Posted Sat 9th Nov 2013 20:00 by Martin Watts
Fit for purpose
It’s astonishing just how successful the Wii Fit franchise has been for Nintendo since it first graced our living rooms in 2008. In fact, both Wii Fit and its expanded sequel Wii Fit Plus have each sold more than 20 million copies, which is staggering when you take into account that a good number of those purchases would have included the relatively expensive Balance Board peripheral.
Therefore, it’s not too surprising that Nintendo has opted to build upon the franchise’s immense success and use it to catapult the Wii U towards the mainstream. Of course, the video games market has changed quite drastically since Wii Fit Plus released in 2009, not to mention that the Wii U hasn't had anywhere near the same impact as its predecessor. This new entry is arriving in various forms, too — a download trial is available now from the eShop and can be made permanent with the purchase of a relatively inexpensive Wii Fit Meter, while early December will bring retail options of a disc copy and meter or, for newcomers, a full bundle that includes a Balance Board. Only time will tell if this latest release is capable of helping reverse the Wii U's fortunes, but one thing that can be said for certain is that Wii Fit U is the best Wii Fit game to date.
When compared to its prequels, Wii Fit U feels instantly familiar, yet it’s also far more comprehensive and entertaining than what was on offer previously. It’s fair to say that it does feel more like an expansion pack if you've already played Wii Fit or Wii Fit Plus, although this is mainly because many of the activities have simply been plucked from Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus and added to the line-up. At first glance, therefore, it doesn't seem like there is enough new content to justify a full retail purchase. This also isn't helped by the fact that upon booting it up for the first time, Wii Fit U’s introductory segment is virtually identical to that of its predecessors. However, the benefit of having all your Wii Fit content in one handy, high-definition place is undeniable, and with the exception of a few things the new offering succeeds at injecting a lot more fun and innovation into the franchise.
For example, one of Nintendo’s key focuses this time around has been to make people even more aware of the calories they’re consuming and burning. It’s worth noting that Wii Fit U isn't nearly intensive enough to warrant cancelling your gym membership, but it does have a few activities that will break a sweat. Moreover, the ability to set up in-game routines means you can avoid lots of downtime between activities should you wish. As has always been the case, the franchise as a whole has always been pitched as an accompaniment for more traditional exercise or as a way to just get us more sedentary folk off the sofa and on to our feet.
In this regard, Nintendo has gone one step further with Wii Fit U and released an additional peripheral called a Fit Meter, which is essentially an enhanced pedometer. It interacts directly with the your Wii U system and accurately allows you to gamify your activity outside of the game. While you could manually input your non-game progress in previous Wii Fit games by adding how many calories you’d burned, it was incredibly rudimentary, as it required you to provide an accurate number — and let’s be honest, we all like to fudge the statistics in our favour every now and again. With the Fit Meter, this is no longer an issue, as it automatically measures a number of aspects and then provides an in-depth breakdown of your activity throughout the day.
Outside of the statistics, the Fit Meter’s interaction with the game is unfortunately quite limited. As stated above, you can gamify your real-life steps by using them to complete a virtual tour of a real-life location. However, all this does is simply fill in a line on a map; it would have been far more rewarding if upon reaching milestones you were able to view landmarks in more detail (it could have even borrowed some of the elements from Wii U Panorama View ). Despite this, the Fit Meter does at least highlight how active you are on a daily basis, and it’s an accurate tool that motivates you to do more.
The other key difference this time round is, of course, the Wii U GamePad, and it’s surprising how much you actually use it. Of course, one of the main benefits here is off-TV play, and thankfully most exercises are still available to you in this mode. In fact, it’s one of the few games which practically requires the GamePad stand
as it enables you to easily follow the instructions when pulling off an awkward yoga or muscle training exercise; we’d strongly advise picking one of these up if you have the 8GB Basic Wii U set. The other reason why having a stand is important is because Wii Fit U features a mirror mode for many of the traditional exercises, in which the GamePad’s camera captures a video feed of yourself which is then displayed on one half of either the TV or GamePad screen. This is especially useful if you’re trying to perfect your technique in yoga, as you can visually compare yourself to the Wii Fit trainer.
Thankfully, this isn’t the only way in which the GamePad adds to the experience; some of the balance and aerobic games also use it to great effect. In Dessert Course, for example, you are a waiter at a fancy party who must serve delicious-looking cakes and desserts to greedy guests standing at their tables; you use the Balance Board to walk, while carefully balancing the GamePad as a serving tray so that the unusually spherical treats don’t fall off. It’s surprisingly tricky, especially when other Miis will happily walk right into you as you’re desperately racing against the clock. Another superb example of GamePad usage is found in Hose Down, a mini-game in which wave after wave of mud-covered Miis charge towards you. Your mission is to gun them down with a vicious blast of H2O, the intensity of which depends on how hard you press down on the balance board when lunging forward. You use the GamePad to aim your shot, while the TV provides a wider overall view of the playing field. It’s a unique and fun challenge that hasn't been done before, although it isn't particularly taxing in terms of exercise.
When it comes to games making the most of what the Wii U has to offer, Wii Fit U is certainly one of the better examples. This isn't just the same experience as before with tacked-on functionality (although some of the previous activities now benefit from improved controls). Instead, Nintendo has clearly devised these activities with the GamePad in mind, while also ensuring that they are in keeping with the game’s theme of being active. Not only that, but there are also some new and inventive activities that don’t require the GamePad at all. Core Luge sees you sitting on the Balance Board and steering your luge down a winding course; it’s no understatement when we say that this activity absolutely goes to town on your abs. Meanwhile, Rowing Regatta successfully mimics an actual rowing machine (albeit in a far less intensive way), while Puzzle Squash takes advantage of Wii MotionPlus to provide an accurate and fast-paced experience. Again, it's not going to replace the gym in terms of pure fitness, but it is without question immensely more fun than your traditional workout.
If there’s one area in which Wii Fit U falls down, however, it’s the new community feature. Here, players can join or create a gym community, yet there’s not really much you can do once you’re in one. All that happens is that the gym’s information page lists a breakdown of what type of activities players within the gym are playing and highlights any players who have recently met their goal. It’s a hugely missed opportunity on Nintendo’s part to create a real social buzz about the game, not to mention that it could have been used to motivate players to play for longer. Including something as simple as the option for gym leaders to set weekly challenges or compete with other gyms wouldn't have required much effort at all, and without these elements joining a gym just seems rather pointless.
Featuring a wealth of new and exciting activities — many of which have been built around the Wii U’s bespoke functionality — Wii Fit U is the best title in the franchise to date. While the exercises it offers still aren't intensive enough to replace traditional exercise, it’s nevertheless an entertaining way for players of all fitness levels and ages to be more active and conscious of the importance of keeping fit. With that said, it’s surprising just how demanding some of the activities can be at times.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Wii Fit U, however, is that it effectively uses the Wii U GamePad to create unique experiences — something which many Wii U games have so far struggled to do. The title features a number of activities that are all the more entertaining for this, and they quite simply couldn't have been done until now. It’s a shame that the community feature is so limited and that your Fit Meter data isn't used to greater effect, but these are relatively minor nuisances when you take into account that Wii Fit U really is just great fun to play.