Working out with the Nintendo Wii console

26 May

May 26, 2008

By Geoff Meeker

How do you know when a game console has truly broken out, and into a league of its own?

For the Nintendo Wii system, the most obvious answer is sales. The Wii has nailed its competition, the Xbox 360 and Playstation3, with projected sales of 30 million units this year.

There’s a reason for that. Nintendo took a gamble with the Wii and reinvented the controller, allowing players to stand up and mimic the physical action of the game, rather than sit on the couch, pressing buttons. It is easy to use, intuitive and loads of fun.

As a result, the Wii has achieved multi-generational crossover. Bob Morgan, owner of Entertainment World, an authorized Nintendo distributor in St. John’s, said the Wii appeals to all ages – not just children and teens. It is catching on with middle-aged parents like myself, and even senior citizens.

“We get a variety of ages buying it,” Morgan said, in an interview. “We get people in their 60s who get it for the exercise, particularly with the Wii Sports games that come bundled with the console… It’s taken the gaming industry from the hardcore gamers and brought it into the family perspective. I know at Christmastime, when parents are comparing system to system, they always lean towards the Wii because it’s something they can do together as a family.”

Morgan spoke of one couple whose children were typical couch potatoes, and then they gave them a Wii. “After about 15 minutes they came downstairs sweating and everything, and the mother said ‘Are you bored with it already?’ and they said ‘No, we gotta get a drink and take a break.’ It’s more exercise than just sitting there trying to kill monsters.”

The latest innovation for the Wii, released just last week, takes this physical interactivity one step further. The Wii Fit is a game and a piece of hardware that is designed to get people of all ages up off the couch, and back into shape. Already, Morgan said, he has taken orders from a senior citizens’ home and the physical rehabilitation unit of a local hospital.

The hardware is a ‘balance board’, a rectangular unit upon which users stand to perform a range of exercises, including balance games, strength training, aerobics and yoga. The board has sensors that can pick up even small shifts in weight and balance, and uses this input to customize your exercise program and coach you through your workouts. The board even has a built-in scale that is impressively accurate.

I know all this because I purchased the Wii Fit last week, on the day of its release ($95 for the balance board and software). It was incredibly easy to install. You just put the batteries into the balance board, press a button to synchronize with the Wii (it’s wireless, like the hand controllers) and you’re ready to go – just put the disc into the console and play.

The game software does a quick fitness check, using height and weight to calculate your body mass index, and assess your fitness level. I recommend doing this alone, or, at least, without an audience of teenage boys who gain amusement by heckling your physical condition.

There is a great variety of activities in the exercise programs, from step aerobics (kinda fun) balance games (a lot of fun) to strength training (ouch) to yoga (harder than it looks) to jogging in place (which is enhanced by the screen action and more fun than you might expect).

The workout is not too demanding, as the balance board recognizes that you are a beginner (by your poor balance) and compensates accordingly. After 30 minutes, I was just beginning to break a sweat. I know it will get more demanding, as my coordination improves.

The balance board hardware can also be used with certain other games, such as Wii Ski, which simulates the downhill skiing experience. Other titles are on the way.

A person who is already in top-notch physical condition will probably not feel challenged by the Wii Fit. But the rest of us – young and old – are likely to benefit from it.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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