Just as hardcore gamers salivated over the release of "Grand Theft Auto IV," soccer moms across the country are widely anticipating the release of "Wii Fit" -- or at least Nintendo hopes so.
Although I was initially doubtful that the game, already a runaway hit in Japan and Britain, could provide any serious workout benefit, I was pleasantly surprised by at least some features.
The highly intuitive "Wii Fit" ($90) is the newest game for the Nintendo Wii ($250) and takes the "stand up and play" notion -- ushered into video game culture by Nintendo in 2006 -- to a whole new level.
The newest, and perhaps most revolutionary, component of this game is the balance board, which looks like a double-wide bathroom scale. Like the Wiimote, the balance board is motion sensitive; it can detect how much weight you place on each foot and which way you're leaning on the board. Because of this sensitivity, the board can also determine your center of gravity, a key component of most of the game's exercises.
Before you start playing, you create a profile, entering your height and age. If. for some reason. you're concerned about privacy in your living room, you can also keep your profile password-protected.
The game then measures your weight, your body mass index (BMI) and your "Wii Fit age." Your fitness age is determined by a series of balance tests. Apparently, I'm practically a tottering white-hair; I clocked in at a full 14 years older -- 43 -- than my real age: 29.
Once you've been assessed, you can then start your "workout." Full disclosure: In my early 20s, I ran marathons, so, unless I'm dripping with sweat with a light coating of salt, I rarely feel like I'm getting a tough workout. However, for the past few months, my behind has been unceremoniously glued to the couch, probably like many Americans.
The Fit's exercises are divided into four categories: yoga, strength training, aerobics and balance games. From a fitness perspective, the best and most interesting of these are yoga and strength training.
Because the balance board can calculate center of gravity, the yoga modules have a leg up on other in-home options, like videos: the Wii Fit can give you feedback. Your instructor -- at the game's start, you can choose a man or a woman trainer -- can tell you if you're shaky or if your center of gravity is way off; on most exercises you can monitor your own center of gravity in a circular graphic that appears to the right of the trainer.
In all of the games, you can also rotate your instructor to get different views of him or her. With something like yoga, in which form is particularly important, this detail can be quite helpful.
The strength training, again, surprised me. Basically, a series of calisthenics, the exercises ranged from the basic (pushups) to the more complicated (jack knife). It should be noted, you don't really need a "Wii Fit" to do any of these workouts.
It's not all straightforward exercise in the game, however. The balance games -- which include ski jumping and heading soccer balls -- are exhilarating, especially after several minutes of someone telling you how "unbalanced" you are. The most entertaining of these is the table tilt, in which you lean to different sides of the balance board to get a ball in a hole, reminiscent of ball mazes you played with when you were a kid.
So far, the aerobics exercises seem a little useless in this game; running in place in front of a TV screen on a sunny spring day just isn't doing it for me. I will admit, however, rotating your hips like a maniac in the hula hoop workout is giddily fun.
I say "so far" to all of these, because as you go through the game, you unlock more exercises and the ability to increase the difficulty level of the existing exercises. So, in the spirit of reality shows everywhere, I'll conduct my own very unscientific experiment: Can using "Wii Fit" for four weeks help me lose weight or, at the very least, help get me off the aforementioned couch?
As the folks at Nintendo warned me, the Fit is not meant to replace regular workouts, so I'll also throw in some pleasant jogs in the park, as well (perhaps my grand return to marathons?). I can record all these runs in the fitness credits area of the game, another handy feature, especially for people like me who want hard evidence of progress made.
So, below are my vital statistics -- see you next week.
Weight (as recorded by the Fit): 123
Height: 5 foot, 4 inches
Fitness age: 43 (eek!)