The Best Exercise Games for the Xbox Kinect

Review of Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012 for Kinect

Posted by steve on November - 11 - 2011 with 0 Comment

Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012

Still the best “pure fitness” game you can get for the Xbox Kinect

Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012 picks up where the original version left off. It contains a number of activities which are extremely fun, but also great workouts. It also includes traditional cardiovascular and strength-building workouts of the kind you’d find at the gym, as well as some interesting themed workouts.

Rating by steve: 4.5 stars

The original Your Shape: Fitness Evolved provided an excellent showcase of what the Kinect was capable of in regards to fitness and exercise. Its motion detection was revolutionary in terms of how well it detected how well you were performing exercises, and the mini-games it included were both tons of fun and moderately good exercise.

I’m happy to say that Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012 does push the platform forward, in an evolutionary if not a revolutionary way. Still, it is by far the best “pure workout” game that you can get on the Kinect.

When you start out the game,  you see a blue screen which adjusts the sensor and detects who you are. You’re then brought to a home screen, where you see a stylized cartoon image of yourself. That’s right, no need to create an avatar, because you ARE the avatar. This little detail was a huge improvement over the first version, where you played as a brightly colored silhouette. This little change make a world of difference, because now you can see your limbs and your body position much clearer than before and match them against the on-screen trainer.  More on that below.

The home screen shows a number of different counters: medals won, badges won, and percent of content you’ve played through. On the right you can see the total number of calories youv’e burned playing the game. I do like the fact that there are clear milestones and targets to aim for, which will keep you coming back to the game.

They’ve introduced a new way to select items from a menu this year. You need to hold your hand over which option you’d like, and then either “press down” to select it or keep your hand held over it. At certain points you need to “punch” a menu option. This is a pet peeve of mine with Kinect games in general–I really wish Microsoft had set some standards instead of letting every publisher make its own user interface decisions. I found the interface worked for the most part, but there were definitely times I’d be standing still and the system would think I was selecting something, which I found a bit annoying.

At the main menu, you have a variety of choices which are color-coded into categories. The blue icons your tools. You can keep track of your overall progress, set objectives and take a fitness quiz so the system can recommend specific workouts for you, or go online to share your progress with the community. I do like that they made the fitness test optional in this version, so those who want to can just jump into the exercises.

There are three remaining categories: Yellow icons represent “Activities”, which are mini-games. Red icons represent “Workouts” which are traditional generic calisthenics and strength building exercises of the kind you might find at a gym. Finally, purple icons represent “Classes”, which are essentially like themed workouts.
Under the yellow “Activities”, you have the following:

1) Wallbreaker: This is essentially the same game as “Virtual Smash” in last year’s version. In it, you have to punch blue blocks that appear next to your virtual character’s body. The more blocks you punch accurately, the higher your multiplier will go up and the more a grid behind you will fill up–fill it up completely and it’ll collapse. As you get to higher levels you’ll have to kick blocks as well, and avoid red blocks. Even though this is basically a rehash of last year’s version, it’s still immensely fun, and the fact that you’re controlling “you” and not just a silhouette of you adds a certain dimension to the game. I’d rate this one a 4 of 5 for workout intensity and a 5 of 5 for fun.

2) Stack ‘Em Up: Hmmm…this one is essentially the same game as the game from last year’s version called…”Stack ‘Em Up”. This is the one where you’re holding a plank and trying to catch and balance blocks that are falling from the sky. There are some new twists this year–to make your bar longer you have to raise a leg in the air. Also, the blocks come in different sizes. Interestingly, I found the graphics of last year’s version much clearer than this year’s, especially when it tells you where to drop your blocks. This one gets a 3 of 5 for workout intensity and a 5 of 5 for fun.

3) Run the World: Ah, finally something brand new. This is an activity where you “run in place”. But there’s a twist. You can choose either New York or London and basically get a virtual tour of the city as you run from landmark to landmark.

When I first heard about this one, I was excited–I thought it might be a virtual reality experience where you could literally run through the streets (if this sounds outlandish, remember that the technology is already there with Google Maps and Bing Maps, not to mention driving games that have mapped out those cities’ streets).

But in reality, the experience was much less impressive. As you run in place, you’re following a line of stylized “yellow dots” and as you approach a famous landmark you’ll see an outline of the building, and get some trivia about it. Note also that the distances are not literal–I’m very familiar with downtown New York, and there’s no way you can run from 40 Wall Street to the Woolworth Building to City Hall in 5 minutes. Still, I did like how the system was able to detect how fast I was “running” and this activity definitely made what was otherwise a tedious activity pretty interesting. Workout intensity of this one was a 5 of 5, but for fun I give it a 3 of 5.

4) Jump Rope: This is another new activity, and it’s a winner. It’s a twist on jump rope. You start out by holding your hand as if you’re holding a jump rope, and an energetic beat will start playing. You’ll see icons of two feet under you, and need to jump to the beat while matching the pattern of feet (either two close together, two far apart, or just the left or the right). Even on Easy mode I was wiped out after this one, but I found it immensely fun. 5 of 5 for workout intensity, 5 of 5 for fun.

5) Stomp It: Another “deja vu” game, this game is very similar to “Light Race” from last year’s version, where you stand in the middle of something similar to a “Simon” game and move your feet to hit the right colored panels under your feet. This year, they’ve improved it by matching the colored lights to a beat, so it’s more like a step aerobics exercise than last year’s version where you were just randomly stomping. You still need a ton of room for this one, and if your Kinect doesn’t have a clear view of your feet you’re not going to be able to play. This one was a 4 of 5 for intensity, and a 4 of 5 for fun.

“Workouts”, represented by the red icons, are basically traditional calisthenics, cardio, and strength building activities like a trainer would do with you at a gym. The workouts are categorized by the part of the body or the exercise goal you want to focus on. They include the following (the number of exercise routines for each are in parentheses):

1) Arms (12)
2) Abs (13)
3) Cardio (10)
4) Toning (9)
5) Back (12)
6) Sports Preparation (8)
7) Glutes (12)
8) Health (3)
9) Legs (12)

You can find virtually every basic exercise you can think of under one of the categories above. For example, when I selected the first workout under “Arms”, the exercises were knee push-ups and slow mountain climbs. A typical exercise under “Abs” will have you doing all kinds of crunches, from basic crunches, to V knees to the chest, to up and down planks.

As in the first version, your virtual trainer will demonstrate the exercise technique, and you’ll see an image of yourself next to the trainer. I really liked how the cartoon trainer and the cartoony you looked very similar, both in terms of size and style.  As I said, new to this version is the ability to see your arms and legs clearly, so you can work on matching the trainer’s moves precisely. There are also visual cues that’ll show you exactly where you head should be and where your feet should be. Finally, there’s music so that you can time your reps to the beat perfectly (you’d be surprised at how many workout games just play random music and don’t bother to match it to your reps).

A woman’s voice will talk your through all the exercises, calling out instructions and encouragement. Regarding the latter, I found that she tended to err a little on the “too encouraging” side–even when I wasn’t doing the exercises right, she’d be shouting out compliments and encouragement. Happily, the motion detection is still spot-on–after the workout you’ll see precisely what percentage of the workout you nailed, and I found it to be remarkably accurate.

“Classes”, represented by the purple icons, are essentially the same as workouts. You go through a series of set exercises, you have a virtual cartoon trainer who will demonstrate the proper moves, and you’ll see the cartoony you standing next to him or her trying to match the moves. The difference is that while “workouts” were like generic exercises you might do at the gym, “classes” all following a specific theme, such as a certain style of dance, a boxing training session, and even a military bootcamp. Here are the options and the number of routines in each:

1) Africa Rhythms (12)
2) Boot Camp (6)
3) Hip Hop (12)
4) Cardio Boxing (14)
5) Destination: Bollywood (12)
6) Yoga (4)
7) Latin Dance (12)
8) Zen Energy (8)

I tried the boot camp one first. Sure enough, you and your virtual trainer (a gruff drill sergeant) are in the field of a military boot camp complete with a helicopter and occasional explosions happening around you. Even at the easy levels, you’re taken through a grueling set of exercises, from running to Olympian squats to “stun attacks” to push ups. The trainer stays in character, shouting instructions to you amid various random interjections (“you’re tired? I don’t care!”, “does it hurt? Good!”).

I also tried the Bollywood one. It had different levels with names like “Learn it”, “Rehearse It”, “Speed It Up”, and “Show it Off”. I tried the beginning level, and it brought me through some very authentic Bollywood dance steps with names like “Bolly Arms”, “Aarti Step” and “Blossom Step”. Having been taught by a co-worker once, I knew these moves were authentic. I wouldn’t say this part of the game is exactly Dance Central, but it’s not bad either.

Overall, I’d say this is a worthwhile purchase if you’re serious about using your Xbox for fitness and exercise. I loved the improved avatar, enjoyed the new activities they added, and appreciate the fact that they didn’t skimp this year on the number of exercises you can do before resorting to purchasing more as downloadable content.

Those who purchased last year’s version (especially if you purchased a lot of the DLC) may find a lot of what’s in this year’s version redundant. But I’d say there are enough improvements to make it a worthwhile purchase. From the title, I’m assuming Ubisoft intends to release one of these every year; I just hope that they continue to innovate the series moving forward rather than rest on past laurels.