Monday, May 25, 2009

Wii Fit vs EA Active - Fight!

I'm the worst athlete in the world. I get tired fast, my coordination ends at my wrists (and the "good" side isn't where most of me is), and I get bored with sports pretty quickly. So I'm always looking for ways to keep myself in some vague semblance of "being in shape", preferably the more entertaining the better.

When the Wii Fit came out with the balance board, that was a great way to keep in shape. The biggest problem for me is that you had to unlock everything, and then once you had most of the exercises felt kinda samey-samey (at least they did to me). Of course, I had some problems with my right wrist at the time and so couldn't do a lot of the exercises that required you to put weight on that part of your body. 

When EA brought out their new "Active" program for the Wii, I was pretty excited. Volleyball! Basketball! In-Line Skating! Soccer! Here, I thought, would be the "next-gen" Fit program, plus you could use pre-programmed exercise programs to cover different muscle groups or roll your own. I *did* do about two years of serious weight training back in so I know something about it, but like I say I'm a lazy SOB and was happy to let someone else do the hard work. 

I'm four days into the "light" 30-day workout program, and so far I have to say that I believe this software was not ready for prime time. Also, why anyone thinking that this will provide a "Fit"esque experience will be disappointed.

First, though the positives. It uses the balance board, although to my mind it's more of a prop than a balance tool. Where Fit is about balance, Active is about exercise. Active also uses a leg strap that you stick the nunchuck into, and it does give a wider range of feedback to the system about what your body is doing. There are videos with an actual person doing the exercises that you can access any time if you're a little lost, although like I say if you've done any weight training most of what they're doing is pretty easy to grok. 

The negatives are a little surprising in some cases. For example, when I run, I can't seem to get a consistent reaction from the game. I'll be running along, it will say I'm doing great, then suddenly my on-screen dude slows down and the trainer starts in on me. Except I'm running exactly like I was ten seconds ago. The only way I can get it to register a consistent pace is if I actually *run* around the living room. I guess that will prevent a wear mark in the carpet, but I want to, you know, not have to move so much. 

I find this with various exercises too. I'll do a shoulder press (lifting your arm straight up), and sometimes the system doesn't realize I've lowered my arms, and it complains at me. I also have noticed that the rhythm of the program is off from time to time, where it will have me do a motion, then it will stall, then suddenly the arms are down and on their way back up again when I haven't been told to lower mine. 

The Giant Rubber Band (tm) is OK, but it's a pain trying to get ahold of the handles when you've got the nunchuck in one hand and the Wiimote in the other, with the cable getting all tangled up. There are also some exercises where you need to double-back on the GRB, like when you're doing standing rows, but there's nothing to remind you of this unless you watch the entire video again. 

Worst of all, though, is the leg strap you put the nunchuck into. It's really not quite big enough for the nunchuck, so taking it in and out is a real pain. I've taken to leaving one nunchuck in the strap and another for the exercises where you want it in your hand. The problem is that you have to figure out something to do with the cable in the meantime, and I've had various amounts of success (or not) sticking the cable in my pocket, or draping it over the nunchuck so the cable hangs down the inside of my leg. So far, I haven't tripped and killed myself, but when I do I'll let you know.

OK, I didn't say the worst thing. The worst thing is that there are no real games here, no tennis, no soccer, no volleyball. You just do different exercises based on moves in these games. Yay. No skiing, no balance board stuff, no nothing. Just more exercises. Me, I want to have fun when I'm exercising, and while the exercises are OK (and often repeated in my short experience), I'd like a little reward other than a medal for using the program for 20 minutes. 

Also, no measuring your weight or doing balance tests. Maybe the weight thing isn't a huge loss, I guess. 

The other thing I loved about Fit was that all my Miis were on it, running through the park with me, cheering me on as I tightrope walked above the city streets. It was very nice to see my daughter's Mii smoking past me running, but the people in Active, while looking a lot more like people than Fischer Price toys, just don't quite do it for me. 

If one or two of the above problems were all that Active had, I guess it would be a huge hit. But with so many little problems, I'm really wondering if I'll get through the 30-day workout, much less taking on another one. I'm certainly not interested in doing two-person exercising, especially considering I have to really figure out where I start when I'm doing those alternating side lunges without rearranging the furniture first. 

I suppose that this will hit the sweet spot for a lot of people who are used to having to work in order to work out, but I'm really not part of that demographic. The thing Active really makes me want to do, now that my wrist is better, is to go back and use Fit with more of the strength exercises and just come up with my own exercise plan. I guess in that sense it's a success, just maybe not in the way that EA was thinking. 

So here's the challenge, Wii developers - make a better version of Fit, one with lots of games you can play as rewards, incorporate the Miis, put in exercise programs, and find some new tools to use like the GRB (but without the difficulty of using it). Because Active ain't it. 

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