Get off the couch - GAME looks at fitness games

Eye Toy kinetic on Playstation 2 at GAME

Asthmatic Athletics

The popular image of video games is that of a pastime requiring no more physical effort than a sofa slouch and nimble thumbs - along with a carb-heavy diet of pizza and sugary soda. The fast-track to a slow death from obesity, in other words.

Fitness games fly in the face of that assumption, but they're not the recent invention many think they are. Even as far back as 1982, companies like Atari were looking at ways of connecting exercise bikes to a virtual reality under the codename Project Puffer. In 1986, Bandai released a control mat for the Nintendo Entertainment System which came with Family Fun Fitness, a suite of exercise games. Nintendo was so impressed, it bought the product and repackaged it as the more exciting sounding Power Pad.

This, of course, led to games like Konami's seminal Dance Dance Revolution, which ushered in the age of the dance-mat as a legitimate and popular game controller. 2005 brought EyeToy: Kinetic to the market - the first modern motion tracking exercise game - while 2006 saw the short-lived and rather naffly titled Gamercize system wire actual exercise equipment up to games consoles.

Wii Fit and Wii Sports - fitness games for Wii at GAME

The Rise of the Wii

It was the Wii that really pulled all these ideas together to create the fitness game genre though. Indeed, it almost had to be Nintendo who would finally crack the nut and make gaming and exercise feel like natural bedfellows. The Wii was a friendly machine, and with titles like Wii Sports it had already made jumping around part of the gameplay experience. Here was a console where the all important mums and dads might buy into the idea of gaming to get healthy.

With Wii Fit's balance board Nintendo finally had the peripheral to make it work, while the software cannily combined solid fitness goals with more accessible video game mechanics. Motivation is the key to any exercise regime, and video games are nothing if not efficient effort-to-reward systems. What better approach than to tap into our natural desire to beat our last score, to reach the next level, and to be congratulated for doing well?

In the years following Wii Fit's 2007 release, the floodgates opened. Celebrity endorsed fitness packages aped Wii Fit's style, but without adding much to the genre. It was only when SONY and Microsoft got involved, with Move and Kinect, that there was enough competition to drive the development of even more advanced fitness games.

Zumba fitness for Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 at GAME

Which brings us to today, and the chart-topping success of Zumba Fitness. Based on the popular fitness franchise, it ditches the squats and thrusts in favour of more fun dance-based exercise. With its Latin rhythms and have-a-go simplicity, it's no surprise that it's selling so well - this is a fitness game disguised as a dancing game, which is then dressed up as a bloody good laugh. Perfect for people who might otherwise feel intimidated by the genre.

EA Sports Active 2 goes in the complete opposite direction, with its wireless heart-rate monitor and resistance band accessory. This is the game for serious fitness nuts who really want to push themselves further with each new workout, with loads of stats and options to tweak your experience for maximum calorie-crushing impact.

Similar in style, but slightly less ferocious in approach, is Your Shape: Fitness Evolved. This also concentrates on scalable aerobic workouts with an emphasis on personalised training routines and lots of encouragement to keep the pace up. For players who have taken Wii Fit as far as they can, both titles represent the obvious next step.

UFC Personal Trainer on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii at GAME

Workouts Are For Wimps

But what if this is all still a little too much like leotards and headbands? What if you're worried that doing star jumps in front of your console won't impress your hard mates? Well, that's why there's UFC Trainer. This manly fitness game for manly men offers much the same workout results as other fitness titles - but in a style that makes you feel like you could kick a man's head through a wall. Heavy on the cardio and sparring, it offers an experience as tough as its name suggests. Unless you actually do fight in the UFC, we suggest you don't go steaming in, ready to show off with the hardest settings.

It's doubtful that motion control is going anywhere soon, what with Wii U around the corner and the next Xbox likely to incorporate Kinect, so it seems that far from being a passing fad the fitness game is here to stay. Maybe the stereotype of the lardy wheezing gamer is finally coming to an end. Pass the leg-warmers.

SKU: Features-183557
Release Date: 10/08/2012