out of 5 stars
Disappointing follow-up to a Wii fitness game classic.
May 30, 2010
I’ve actually had Ubisoft’s My Fitness Coach 2: Exercise and Nutrition since it was released back in January. But after seeing the awful reviews on Amazon, I was admittedly not in any particular rush to pop it in the Wii.
The original My Fitness Coach was a pioneer in Wii exergaming which enjoyed a very long stay on my Top 10 list. Wii Fit had been around for a few months, but for all the hype around it, people just weren’t getting fit from it. It seemed more like a fun set of games than a serious exercise program. With My Fitness Coach, which was actually a port of an old Playstation 2 game called Yourself!Fitness developed by Respondesign, you had your own personal trainer who customized workouts based on your needs, you had over 500 calisthenics exercises to choose from, and you could even customize your music and your workout environment, all things which you could never do before. The exercises didn’t really make use of the Wii’s capabilities, but it didn’t matter much because with the calisthenics, you could get a very good cardio workout. One thing I liked the most about the title was the running bar at the bottom which told you which exercise you were working on and which one was coming next.
All told, My Fitness Coach sold over 1.89 million copies and no doubt raised the eyebrows of people in boardrooms from EA to Nintendo. And so, like most fans of My Fitness Coach, I was looking forward to seeing what Ubisoft would do with the sequel. I figured they’d take all the best parts of My Fitness Coach and make some improvements.
Well, what happened next was really a series of flubs by Ubisoft’s marketing department.
The first mistake was that they decided to take a completely different game developed by Lightning Fish in the UK called NewU Fitness First Personal Trainer and to hastily release it in the U.S. as “My Fitness Coach 2: Exercise and Nutrition”, obviously hoping to cash in on the name. The problem is this new game bore absolutely no resemblance to the original My Fitness Coach. This terrible decision led to a number of problems.
First, fans of the original game and its in-game trainer Maya were completely disappointed. The expectation with any sequel is that the best parts of the first game are retained, and improvements are added on to the experience. But instead, My Fitness Coach fans were subjected to a completely different and foreign experience (literally, as you’ll see below). Simply put, Ubisoft didn’t respect the intelligence of My Fitness Coach fans—assuming they’d purchase any fitness game thrown in front of them without question. The fans responded by rejecting it flat out. Case in point: The average review of NewU Fitness First Personal Trainer on Amazon.co.uk is 4/5 stars (with an average critics’ review of 7.8/10). The average review of My Fitness Coach 2 on Amazon.com is 2/5 stars. Exact same game, but Black Bean did their own marketing in the UK, while Ubisoft did the marketing in the US.
Another flub made by Ubisoft was how they pushed Respondesign, the developer of the original My Fitness Coach, to develop the game Your Shape. It would have been a worthy successor to My Fitness Coach except for two things—two things which all but ruined both it and possibly the Yourself!Fitness and My Fitness Coach legacy along with it. Respondesign had to use a Ubisoft-developed USB camera to track movements (something Microsoft spent years and millions of dollars trying to perfect with Project Natal, why Ubisoft felt they could do it faster and a lot cheaper is beyond me—it certainly didn’t work), and they forced the loud and annoyingly perky Jenny McCarthy to replace Maya, the virtual personal trainer everyone loved, as the on-screen personality.
The third negative consequence is that people who may have been new fans of the NewU series in the United States never got a chance to embrace the new brand. Lightning Fish Games has since launched a well-received sequel to NewU Fitness First focusing on Yoga and Pilates, which Black Bean has released in the UK. But Ubisoft has painted themselves into a corner. If it takes off in the UK, should they bring it to the US as My Fitness Coach 3? Your Shape 2?
Anyway, now that my ranting is out of the way, I figured that I should provide an unbiased review of the game that should have been called NewU Fitness First Personal Trainer, but was released in the US as My Fitness Coach 2.
The first thing I did when starting up this game was to forget everything I knew and liked about the original My Fitness Coach. Forget Maya, forget that I could use exercise equipment in my workout, forget the gauge which told me my progress, forget that I could choose from 500 different exercises, forget fitness tests.
Having said that, the game on its merits is really not as bad as the poor reviews on Amazon indicate.
When you first start up the game, you’re brought to a colorful startup screen with five options: My Plan, Express Workout, Challenges, Profiles, and Options.
My Plan focuses on a personal fitness plan that you can create for yourself. It has four sections: Fitness, Nutrition, My Progress, and Lifestyle Tips.
When you select Fitness, you can either do today’s workout, preview tomorrow’s workout, show your progress, change your workout scenery (you can choose between a beach, a green meadow, a snow-covered mountain, or a gym), or change your trainer (you can choose between two men or two women—they’ll do the workouts on-screen with you as you do them and make faces and gestures in response to your progress). The daily workouts are extremely short. This could be a good thing if you’re in a hurry (in fact, there a new game called “10 Minute Solution” from Activision that will target this market). But it’s frustrating if you were expecting the kind of 20-to-30 minute continuous cardio workout you get from the original My Fitness Coach.
When you select Nutrition, you’ll see a handy collection of recipes of healthy food you can cook. While this is very well and good, I have the same complaint I have about this as I do when I saw it in other games like The Biggest Loser. Who in the world has their TV and their Wii set up in the kitchen? You can’t even connect a printer to the Wii to print out these recipes. And so as good as the recipes look, they’re not very useful if you need to copy them on a piece of paper (as with the grocery list they provide for this week’s meals). Worse, while Ubisoft evidently re-programmed some parts of the game to suit an American audience (I presume the voices of the trainers were British at one point, but they overdubbed them with American accents—I personally wouldn’t have minded if the voices stayed British), they forgot to change these pages. As a Yankee, I have no idea how many 14oz of potatoes are or how hot the oven should be if I set it to 200C/Gas Mark 6. I could have done without this section.
Lifestyle Tips are basically 2-3 sentence tips, mostly nutritional trivial about different foods. Interesting reading, but I question how many people are going to sit through to read on the Wii. As with similar sections on Jillian Michaels and The Biggest Loser, these games would do much better if they used the interactive capabilities of the Wii rather than just plopping a book for someone to page through. For example, how cool would it be to incorporate elements from a simple cooking game to teach about nutrition and healthy cooking?
The Express Workout section lets you choose from four quick workouts: a Quick Workout, a morning workout for Before Work, a midday Lunch Break workout, and an Evening workout for before bed. The exercises consist ofroutines such as marching, stepping on the balance board, hip swings, punching and dodging, and similar exercises that use the Wii remote and the balance board to check your progress (more on that below). All the workouts are short, around 10 minutes.
The Challenges section is, in my opinion, the best part of the game. There are five options: Dance, Cardio Test, Army, Boxing, and Baseball. It’s a little misleading at first, because I was expecting to do dance movements under Dance, baseball simulation under Baseball, etc. But what it really means is that it’ll do basic workout routines to exercise the muscles and build the stamina that a dancer, a trainer doing cardio work, someone in the Army, a boxer, or a baseball player would need. And unlike the short and simplistic exercises in the rest of the game, these challenges really make your heart pump and last a good long time for meaningful toning, muscle gain, and weight loss.
Of course, the most important question in an exercise is, how do the controllers respond? The quick answer is, they’re okay. They’re not as super-responsive as Wii Fit Plus is; on the other hand, unlike My Fitness Coach, it does use both the Wii remote and the balance board to track movements. And the responsiveness is a ton better than Your Shape or Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum, two games which woefully fall short in that department. I’ve pretty much come to accept that outside of EA Sports and Nintendo, game developers simply don’t have the expertise nor the inclination to make the Wii remote, nunchuk, and balance board very responsive.