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Wii Fit to hit SA ahead of USA

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Wii Fit, the revolutionary accessory to Nintendo’s Wii that acts as a home gym, will be released in South Africa in the first week of May, ahead of the United States and other larger markets. Wii Fit comprises a Balance Board and a bundle of exercises and games scientifically designed to improve fitness and health for all ages. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK tries out one of the first units to arrive here.

Game: Wii Fit

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Nintendo Wii

Price: R999.00

Gadget has laid its hands on one of the first Wii Fit units to enter South Africa, ahead of the launch of the product here on 5 May 2008. The good news for South Africans is that it will hit the local stores two weeks ahead of its launch in the USA, where it is expected to go on sale officially only on 19 May. That doesn’t mean they can’t buy it online, though, so we may have the bizarre situation of impatient Americans buying it from South African stores! The demand is building to such an extent that it is not unlikely.

The Balance Board that forms the “foundation”” of Wii Fit

In Japan, 1,83-million units have been sold since the Wii Fit was released there on 1 December last year.

‚Wii Fit is a breakthrough product in the Wii range, bringing with it an unprecedented level of body-awareness to gaming,‚ said Matthew Grose, general manager of local Nintendo distributors Core Gaming, at the media launch yesterday. ‚In effect, your ‚bathroom scale’ becomes your fitness instructor, your progress report and your exercise regime all bundled into one.‚

Legend has it that Nintendo head designer Shigeru Miyamoto dreamed up the concept when he figured out that, since he enjoyed weighing himself and recording his body changes on a graph, maybe there was a game in that. It is as likely that it emerged from serious brainstorming on where the Wii could go next. Either way, the pressure-sensitive Balance Board that emerged from this process can be used for both fun and serious activity, ranging from aerobics, yoga and muscle stretches ‚ all under the guidance of your on-screen instructor ‚ to games aimed at balance and entertainment, including ball-heading, skiing, hula hoop, boxing and tightrope walking.

That shadowy figure is you trying to head the ball

The catch is: you have to commit serious time to the basics before further fun games are ‚unlocked‚ .

The Balance Board experience begins with the Wii asking for height measurements before measuring your weight and reporting your body mass index (BMI), as well as our weight distribution, i.e. the centre of your bodily balance. Along with balance tests, it then calculates your ‚Wii Fit Age‚ , which gives you a sense of how much work is needed to bring your body in line with your age ‚ or below it! It allows you to set your own weight or BMI goals, and allows you to change those as you go along.

It offers four training categories, namely Aerobic Exercises, Muscle Workouts, Yoga and Balance Games. These combine to develop bodily balance control, burn fat, help tone muscles and increase aerobic stamina.

Tightrope walking … and you thought balance was about matching work and play?

It’s early days, and only one session later, but we thought we’d put the Balance Board through an early-stage Gadget Gamer’s Four Question user test:

1. Is it easy to play?

The balance board set-up is as simple as for the original Wii: insert the batteries, hit the Synchronise button, do the same on the Wii console, and the two are talking to reach other almost immediately. When you insert the Wii Fit CD, you may have to wait a while for the Wii’s software to be updated from this new disc, but it also bodes well for future upgrades: improvements to the core system can be included in new game releases.

Once loaded, the user is guided every step of the way by on-screen introductions, advice and encouragement. It is a no-brainer for the no-trainer.

In Yoga language, this pose is called the Warrior. My on-screen instructor was not impressed when I told her not to worry herself about me trying it.

2. Does it offer instant gratification?

The set-up is a little tedious, especially if you have not created Mii look-alikes ‚ avatars that represent reach player ‚ for yourself and other family members. Wii Fit requires a Mii, so you may have to exit out of the Fit environment and, via the main Wii menu, enter the Mii menu, and go through a lengthy set-up. When you have several family members lining up to try the Balance Board, it gets a little tough fending them off while you mess around on the screen.

Once you’re past the ‚registration‚ phase, you can choose to go into testing or training, and you can spend as much time as you like on the games that grab you the most. The bonus here is that the more time you spend on the balance board, the closer you get to opening up new games, which are unlocked as you reach time and performance targets.

In short, this is not a quick thrill, but once you’ve been at it a while, the delayed gratification will prove to have been worthwhile. Keep hyperactive kids off the Coke and candy for a couple of days, and they should be able to cope.

3. Is it immersive? (Does it absorb the player?)

Initially, as you go through the early stages of getting into a fitness routine, it is a lot like getting used to the idea of getting to gym regularly: a little painful. But again, the rewards are there when you stick to it, and it finally becomes habit-forming. For once, though, we’re talking about a healthy addiction.

One criticism in this regard is that the avatar, your look-alike, is often a shadowy, see-through figure, such as in the heading game. While this may be necessary for visibility of oncoming blls, boots and kitchen sinks, it also gives the game an ethereal feel, which is counter to immersiveness.

4. Can even an adult enjoy it?

When goal-setting gets serious …

This is the one Wii game that seems more geared to adults than children. The physical issues it addresses, such as a body age higher than one’s chronological age, is more an issue for adults than for children ‚ and older adults at that. The scientific rationale behind the measurements and exercises is also adult-oriented, as is the goal-setting approach. So for once the question is: can even a child enjoy it? It seems at first sight that the answer is an obvious yes, but Gadget will return to this question in the next month or so.

The Wii Fit Media Challenge

Core Gaming has thrown down a gauntlet to members of the media with a ‚25 Day Challenge‚ to get in shape with the Wii Fit. Journalists who attended yesterday’s launch have been given Balance Boards to try out for 25 working days, and have that length of time to complete their Wii Fit workout and reduce their BMI. The five best performers will then be invited to choose a charity of their choice, such as a children’s home or retirement home that would benefit from Wii Fit, to which the Board will be donated. Gadget has accepted the challenge, so hold thumbs for us over the next month!

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