Written on July 14, 2011
Sorry, I know a lot of you were asking me to review ExerBeat for the Wii. I’d actually been promised by Nick at Namco Bandai back on May 31st that he’d send me a copy of the game to review. Unfortunately, seems that Nick has fallen off the face of the earth after repeated attempts to contact him (Nick, if you’re reading this, call me, I won’t bite!! :P).
Anyway, I decided to rent the game from GameFly. Here’s my review.
ExerBeat is a new exercise title by Namco Bandai, the same folks who brought you We Cheer and the Active Life series. In many ways, it epitomizes the state of exercise games on the Wii—lots of fun, decent exercise, but hit-or-miss motion tracking.
You start out by selecting your Mii. Good start—too many game companies other than Nintendo don’t embrace the Mii, I’m glad that Namco does.
A chubby yellow-and-orange music note named “Rhythm” greets you. It asks your year of birth, so older folks like me have to go through the ignominious process of scrolling and scrolling until you find your year. Then, it asks to confirm your birthday, which it will pull from your Mii profile. It then asks you to input your weight (it doesn’t offer option to check weight with a balance board–even though it detects the balance board, I can’t find any activity that actually uses it). Finally, it asks for your dominant hand (great for lefties who feel a little left out with so many games asking you to hold the remote in your right hand).
The Music Note tells you that you’ll move your body to the rhythm in all sorts of fun and challenging exercise routines. It lets you watch a tutorial.
If you’ve played Wii exercise games before, the routine is pretty standard. You need to watch an on-screen instructor and mimic her moves as if you’re standing in a mirror. You have the option of working out with one Wii remote or two. I definitely recommend both. (Later, you’ll also have the option of working out with someone else, with both of you holding two remotes, and you’ll eventually unlock a “Video Mode” option which allows you to just work out without the Wii remotes).
The tutorial is a simple set of warm-up aerobic exercises. You’ll see arrows on the screen indicating how your hands should move, and if you match the movement precisely you’ll feel your Wii-mote “rumble”.
The first thing I watched for, of course, how accurate the motion controls are. I found in the aerobic exercises, the controls were very frustrating. I would be doing the aerobic exercise perfectly, but at best the system would recognize only 60% of my moves. Worse, the perky aerobics instructor would annoyingly tell me I was doing it wrong when I wasn’t.
As with other Wii games, you need to do a little trial and error to learn how to get good scores—in order to score the highest scores you basically need to “feel the music”, anticipate the moves, and make sweeping, exaggerated movements rather than trying to just mimic what you see on the screen. Later, I found that fast-moving activities like dancing and aerobics were spotty in the motion detection, while more controlled activities like karate and boxing were spot on—among the best I’ve seen on any Wii game. So the accuracy is literally either hit or miss depending which activity you’re playing.
After the tutorial, you’re sent to a calendar, the main screen. From here, you can watch the tutorial again, edit your profile, or click “Exercises” to start exercising.. As you complete more exercises, more options will appear on the screen, such as the ability to view a graph of your progress, play “Today’s Challenge”, or set a time goal for how much you’ll exercise during the week.
The Exercise menu is broken into a couple categories. As you select each category, you’ll see colored icons representing different 5-10 minute workout routines in each category; each button will give the length of the workout and the intensity (on a scale from one to five flames).
Click on an icon, and you’ll be told how many METs you’ll expend. The way METs work, 1 MET means you’re resting, and as you add METs it means you’re burning more calories. You’ll also get an explanation of which part of the body you’ll be working out with the exercise, and how it’ll help your overall health.
As you complete each workout, you’ll earn “rhythm points” for performing the exercise accurately (again, subject to the Wii’s accuracy).
After your first workout you’ll be taken to Around the World mode, where you can “travel around the world” based on how much you’ve exercised. Your workout time + your “rhythm points” (which you’ll accumulate when you do exercises accurately) translate to the number of miles you can travel in your “around the world” journey. As you travel the world and master exercises, you’ll unlock new exercises, unlock pieces of the map (the Eiffel Tower popped up when I “walked” to France), and even read trivia about the different countries you’ll be visiting. It’s a clever way to use gaming concepts to get you “goal oriented”, much like Walk It Out made you want to walk and walk just to unlock new things.
Here are the different types of “exercises to the beat” that you can do:
- Aerobics – These are typical aerobic exercises with you stepping and moving your arms to the instructions of an annoyingly stereotypical perky blonde female trainer in a spandex outfit.
- Hip Hop – As a generic hip-hop beat plays in the background, a rather muscular and enthusiastic cartoon depiction of an African-American gentleman leads you through arm movements which I’m not exactly sure are really authentic “hip hop” moves. (By now, I’m realizing the developers of the game weren’t exactly trying to be politically correct).
- Latin Dance – In this set of exercises, a cartoon depiction of a Latino woman with ripped abs and a lot of her hips showing teaches you Latin dance moves. Well, again, even though the music and the names of the dance steps sound like real Latin dances, as with “hip hop” you’re really just moving your arms back and forth and from side to side. Don’t expect Zumba here—you’re not really learning real dance moves. But you do get a decent workout.
- Boxercising – A very enthusiastic blonde guy teaches you boxing moves. As I said, unlike the aerobics and dance exercises, the motion control in these exercises was spot on, much better than any other boxing game, including Gold’s Gym Cardio Boxing.
- Karate – Ah, I was waiting for the stereotypical Asian guy. This guy comes straight out of a kung fu movie. As with most of the other exercises, you won’t learn real karate from here—you’re just flailing your arms to match the beat in a way that sort of looks like karate moves. You can think of this as Wii Cheer that’s a little less girly. Still, as with the boxing the motion controls are very good here.
- Karate Forms – Forms are moves combined together that are used on a karate opponent. Here, you’ll have a bunch of karate moves strung together. Our Asian friend is back in this one.
- Yoga / Pilates – You guessed it—here a high-pitched Asian woman leads you through the exercises. Again, you’re not going to get true hard-core Yoga and Pilates instruction here, but the motions and positions are close enough to give you a pretty good simulation. The one thing I found a bit awkward is that for some of the exercises you need to twist your head to be able to view the screens, but the more you do the exercises the more you’ll memorize the moves and be able to do them based on the voice prompts alone.
- Stretching – A brunette leads you through basic stretching exercises using your feet and arms.
These are simulations of activities which you can play alone or with a friend. As with the activities above, motion tracking tends to be hit or miss.
- Swimming – An interesting game where you simulate different swimming strokes with your Wii remotes. You start at the Beginner level, and unlock Intermediate and Advanced levels. A good effort, but poor motion tracking makes this one frustrating to use. After a lot of trial and error, I was able to get a modicum of success by trying to match my movements to the music, but ultimately it was pretty unsatisfying.
- Dance Fever – This is more like “We Cheer” than “Just Dance”. Wave your arms to the beat and earn points. You won’t learn any dance moves from this one, but the motion control is arguably better than previous dance games such as We Cheer and Samba Di Amigo (although still not perfect).
- Pizza Toss – Just when you thought the ethnic stereotypes were over, here’s a happy Italian guy in a chef’s hat twirling pizzas. No, the motions are not really accurate pizza tossing motions, but again, it’s yet another fun motion tracking game.
- Wall Smasher – This is a pretty fun boxing game where you follow on-screen motions to smash down walls.
- Pirate Attack – I’ll let you see this one for yourself.
There are other modes you unlock:
- Weekly Challenge will let you set your exercise time goal for the week and track your progress.
- Today’s Challenge – Each day, you’ll be able to accept a new “Challenge”, essentially three exercises strung together and a target percentage of accuracy to meet. It’s a great idea, but again the inaccuracy of the aerobics exercises has a frustrating tendency to drag your score down.
- My Exercises – Unlocked after you reach Rome, this setting will allow you to mix and match your favorite exercises to put together your own custom workout routine.
Overall, I was pretty impressed by Exerbeat. For a pretty low price ($19.06 at Amazon as of the time of this writing) you get a very comprehensive set of very fun workouts. And I love the use of video game elements to keep you motivated and interested in the game as you traverse the world. Most Wii fitness games can be divided into two groups: pure exercise games which give a good workout but which you get tired of easily (EA Sports Active 2, The Biggest Loser), and game which are fun and provide some exercise, but not enough to really call a real workout (Just Dance 2, Active Life Explorer). Walk It Out and Exerbeat are two games which really seem to do both. And with multi-player support, it makes exercise even more fun as you put yourself against a friend or family member.
The game is of course not without its flaws. Lack of motion controls can be frustrating, and if you’re particularly sensitive about political correctness, you may be taken a bit aback by some of the ethic stereotypes (although I’m sure no offense was intended–they merely wanted to present different races and colors in the spirit of “travelling the world”).
That said, I highly recommend this game and give it a solid 4.5 stars. For the first time in a long, long time, it has also earned a new place on the Top 10 List.