Nintendo's Wii Fit Ignites Yet Another Fitness Fad

Somebody forgot to tell Nintendo that "strenuous indoor exercise" does not top anyone's summer fun list.

This, of course, does not explain why poor suckers everywhere are lining up for Wii Fit, an exhausting personal trainer disguised as a video game. Me? I'll be kicking back with Mario Kart Wii and eating taquitos all summer. Why kid myself?

Yes, there's no denying Wii Fit and its Balance Board peripheral are amazing new toys: kinda like an electronic yoga mat that senses your slightest movement — and even knows your true weight. But if the phrase "squat thrust" gave you nightmares before, Wii Fit's not gonna change things.

And remember this, kids: Today's fitness craze is tomorrow's $90 doorstop. It's the first law of exercise equipment.

But for those who are really serious about "maxing out their quads" or "doing elbow reps" or whatever (I slept through phys ed), Wii Fit delivers all the workout of a Bally with none of the fees and, more important, no geezer's yambag on display in the locker room.

It starts with a weigh-in that is used to assess your body mass index, which beats being shamed by a pound-for-pound reading. (It's telling that the American Wii Balance Board supports nearly 50 more pounds than its foreign counterparts.)

Next comes a basic balance check, which is something like a field sobriety test administered by Mario. From there, the choices are yours, as you map out your goal (10 pounds in 10 days!) and start "playing." During yoga, a robotic but tranquil-voiced virtual trainer — your choice of Biff McBeefcake or Busty Hotpants — guides you through various poses, such as the classic Downward-Facing Dog. You'll soon discover that when you relax your sphincter in the privacy of your own home, everybody wins.

Strength Training mode ups the intensity, complete with leg lifts and something called a "Jackknife," which I dare not attempt in my lifetime. Thought push-ups were hard before? Try them with sweaty hands sliding across a plastic board.

The Aerobics and Balance Games modes lighten the mood just a tad. Try tricking the kids into getting their heart rate up with a cutesy ski slalom, tightrope walk, hula-hoop challenge, or soccer-ball head-butting game. More activities are unlocked once you've logged three and a half hours of play, but considering that most games last less than a few minutes, getting to the new stuff can be a daunting challenge. (If you guessed that this reviewer did not get to Rhythm Boxing, you are absolutely correct. I'm sure it's wonderful.)

The Balance Board is ditched altogether for one of Wii Fit's best activities: a simple jog through the park with your Mii avatar. A Wiimote in your pocket reads your steps and speed as you Forrest Gump your way through a scenic countryside. It's reason enough to turn your neglected treadmill into a Wii accessory.

In the end, Wii Fit looks slick, but it can't shake the feel of every other exercise fad; it will be embraced for a while, then suddenly scorned in a corn-dog-fueled rampage. Games like Dance Dance Revolution and Rock Band's drumming burn more calories with less fuss. And with no online support to motivate you — imagine a friendly sit-up contest with a rival from Zanzibar! — you gotta ask yourself: Am I gonna drag this plastic board out every night and stick to my lonely virtual-fitness regimen?

If your answer is not likely, you are better off saving your cash. If your answer is yes indeed, you are Chuck Norris.

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Chris Ward
Contact: Chris Ward