On Feb 13, Zumba fitness dancing returns to XBox Kinect with Zumba Fitness Rush, bringing with it the craze that launched classes, clothing lines and, yes, even conventions all over the world.
My wife, Amanda, recently fell in love with the trend, attending daily classes this summer and helping me with my review of 2011's Zumba title for Wii. I enlisted her again last week to give me a sense of how well Zumba Fitness Rush used the Kinect's motion-sensor cameras, especially compared to the first Zumba Kinect title, which did not fare so well with gamers. Would the new game live up to an in-studio Zumba workout?
We danced to a few songs at a first-look event, and Amanda came away absolutely loving the game. To be fair, she had been waiting for it to come out since playing the Wii version and was excited to begin with. The Wii incarnation of the game workS by strapping a Wiimote to the hip, which did little to score players correctly for things like arm movement. From what we saw, the game's transition to Kinect has done a fine job of providing motion-tracking that scores accurately based on a full body range of movement and timing.
While I found some of the moves repetitive compared to other dance games, Amanda appreciated that the game focused less on quickly throwing complicated dance steps one's way and more on moving to the rhythm of the music. Don't expect to interpret the lyrics with your body or do the robot; instead, you'll get an aerobic workout with flares of salsa and reggaeton. Because Zumba Fitness Rush's dance moves are sustained for longer than in other games, indicators for upcoming moves are not constantly in one's face. They pop up sparingly, and the game is more aesthetically pleasing for it.
The songs and moves were lifted directly out of a Zumba class and the soundtrack included all of the staples from the Wii version of the game, with plenty of additional tracks. Each song has only one level of difficulty, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. In Zumba Fitness Rush, the tempo and length of the music inform the difficulty of the workout, meaning the slower-paced "easy" songs are not shoehorned into difficult mode by adding complicated moves that don't fit the rhythm.
I was very happy to find that the game had done away with Kinect conventions like constantly taking your photo or freestyle dance segments. These annoyances plague so many other games on the system and lost their novelty very fast with me. I've never looked great in the photos that Kinect takes -- they always seem to squish my body -- and it's depressing to have a snapshot taken of you when you're playing alone. I'm just as annoyed when games force freestyle dance challenges into every song. It kills my highly choreographed groove!
Zumba Fitness Rush could be the ideal game for those looking to learn how to dance, Zumba style. There's a tutorial mode to teach the ropes with step-by-step instructions. Kinect does a far better job scoring, based on full-body movement, than Wii does, so you're more likely to pull off your moves correctly. Essentially, the game will train you into a Zumba dancing machine.
For a Zumba geek like my wife, the game provides an unexpected amount of detail. The stages are populated by real-world Zumba instructors (a few were at the event, it was a little freaky to play with them watching), and the locations are places where actual dance classes have been held. Zumba Fitness Rush is like a sports title in this respect, trading stadiums and famous pro athletes for real life venues and celebrity trainers.
Amanda was the most intrigued by the number of workout "classes" the new game was offering, increasing the total from 30 on Wii to 45 on Kinect. According to her, the key to a good Zumba class is getting "tricked" into exercise by dancing to a variety of ever-changing routines. I can see how an XBox game would trump a multi-DVD workout set. In this respect, a one-disc game offers an impressive number of classes at 20-minute, half-hour and hour-long increments, providing programs of varying difficulties that can be continuously danced through without having to navigate menus.
Calorie counters track your progress. For most of the game's modes -- I gave the producers a hard time about how the game won't record burned calories if you have to bail halfway through a class.
For me, the game felt like Dance Central without without the club scene mentality and also without the wackier moves. The songs are far more listenable and are chosen not to highlight popular artists but for their danceability. Anyone remotely familiar with the Zumba fitness dancing craze or the XBox Kinect motion sensor can recognize the potential of a game that does it right, and Zumba Fitness Rush delivers.
The Zumba curious or current Zumba fans will eat it up. And guys, there might be no better way to Kinect with your Valentine this year. So don't overlook the game when out choosing between restaurant reservations and that trip to the drugstore for chocolates.
Zumba Fitness Rush is available in stores on February 13th for the XBox Kinect.