When Nintendo's Wii console came out, couch potatoes across the country rejoiced. Here was a way to get in shape and play video games at the same time! But the bowling, tennis and other early sports titles ultimately delivered less-than-challenging workouts.
Several years later, the Wii has become a more legitimate fitness tool, with a number of personal training titles that promise to burn fat and build muscle.
Not all of them deliver. Some are too easy, too boring or just too repetitive. And working out with the Wii requires more of an initial learning curve than simply mirroring a fitness DVD. Not only must you concentrate on proper form, you have to make sure your Wiimote is pointing in the right direction or your workout will grind to a halt.
On the plus side, personal training games are much more interactive than a fitness DVD, allowing you to customize your workout, music and intensity depending on how you feel on any given day. Your digital coach will encourage you, chastise you when you slack off and drive you to beat your previous score —something a DVD can't do.
We reviewed the top personal training games for the Wii and chose four of the titles most likely to whip you into shape quickly.
EA Sports Active; and EA Sports Active: More Workouts
If nonstop squats and lunges make you yawn, this game is for you. It blends athletic-style training with short sports bursts such as jogging, rollerblading, basketball and tennis to keep you interested.
After creating your profile and on-screen doppelganger, you can choose a 30-day get-in-shape, circuit-training challenge or pick from a large number of preset cardio and toning workouts of different lengths (rated from easy to hard).
The workouts — led by a picture-in-picture trainer — are challenging enough, and each exercise is broken down in a video before you start each move. Of course, this makes the workout longer, but it's necessary — at least at first — for form and so you know how to position the Wiimote on each move.
If you don't get that direction right, or if you don't pause long enough at the top of a rep, the game will freeze until you correct it. It's frustrating that there's more emphasis on form with the controller than on how you should tuck your hips or position your legs.
During the workout, your trainer urges you on with a few stock comments such as "Great enthusiasm on that exercise. Way to work it!" There's also feedback and a calorie count estimate at the end.
A Velcro leg strap sold with the game holds the required nunchuk controller during running and lower body work. The strength moves use an included resistance band, and the game is compatible with the Wii Balance Board (sold separately).
Once you have this equipment and are ready for some new exercises, you might be motivated to move on to EA Sports Active: More Workouts, the update (without leg strap and band) released in November.
List price for EA Sports Active: $59.99; EA Sports Active: More Workouts: $39.99
The Biggest Loser
If you're inspired to get into shape by the miraculous transformations on the popular NBC show "The Biggest Loser," you'll like this in-home version from THQ.
In this game, you'll work out with one of its popular trainers — Bob Harper or Jillian Michaels — to meet the fitness goals you set in your profile. Each week there's a competitive weigh-in on the Wii Balance Board to motivate you to "bring it" and "dig deeper" in your workouts.
There isn't the same variety of activities and scenery that you find in EA Sports, but its digital trainers provide a greater range of encouragement, prodding and verbal coaching on form.
The workout moves a little faster too, because you don't have to wade through tutorial videos before starting each exercise. You simply mimic your trainer and listen to his or her cues on form and timing. You can also create custom routines from 88 exercises and pull up recipes from "The Biggest Loser Cookbook."
No weights or resistance bands are needed. All of the toning is accomplished by lifting your own body weight in exercises such as planks, push-ups, squats and lunges. You can compete against another player or previous contestants from the show in special challenges. But as with most Wii fitness games, you can't put too much stock in the calorie counts tallied up at the end.
After a 40-minute workout that left this intermediate exerciser breathless and breaking a sweat, it said I burned a whopping 48 calories.
List price: $39.99
Wii Fit Plus
Wii Fit, the pioneering workout game for the Wii, was updated by Nintendo in October to include more exercises and games, and the option to create customized routines.
Not all of the activities are a slam-dunk if you want to get in shape. Many of the "Training Plus" activities challenge your balance but don't provide a good cardiovascular or strength workout.
And many of the aerobic activities, such as Basic Step, won't provide enough of a workout for anyone beyond a beginner. What you will find, however, are solid yoga and strength moves, and a few fun heart-rate elevating games to play with your character or "Mii," such as Super Hula Hoop, Rhythm Kung Fu and Bird's-Eye Bulls-Eye, a game that has you flapping your arms in a chicken suit to hit targets.
Your time and calorie count are tallied at the end, and you can weigh yourself on the Balance Board to track your progress.
List price: $19.99
This title, from Ubisoft, led by a digital version of actress Jenny McCarthy, rates a mention largely because it's the first to use a motion-detecting camera on top of your television to track your movements, allowing you to exercise without a controller.
Your image is projected onto the screen next to McCarthy's avatar, allowing you to check out your form as you might in the mirror at your gym. It doesn't require any special equipment but will work with your own weights, stability ball and step bench if you have them.
It also has the largest number of exercises — more than 400 — to burn fat and build and stretch your muscles.
Sounds great, right? While wonderful in concept, it doesn't work so well in practice. The video lags a bit, making you work harder to keep pace with your trainer. And you need to have enough room to keep your arms and legs within frame — about 8 feet from the TV.
When the camera can't detect your movements because your feet or arms move out of frame or the background is too dark, you will be told that you're doing the exercise wrong, and annoying on-screen messages flash to "Follow me."
If you're going to use this game, you‘ll just have to expect that it won't recognize your moves correctly for a certain percentage of the time. If you can get past that, you'll get a good heart-pumping workout that exercises multiple muscle groups simultaneously. And, if you decide you don't like the game, that wide-angle Web-compatible camera works pretty well for those Skype sessions.
List price: $69.99Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun