a year ago in June 2011 by Big Ben Interactive. It was originally released to Big Ben’s native France back in December 2009. I ordered mine several months ago and it’s been sitting in the box all this time, which kind of shows you the amount of anticipation and excitement I’ve had about it. I made the mistake of reading some of the very negative Amazon reviews, and that pretty much was a major disincentive to me even opening the box.
What makes this game unique is the accessory it comes with, probably the biggest video game accessory you’ll ever see. It’s an entire exercise bike in a box. The box itself is gigantic, measuring 24″ by 20″ by 10″ and weighing in at about 33 pounds.
The bike retails for $199.99, but since it’s been out for a year now you should be able to find it for much less. These days you can find new and used versions on Amazon for around $100-$180, and every now and then there’ll be an Amazon Gold Box deal that drops the price to about $150. And of course, you can always find it on eBay.
Is this Wii fitness bike really worth it? Did it surpass my low expectations, or was it worse than I’d imagined? The answer may surprise you.
Opening the box revealed the bike in about a dozen different pieces.
At first it was a little daunting, but assembling the bike was surprisingly easy. It took all of about 15-20 minutes.
The steps are simple: you take the heavy central unit and attach the legs…
Then you insert the seat and use the seat post to adjust it to the right height…
Attach the pedals…
The one tricky part, if you can call it that, is plugging in the cable between the main central unit and the handlebars.
And voila, you have a Cyberbike.
Like I said, after reading some of the Amazon reviews I was preparing myself for the worst. I’m an over-200 pound fellow, and I pictured myself sitting on the bike and having it crumble into a million pieces due to my weight. But happily, the bike easily supported my weight and adjusted perfectly to my height.
The next step was to plug one end of the cable into the bike…
…and the other end into the GameCube connector sockets (the round plugs at the top of the Wii).
From this point on, you can flip a switch to put the bike into “Gamecube Mode” or “Cyberbike Mode”.
If you flip the switch on the bike to “Cyberbike mode”, the handlebars will simulate the joystick on the Gamecube controller and steer your vehicle. Forward and backward pedaling are the same as moving the “C” stick back and forth. I think that Big Ben Interactive hoped that millions of people would snap up the Cyberbike and that third party developers would build games for it using these controls. But unfortunately, the only game that ever was (and likely ever ever will be) developed for the Cyberbike was the game bundled with the bike called Cyberbike Cycling Sports.
Sadly, this game was painfully weak. The graphics were of horrific quality, even by Wii standards. When the game stuck to basic cycling, it was pretty good, but for reasons I’ll mention below the game developers couldn’t leave well alone.
You start by selecting an avatar; you can’t even choose your own Mii. Disappointing, considering the built-in avatars are among the ugliest characters I’ve seen in a Wii game. You have two basic modes to choose from: Story Mode and Fitness mode.
The premise of the “Story Mode” of the game was bizarre–you’re a biker and your goal is to collect “pollution” to be recycled. You start by controlling a bike, but then you control a submarine, and then a mine cart, and then a helicopter traveling the world and picking up pollution.
As I said, the bike part can be quite fun, despite the klunky animation and the sub-par graphics. You just hop on the bike and ride. It’s as easy as, well, riding a bike. When I first started my character wouldn’t go for the longest time, and I realized it was because my switch was still in Gamecube mode…switching it to Cyberbike mode fixed that right away.
The main gripe I have is that the action is just not smooth. The game is not very forgiving on tight turns, so you’ll often find yourself crashing into a wall and having to cycle in reverse to get back on track. It becomes worse when logs are introduced–you can pick up lightning bolts on the ground to use to power jumps that you can do over the logs (by pressing the L button), but the controls to jump are unreasonably sluggish.
It became much worse when controlling the mine cart, where the game became almost unplayable. There, you don’t use the handlebars to control steering, but to control where the cart tips. Problem is, the game rarely got it right. You can see what I mean in these videos.
The game became mostly unplayable when I tried controlling the helicopter (in a bizarre choice, you control the propellers by pedaling and you move forward by pressing the “A” button). And the game became completely and frustratingly unplayable when I switched to submarine mode, which as you can see in the video I never quite figured out (nor cared to).
Now, if the game had been nothing but an exact recreation of Wii Sports Resort or Wii Fit Plus’s biking, I would have been very, very happy. But despite the variety of vehicles and environments, this game just seemed to lack the creativity and fun that Nintendo made famous. I didn’t feel very immersed in the story nor compelled to play over and over.
Not to say that the game wasn’t fun at all. I actually did like “Fitness Mode” quite a lot. There are four modes for fitness corresponding to each of the vehicles. Reflex (mine cart), Exploration (submarine), Divided (helicopter), and Endurance (cycling). When you start out Fitness mode, you’re able to specify a target number of calories, time, or distance. You’ll keep playing the game until you meet your goal.
In a way, “Endurance” reminded me of “Walk It Out” where you could just explore a virtual world by cycling around it. Although one frustrating thing is that there are a lot of closed gates. Like Walk It Out, I expected to be able to unlock them, but there isn’t any way to open these gates to explore different paths, you’re pretty much stuck with the paths they give you. You only seem to be able to unlock bike accessories and clothes when you play Story Mode.
I found the calorie count to be pretty accurate. Other Wii exercise games tell you that you burned 300 calories if you so much as sneeze, but here I had to bike almost 10 minutes to burn 10 calories, which seems about right.
If this game was the extent of what the Cyberbike could do, it’d get a very big “meh” from me. But then I tried “Gamecube Mode”.
In “Gamecube Mode”, pedaling forward acts the same as you pressing the “A” button on a Gamecube controller. Pedaling backward is the same as pressing the “B” button. Turning the handlebars left and right act the same as moving the Gamecube joystick left and right. Conveniently, this is how most Gamecube racing games and Wii racing games that support the Gamecube controller work.
The one thing to bear in mind is that because the pedals simulate pressing the “A” button, it’s important to stay off the bike until you’ve made all your selections and are ready to play. Otherwise you’ll be in a world of frustration if you make even the slightest movements on the pedal.
At first I was a little skeptical as to how well this would work. But then I tried out Mario Kart Wii and was blown away. The first thing to keep in mind when playing Mario Kart Wii (or most Wii games that support the Gamecube controller) is that on the opening screen you need to press the “X” button on the Gamecube controller (or in this case, the bike) and NOT the “A” button on the Wii remote. That lets the game know you want to use a Gamecube controller.
As long as the game you’re playing supports the Gamecube controller AND uses the A button to accelerate, the B button to go in reverse, and the joystick to steer, you’re in luck. To see if a Wii title supports Gamecube controllers, look for the blue Gamecube controller icon on the back of the game box. Or, you can of course get an old Gamecube game (which will work in the Wii). And if you find a game where the controls are a little off, you can actually reprogram the buttons and the pedals on the Cyberbike to conform to that game (again, the game needs to support Gamecube, though).
I won’t mince words. It was a BLAST riding a bike to play Mario Kart Wii. Ironically, it was much, much more fluid playing Mario Kart Wii with the Cyberbike than it was to play Cyberbike’s own game. In a lot of ways it was much, much more natural feeling than even holding the Wii remote sideways as a steering wheel. As you can see in the video below, it was just as challenging as playing with the Wii remote, but certainly doable (I had to try a few times to get the first place prize, and as you can see I barely made it). And after I finished a few rounds I was covered in sweat. And the best thing about it is, I was so engrossed in trying to beat my old nemeses in Super Mario Kart that I didn’t even think about how hard I was pedaling. As I’ve said many times before, to me that’s the sign of a great fitness game.
And the cool thing about this accessory is that it turns just about any driving (or biking) game that supports Gamecube controllers into an exercise game (unfortunately the one game that would make the most sense–the biking in Wii Sports Resort–will not work with this game because it doesn’t work with GameCube controllers).
The bike allows you to increase or decrease the resistance; the newest version of the bike controls resistance using magnets, which eliminates wear-and-tear on the bike. Just turn the knob in front of the unit and your pedaling will feel looser or harder.
Here’s a video of me playing Mario Kart. Yes, it looks exactly the same as if using the Wii remote, the only difference is that I’m continually pedaling. The one minor gripe I have about the game is that no matter how fast or slow you pedal, your Kart or Bike will go at a constant speed. But in all honesty, I didn’t mind as much.
Which was the stronger experience, playing Cyberbike Cycling Sports or Mario Kart Wii? let’s put it this way: since I put together my Cyberbike a week ago, I’ve played the Cyberbike Cycling Sports game about once or twice, but I went back and played Mario Kart Wii every day, each time working up a huge sweat.
For those who want a little variety, here are some other Wii games that are compatible with the Cyberbike, i.e., they support the GameCube controller and use the same controller button configurations. I’ve listed them in order of what they’re rated on GameFly, along with the original release date. If you have a Cyberbike, I’d suggest renting the game on GameFly first to make sure it works and then buying it at Amazon if you like it. Since these are mostly older games, you’ll be able to get them at a steal!
As I get a chance to try them, I’ll update each with a comment on how good they are to use with the Cyberbike in particular:
- Need for Speed: Undercover (7.2) – 11/19/2008
- NASCAR The Game 2011 (6.4) – 5/23/2011 – It works with the Cyberbike as long as you change the controls to be “A” to accelerate and “B” to reverse. But because the game relies so heavily on precision steering to do “slingshots” and “drafts”, it’s practically impossible to compete with the other simulated racers while on the Cyberbike, although it was pretty neat to be able to ride the practice tracks and try to beat my own lap times. Recommended only if you’re a die-hard NASCAR fan and are willing to put in the effort to try.
- Cars 2: The Video Game (6.3) – 6/20/2011
- Need for Speed: Prostreet (6.2) – 11/15/2007
- MySims Racing (6.1) – 6/ 10/2009
- Sonic Riders Zero Gravity (6.1) – 1/9/2008
- Need for Speed: Nitro (6.0) – 11/4/2009
- NASCAR Kart Racing (5.6) – 2/12/2009
- Need For Speed Hot Pursuit (5.5) – 11/15/2010 – With this game you have to remap the “R” to the “A” (or pedal) button. You should also do the reverse by remapping the “A” to the “R” button. Finally, remap the L to the hand brake. After you do this, the driving experience is quite natural (while it takes getting used to, it’s a blast to ride your bike over 100 miles per hour while trying to shake the police). Although bear in mind that the weaknesses of this game show through, namely the very poor graphics and a bit of hypersensitivity in the controls. While this was the last NFS game to support the Gamecube controller (and thus be compatible with the Cyberbike), I’d definitely recommend any of the predeceddores (Undercover, Prostreet, or Nitro) before this one.
- Cruis’n (5.6) – 11/28/2007
And of course, most GameCube racing games are compatible. I actually went on eBay and bought a copy of Simpsons Hit and Run; it was neat controlling the various Simpson’s vehicles on the bike, but the amount of time you spend in your vehicle is so short you don’t really get exercise. Looking to try Mario Kart: Double Dash next.
Overall, I’d rate the game a 3 out of 5, and the bike a 5 out of 5. That’s right, the bike gets my highest rating, even a year after its release. I should say that it definitely helped its rating that I went in with absolutely zero expectations. The bike itself is hardly a top-of-the-line exercise bike, but it does the job, and it’s actually the perfect size for my little apartment. The magnetic resistance is effective–I really do feel the burn when I’m into a game. And the integration with games like Mario Kart Wii is simply phenomenal. One thing the Amazon reviewers said was spot on–the seat is very, very uncomfortable and solid as a rock. I ended up putting several layers of towels on the seat, as sitting on it for prolonged periods of time really became a pain in the ***. A lot of people have reported some success when covering it with a seat cover like the Mongoose Gel Bicycle Seat Cover.
The next question you’ll probably have is–is it worth getting? One major strike against it is that the newest version of the Wii and the upcoming Wii U will NOT support GameCube connectors. What this means is that this Wii exercise bike (along with other peripherals that use the Gamecube-type connectors on the current Wii such the DDR Dance Mat and the Active Life mat) will not be able to be used with them as-is. On Cyberbike’s sporadically-updated Facebook page, they did say as of May 9 that they are “working on something” but didn’t give a timeframe.
Having said all this, do I still think it’s a worthwhile purchase? Let’s put it this way. There are no other products on the market that combine an exercise bike with a video game machine. The Xbox doesn’t do it, the PS3 doesn’t do it (BigBen has released essentially the same version of the bike for the PS3, but it appears to be available only in Europe with no plans to release it for the US). You can buy very expensive exercise bikes out there that have video panels with rudimentary displays of a track or an incline, or you can buy DVDs that simulate riding, but for right now the Cyberbike for Wii is the only game that lets you really play Gamecube and Wii racing games on the bike.
And so my recommendation is yes, this is worth buying, especially if you find it for $150 or less, and especially if you already have a treadmill or an elliptical and just want a cheap exercise bike to complete your home gym, with an interactive video display that surpasses the quality of $1000+ exercise bikes (you can, of course, ride the bike without playing the video game too). My recommendation? When Fall 2012 comes around you can buy a brand spankin’ new Wii U for the living room, and let your old Wii retire in the home gym as permanent exercise equipment (along with that old cathode ray television you have in the closet :)). You’ll be surprised at how this fitness bike can breathe new life into old driving games–and into your exercise routine.