The Best Exercise Games for the Xbox Kinect

It’s no secret that Microsoft kind of goofed when they told consumers that they had to own a Kinect if they wanted to own an Xbox One. This probably seemed like a logical decision in Redmond at the time–if the Wii sold 100,000,000 units, surely the Xbox One would sell double that with superior motion controls, graphics, and processing power.

Fast forward to a few years later. The Xbox One has sold maybe a tenth of that number, lost a heaping amount of market share to Sony, and abandoned the requirement that Xbox One owners had to have a Kinect.

The miscalculation that Microsoft made, of course, was assuming that superior hardware was all that was needed. But in many ways they were their own worst enemy. They had their chance with the Kinect 1.0 to impress consumers, but far too many Kinect games were too sluggish or difficult to control. By the time Kinect 2.0 came around, most consumers had already given up on it. Game publishers couldn’t afford to invest the time and effort needed to support a technology, cool though it may have been, that few people were interested in.

And yet a few brave game publishers persisted and continue to persist in developing motion control games for the Xbox One and Kinect that can provide a great workout. The leader of the pack is Virtual Air Guitar, who continue to pump out fantastic games that are fun and great exercise. Ubisoft is a perennial player in this space too.

The hype around exergaming and using video games for exercise seems to have died down since it peaked around 2011 with the Wii, but ironically for those of us who hung on, we get to enjoy some of the very best video games you can work out with. Here’s my list in order of two things: how much of a workout do you get, and is the game so fun to play that you practically forget you’re getting a workout?

1. Kung Fu for Kinect

kung-fu-for-kinect-xbox-oneKung Fu for Kinect is far and away the best Kinect fitness game there is, and could very be the best fitness game ever to date.

The game developer Virtual Air Guitar  came up with the brilliant idea of putting your actual video image into a game, where you punch, kick, and jump to destroy hoards of enemies rushing at you from all sides. The simple comic book-inspired graphics are beautiful and the action is quick and instantly responsive.

It is in many ways the perfect exergame–one where you are so immersed in the game and having so much fun playing that you hardly realize that you’re also getting an intense cardio workout. Check out the full review here.

Fun: 5 of 5
Cardio Workout: 5 of 5

2.Shape Up

shape up for xbox one reviewShape Up is Ubisoft’s entry into the fitness game genre, and it’s a good one.  There is a large variety of different games you can play, and in the course of playing these games, you can get a variety of different workouts. The “games” are mostly a bit contrived in that it seems like they started with the exercises (punching, core twists, pushups, squatting) and then came up with a game around it.

But the games are pretty well done, and some are even quite brilliant. As with Kung Fu for Kinect your actual video image is used throughout the game, which gives it an extra level of immersion. See the review for Shape Up.

Fun: 5 of 5
Cardio Workout: 5 of 5

3. Beatsplosion

beatsplosion for kinectPicture doing some classic aerobics classes. Punch, punch, one-two, crunch, crunch, one-two, jump, jump, one-two and so on. It’s a great way to get your cardio going–assuming you can stay awake.

Now picture making the same motions as you punch and swipe blocks in front of you, crunch to duck out of the way of blocks coming at you, and jumping over those blocks. Suddenly a boring aerobics workout becomes a pretty exciting game. That’s Beatsplosion. Trying to navigate a 2D screen using 3D motions can be frustrating at times, but once you acclimate yourself it can be a lot of fun. Read the full review for Beatsplosion here.

Fun: 4 of 5
Cardio Workout: 5 of 5

4. Xbox Fitness

xbox-fitnessXbox Fitness was Microsoft’s push into using the Kinect for exercise. Their approach wasn’t to build new titles that used the Kinect, but rather to resell old exercise and workout videos and “modernize” them by using the Kinect (doing everything from tracking how accurate your movements are to measuring your pulse rate using only the camera focusing on your skin).

While Xbox Fitness undoubtedly provides the best workout of any title if you choose your workout videos well, I can’t really classify it as an “exercise game” as much as an application or utility that happens to use the Kinect. Read the detailed review for Xbox Fitness.

Fun: 2 of 5
Cardio work out: 5 of 5

5. Just Dance 2016

just-dance-2016-xboxA perennial title on all my top ten lists across multiple platforms, Just Dance 2016 wins the prize of being the best game to play with a friend or group of friends.

The workout isn’t as intense, but the game makes up for it by being wildly addictive, whether you’re dancing along and trying to master the moves or dancing with a friend and having fun with the choreography. Ubisoft will keep churning these out as long as people keep playing it.

Fun: 4.5 of 5
Cardio Workout: 3 of 5

6. Dance Central Spotlight

dance-central-spotlightThe original Dance Central was one of the first games to come out for the original Kinect, and it was touted by some as a “Just Dance killer”, in that while Just Dance approximated “real dance moves” in getting you to wag your arms or legs, Dance Central taught you actual dance moves down to the fraction of an inch of how your hands, arms, legs, and feet were positioned. If you check out some YouTube split-screen videos you’ll see that people who practice using Dance Central actually look like pretty awesome. Unfortunately, as in real life, perfecting moves takes a ton of practice and isn’t the most fun in the world, although you will get a lot of exercise trying.

While Dance Central 1 and 2 warranted full boxed versions, Dance Central Spotlight is available as a download-only, which points to the diminishing appeal of the game, even with Kinect 2.0. Read the full review for Dance Central Spotlight.

Fun: 4 of 5
Cardio Workout: 4 of 5

7. Zumba Fitness World Party
Zumba Fitness World Party for Xbox One was one of the first games released when the new Xbox One came out. It’s largely a port of the same game for the Xbox 360, with identical gameplay, and some improvement in graphics and tracking thanks to the advanced features of the Xbox One and Kinect 2.0. Like Dance Central and Just dance, you’re dancing along to an on-screen dancer–unlike those two games the image is a real person, not an avatar, and the dance moves are focused on fitness as much as they are on style. It helps if you’re already an avid Zumba fan, as it’ll be easier for you to overlook the awkward menu controls and lack of instruction and just jump into the fun of the game.

Fun: 3 of 5
Cardio work out: 5 of 5

8. Fruit Ninja Kinect 2

This is pretty much the same game you know and love on your iPhone or Andoid, with one key difference–instead of using your finger to chop fruit that’s flying at you you’re using your actual arms. The result seems a bit silly ar first, but after about 3 or 4 addictive rounds you start to realize that you’re breaking a sweat. Graphics are much improved over pretty much any version out there–you can almost taste the succulence of the colorful cartoon fruit, and it’s satisfying to see those colors plastered all over the wall as you karate chop them.

Fun: 4 of 5

Cardio workout: 4 of 5

9. Commander Cherry

commander-cherry-xbox-oneCommander Cherry’s Puzzled Journey is to yoga as Beatsplosion is to aerobics. In other words, it’s a way to get you to do it without necessarily knowing you’re doing it.

In the case of Commander Cherry, you “strike a pose” using your entire body. A photo of your body becomes a “platform” for the character in the game to walk across. It’s not “real” yoga per se, but it certainly feels like it as you need to move your body and balance in all kinds of ways you never did before.

Fun: 3 of 5
Cardio work out: 2 of 5

10. Kinect Sports Rivals
adidas micoach fitness gamekinect-sports-rivalsA bit of a disappointment after the excellent Kinect Sports titles for the Xbox 360, it’s still fun to pop Kinect Sports Rivals in for a diversion every now and again for the few games that get you moving.

Fun: 3 of 5
Cardio work out: 1 of 5





Your Comments:

Agree with my rankings of the best Kinect Fitness Games? Think I’m way off on any of them? Know of any others that should be on the list? Share your comments here!