Image: Wii Fit
Emmanuel Dunand  /  AFP - Getty Images file
A woman tries "Wii Fit" during an event to mark the game's launch in New York. "Wii Fit" has some great information, but it's way too basic for the everyday athlete.
By Games editor
msnbc.com
updated 8/11/2008 7:43:01 PM ET 2008-08-11T23:43:01

My “Wii Fit” age is 49.

Don’t get me wrong — 49 is a fine age. It’s an age I hope to see — in about 11 years. So I’m a bit miffed — OK, a lot miffed — that some video game is telling me, based on about 10 minutes of standing on some plastic balance board, that my body is older than it should be.

Here’s the thing: I’m a crazy, lunatic, super-obsessed fitness freak. Or at least that’s what my husband tells me when I rise every day before dawn to rip out a six-mile run or 3,000 yards in the pool. I’m not the stereotypical couch-potato gamer. I’m a gamer that’s doing a triathlon in two weeks, damn it.

So why did I pick up “Let’s Yoga?” Why did I bother with “My Weight Loss Coach?” Because like many crazy, lunatic, super-obsessed fitness freaks, I’m always looking for more information, more knowledge to goose my performance, improve my energy and help me nuke those annoying last five pounds. I’ve studied DVDs, read countless articles and paid coaches to torture me. Maybe all I needed was … a video game.

First up: “My Weight Loss Coach,” a Nintendo DS game from Ubisoft. While it’s true that I’m really active and burn lots of calories, I’m also close, personal friends with the candy basket at work. The game promises to help users “reach the ideal balance between diet and exercise,” which sounded right up my alley. I was hoping for a virtual coach with a tough-love approach; one that could show me, in black and white, how margaritas and Phish Food ice cream were conspiring to keep my jeans a little snug.

Wanted: Drill sergeant
But the stick figure guide in “My Weight Loss Coach” was hardly the drill sergeant I was hoping for. She was sweet, gentle and encouraging, but I don’t need someone to tell me that walking is awesome exercise and that little steps add up to big goals. I need someone (virtual or otherwise) to command me to lay off the Hershey’s miniatures.

The game prompts you to enter in your daily food intake and exercise, which are translated into energy points, each of which equals 50 calories. Nice idea, but it’s inexact. For instance, I went for a vigorous 60-minute run on Monday, and on Tuesday did the same amount of time on the elliptical machine. My heart-rate monitor gave me two, quite different calories-burned counts, but in “My Weight Loss Coach,” they’re accorded the same energy points.

It’s a similar deal with food entry. Most mornings, I have a low-fat muffin for breakfast. It’s got whole grains and all sorts of other good stuff, so it’s not the usual fat-bomb fare. But in “My Weight Loss Coach,” a muffin is a muffin. There’s no option to override what the system says a food item is “worth” in terms of calories. There’s also no option to adjust the serving sizes, which is pretty important, as any diet aficionado will tell you.

Ubisoft’s Tony Key says that the game is targeted at any adult who has had difficulties reaching or maintaining their ideal weight.

“The game has been designed for a broad audience, such that anyone can pick it up and use it — regardless of fitness level or time commitment.”

Fair enough, but the game, despite being super-cute and well-meaning, was just too basic for me. So I turned to Konami’s “Let’s Yoga” to help me stretch (get it?) my fitness goals.

Stretching myself with 'Let's Yoga'
I just got into yoga to stress down and increase flexibility. I love it, but I need some help with my form. Although “Let’s Yoga” doesn’t offer me a real-time yogi, it gives me the next best thing — step-by-step instruction on hundreds of poses.

In “Let’s Yoga,” a game for the Nintendo DS, you can choose to do “classes” of varying lengths, group together your favorite poses — or asanas — for your own, personalized class, or find asanas to address a specific issue, like headaches or insomnia.

The problem with “Let’s Yoga” is that it’s a game for the Nintendo DS, a handheld device with a small screen. I tried — really I did — to do a class with the Nintendo DS on my floor. I also tried it with the DS propped up on a chair. But it’s too much work to use this game as anything other than a reference device. For $29.99, it’s not an inexpensive yoga manual — but I did find it useful.

Are Wii fit? Yes, Wii are.
“Wii Fit” was also helpful with those yoga poses — but at 90 bucks, it’s not cheap either. Luckily, Nintendo’s best-selling exer-game doesn’t just offer you help with your downward-facing dog pose, it also gives you dozens of exercises and activities to help with your balance, your strength and your aerobic fitness.

I’d read that “Wii Fit” was more useful as a game than as a substitute personal trainer, so I wasn’t expecting it to be much of a challenge for me. But Denise Kagler, Nintendo’s new VP of corporate affairs, says that the game was designed for everyone — even crazy, lunatic, super-obsessed fitness freaks.

“Just as with any physical activity, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it,” she wrote in an e-mail. “As you progress and become more adept at the various activities, ‘Wii Fit’ offers you even tougher challenges to keep you active and motivated.”

After completing some tests to assess my fitness (hence the “Wii Fit” age that’s almost a dozen years older than my actual one), I got going with the strength training. Some of the moves were a breeze (I’m so awesome at lunges, I can’t even tell you) and some cleaned my clock. In fact, my pecs are still smarting, two days later, from the push-ups and side planks.

The aerobic moves were also a mixed bag. The stepping was laughably easy, but the hula-hooping was fun — and managed to nudge my heart rate into a “work” zone. But what really got me sweating was the running. My competitiveness kicked in as I chased my virtual running partner through a lovely virtual park, jogging faster and faster to keep up. I even forgot for a few minutes that I was running in place, my cats eyeing me warily from the couch.

After an hour of "Wii Fit," I checked my calorie count and found, to my disappointment, that I’d only burned about 70 calories. That’s a number I can get to in about 10 minutes riding a real-life bike. Certainly, fitness isn’t all about calories, and “Wii Fit” definitely taught me a thing or two about my weak spots (balance, push-ups). I’ll definitely use what I learned in the gym, but “Wii Fit” won’t be replacing any of my workouts anytime soon.

My takeaways from this exer-game experiment? “Let’s Yoga” is the only game that I’m likely to use again — and only as a reference point, not as an actual class. The other two, “Wii Fit” and “My Weight Loss Coach” are great for the nutrition newbie or the fitness-phobic, but for the everyday athlete, you’re better off hiring a trainer for some extra help.

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