The Best Exercise Games for the Xbox Kinect

Review of Shape Up for Xbox One

Posted by steve on December - 14 - 2014 with 0 Comment

shape up for xbox one review

Shape Up for Xbox One

Reviewed by Steve on .
Finally, someone *gets* what exergaming is all about!
The holy grail for exergaming is a game that’s so much fun to play that you almost forget you’re exercising. Shape Up for Xbox One is the closest yet that anyone has come to that ideal.
Rating: 5

I’ve been blogging about exercise gaming for years, but to this day it’s been very rare to find a game that combines the fun and challenge of the most addictive video games with true aerobic exercise. Dance Dance Revolution and Just Dance are examples of games that did both, but both stopped short of providing a true full body workout. Wii Fit and Wii Sports were brilliant in their game design, but fell short of true aerobic exercise. EA Sports Active was also excellent, but after a while seemed like the “games” were just thinly disguised exercise routines. Xbox Fitness by Microsoft took it to the extreme where they did away with trying to come up with gaming activities, and tried to turn achievements to traditional workout videos into “the game”.

While Ubisoft has been one of the leaders in games with ancillary fitness benefits with its Just Dance series, they’ve often fallen short when it comes up traditional exercise games. I remember in particular the abysmal Your Shape for the Wii; the Wii rendering of Jenny McCarthy still haunts me in my dreams.

So I admittedly wasn’t expecting too much with Shape Up. But boy, was I pleasantly surprised.

Right away you can see that Shape Up makes good use of the advanced capabilities of the Xbox One and the Kinect 2.0. Granted they use a bizarre “8-bit” looking font throughout that gives the game a sort of cheapish “retro” look. But once you look under the covers there’s some impressive technology. You’re greeted by two full-motion video instructors who’ll be your teachers (and your competition) through the game.

Speaking of full motion video, not only does the Kinect camera detect you, it also takes live video of you and places it within the game. So the player on the screen isn’t an avatar representing you, it’s you. This kind of technology was first used in games like Kung Fu High Impact, but with the Xbox One your video image is clearer than ever, and there’s absolutely no lag.

Where Shape Up shines are in its mini-games, called “Challenges”. They consist of different activities of about 2-4 minutes each that work out different parts of your body. In each game, you have a different challenge to meet, and you’re pitted against an opponent whose video image you see to your right on the screen. Ingeniously, this opponent could be the system (technically, a pre-recorded performance by the video trainer), an online opponent (who needs to be one of your Xbox Live friends), or even your own past performances or the past performance of someone who shares your Xbox with you. It’s ingenious because as fun as the games are to play, it’s even more fun when you’re playing against someone else or even your own best performance.

Here’s a synopsis of each game. I’ve also included a video of each; those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I’m pretty bashful when it comes to putting my image on the Web, which explains why I wear a “ninja outfit” to cover my face. Also, remember that these videos represent the first time I’m playing the games, which is why I lose in all of them except one (something tells me I’m going to regret keeping comments open on these).

Arctic Punch – In this game, you’re smashing ice blocks by punching, cross punching, and kneeing them. The ice blocks will show up in every direction around you, and there are certain times they’ll rain down from above and you need to punch frantically. It’s a great workout for your arms, legs, and abs. I give this one a workout value of 5 and a fun value of 4.

Knee Up Splash – This is like a cross between Fruit Ninja and the old game Simon. You need to memorize the patterns of red, green, and blue melons, and then grab the melons in the right order and smash them over your knee. At certain times a bunch of melons will come rolling toward you which you need to stomp with your feet. I give this a workout value of 4 and a fun value of 5.

Piano Step – This one is sort of a cross between Tom Hanks playing the piano in FAO Schwartz in “Big”, Dance Dance Revolution, and Guitar Hero. Your task is to stomp your feet on one of four giant piano keys as the music plays and colored notes come speeding up toward you. There are a couple variations of this game to different songs (I Was Made for Lovin’ You, Eye of the Tiger, Maniac, Lemonade Rush). Workout value of 5 and fun value of 5.

Abs Zapper – This one is sort of like Space Invaders or Galaxian. You lie on the ground, hold your hands together, and direct a laser beam to shoot oncoming aliens. Because of the position you’re in, you end up getting a great core workout. Workout value of 5 and fun value of 4.

Squat Me to the Moon – Here, you just squat and stand, squat and stand. Do squats that are deep and quick, and you end up shooting yourself into outer space. You get a little break after a while of squatting when you can spread your arms out and shoot lasers at aliens. Workout value of 5 and fun value of 4.

Waterfall Jump – Another Guitar Hero-type game, this is basically a jump rope simulation, but to make it interesting you need to jump along to patterns that come racing at you. You get rewarded for accuracy as well as how well you jump. In between you hop on a surfboard and “surf” by leaning back and forth, trying to avoid mines. Workout value of 4 and fun value of 4.

Push Em Up – This is a game where you simply do push-ups. This is the one game where you Kinect definitely needs a very clear view of your floor. As you do pushups, your image on screen will have more and more things loaded onto its back from barrels to treasure cheese to arcade games to jeeps to elephants to killer whales. Workout value of 5 and fun value of 4 (thanks to the humor and entertainment value of what’s happening on the screen). By the way, I haven’t done a pushup in 15 years, which explains my abysmal performance.

Stunt Run – This is largely a duplicate of the “Runaway Train” game on Active Life: Explorer on the Wii, but of course greatly updated with more precise tracking and realistic graphics. Like Daniel Craig in Skyfall, you’re running (in real life running in place) on the top of a speeding train and ducking and weaving to avoid obstacles, all while racing with the person to your right. This one has a workout value of 5 and fun value of 4.

To the Core – In this game you’re “twisting” back and forth as you “drill” your way down to the depths of the ocean. You need to vary the speed and extent of your swiveling in order to navigate the depths, and from time to time you’ll be able to “ride a vortex”. Workout value of 4 and fun value of 3.

Volcano Skate – In this game you simulate a speed skater to build up speed as you skate up a roller coaster track, and then once you’re on top you simulate a downhill skier trying to avoid obstacles by lifting either foot or jumping. Workout value of 5 and fun value of 4.

What’s great about all these games is that the “fun value” shoots up to 5 whenever you play against an opponent, whether that opponent is the computer, an online opponent, or your own past performance. You’ll even be able to record a short video clip of yourself hamming it up to the cameras which will be displayed each time your performance is used by someone or yourself to compete against.

The game also supports local 2-person multiplayer, although bear in mind you’re going to need a LOT of space between you and your opponent for most of the games, or you may end up knocking each other out. For single player, happily I was able to play most games with my Kinect only about 5 feet away from me (with the exception of Push ‘Em Up, which required a full view of the floor).

Other than “Challenges”, there’s a section of the game called “Workouts” where your online instructors will take you through more traditional calisthenics and aerobic exercises of varying degrees of intensity. There’s no gaming element to these, but you are rated based on how well you perform the exercise, and that all gets recorded in your overall stats.

There’s also a story mode that’ll take you through a 4 week regimen where each week you’ll face off against a “champion”. Three days a week for 15 minutes you’ll need to complete a certain number of pre-selected workouts and challenges, with the goal of defeating your main challenger by the fourth week. It’s a clever way to get you to play a number of the challenges and workouts together to maximize your fitness benefit, all while feeling like a video game “quest”.

One of the nearest features of the game is its Statistic section, which shows you the number of “Bolts” (the game’s point system) you’ve earned, as well as weekly statistics of the number of minutes you’ve worked out, the calories you’ve burned, and a percentage breakdown of which part of your body you’ve worked on (upper body, core, or lower body).

I saw the words “Tracker Not Synced” on the screen, but didn’t understand what it meant. Digging into the online manual, I realized that there’s a mobile app for iOS called Shape Up Battle Run (also available for Android) that you can use to track your daily runs (assuming you run with your mobile phone). When you sync your app with this game, all your stats will be available in this game and in the online portal at, should you choose to sign up for it.

Shape Up Coach is an optional service you can add on to the game where you can create a customized workout program, choose one of 100 pre-made Training Quests, look up diet plans, and track your caloric intake to sync up with the game. At $24.99 a year, I personally don’t think this is worth it, but for someone who perhaps loves this game to the point where he or she wants to build a diet and exercise plan around it, it might be.

Similarly, they’re selling downloadable content called a “Shape Up Season Pass” that allows access to other workouts and challenges. Now it happens that I got this game when it was on sale for $24.99 and for that price I think what I got was well worth it. But if I were paying the street price of $49.99 or the retail price of $59.99, I might be a little miffed that they’ve held back on certain features of the game in hopes that I’d pay extra to unlock them. My general attitude towards DLC is, it’s fine to sell add-ons like music tracks or extra exercises under Workouts, but when they’re holding back core things like new Challenges and try to lock us into a yearly subscription just to play essential parts of the game, that strikes me as a bit shady.

Other than that, I have to say that I was really impressed by this game. It truly is innovative in the way that it makes exercise fun. I won’t go so far as to say this is the “killer app” that’ll make the masses embrace the Kinect, but for those who still believe the Kinect has potential greater than just a curiosity or who believe in the potential of using video games for fitness and exercise, this is a truly innovative game that pushes the genre forward.