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Wii-Fit is going to be big. Regardless of this review, the wider press reception, or even the adoption of hard-core gamers, it will be the story of 2008. This will all be driven by mums, dads, kids and even grand parents who will all discover the joys of a fitting follow up to Wii-Sports. What's more, after happily spending GBP 179.99 to play Tennis, Golf, Boxing and the rest, Wii-Fit's GBP 69.99 price tag will seem like a bargain.
This inevitable success would be hard to swallow for gamers, were it not for the superb implementation, pitch perfect Wii aesthetic and sheer level of fun in this game. Many will no doubt bemoan another games corporation raking in huge amounts of money from gamers. But anyone who steps onto the Balance Board will soon admit that it is hard not to fall in love with the Wii's latest accessory. Hey, at least it's not just another plastic shell (following Zapper and Wheel); this thing has some serious electronics within.
As soon as the kit is out of the box you can tell this is a high quality device. It feels solid and reassuringly robust. Although it is apparently not quite up to being danced upon, it certain feels like it will survive a lot of hard use. Perhaps this is just as well because if our first few weeks of reviewing it are anything to go by, it will be seeing a lot of hard service. Friends and family of all shapes and sizes seem keen to get on and have a go.
Whether it is the device itself, or having its path paved by the Wii-Sports, there seems an incredibly low barrier to entry (once you have stumped up the GBP 69.99 entry fee and have it in your living room. There is real genius here: it perfectly exhibits Nintendo's gaming strategy of serving the mass market. Wii-Fit could easily see the Wii being sold in Sports shops as well as department stores and specialist outlets. It really is an ingenious bit of marketing.
My little boy loved the headers; you stand on the Balance-Board and shift weight from left to right to position your head to hit the ball.
The pre-orders alone are impressive reading. People seem more than happy to pay the reasonably high entry price. Perhaps, having essentially paid GBP 179.99 to play Wii-Sports this seems like a real bargain.
Thankfully, the game behind the hype and concept is just as solid as the Balance-Board itself. The simple positioning of your feet on the board connects your body to the heart of the games machine. It only takes a little bit of experimenting before you realise there are some very clever tricks going on here - so convincing in fact that before long you simply get on with the tasks in hand assuming the Wii can monitor your every move. It's wonderful to watch as a bizarre range of movements are happily followed with just the soles of player's feet connected to the game.
The game (if we can call it that) is structured into different groups of activities. There are the Yoga moves that require you to take (and hold) a particular pose on the Fit-Board. Once you have completed the task, you are provided with feedback on your balance and posture as you tried to maintain the unusual positions. This is then rounded off with some wise words from your training, suggesting what you might need to improve to do better next time. Here, as with the other games, you unlock more advanced activities by doing well at the basics. Perform particularly well and increased difficulties are unlocked to ensure an ongoing challenge.
Although the other groupings, such as Balance and Aerobic, are more videogame like and provide a range of well implemented mini-games, it is the Yoga and Exercise streams that provide the most interest. That is not to say that there are not some high water marks here, the slalom skiing and ski jump are simply inspired. You control your descent down a mountain by just shifting your balance. Lean forward and you go faster, lean back to slow down. Then it's a matter of leaning left and right to use the edges of your skis to steer. It's all eerily close to real life. The Ski Jumping isn't quite as lifelike but it is just as much fun. Here you crouch down to gain speed down the ramp before moving to tip-toe at the crucial moment. You can then control your flight by the pinpoint pressure on each foot. It sounds a little complicated on paper, but on screen it simply works.
Whether you are working on a Yoga pose, stretching your thighs, or going for that perfect down hill run, there is a quality and a depth to each of the activities.
Other stand out games for me (and my family) are the headers and hoolahooping. My little boy loved the headers; you stand on the Balance-Board and shift weight from left to right to position your head to hit the ball. Happily, his older sister found her own favourite - hulahooping. Here, you gyrate your hips to keep the hoops spinning, and then lean left or right to catch the extra hoops that are thrown in.
Whether you are working on a Yoga pose, stretching your thighs, or going for that perfect down hill run, there is a quality and a depth to each of the activities. This speaks volumes about the investment (and commitment) Nintendo has to their causal gaming approach.
Admittedly, there may be some concern here for the hard-core Nintendo faithful, that they are abandoning them in favour of the wider public. And it certainly is likely that this is where they will make the most money this year. But, with such high quality continuing in their hard-core games (Mario Galaxy, Zelda and Mario Kart) there seems little to worry about. Wii-Fit will certainly mean that more people get to enjoy what the hard-core has enjoyed for a long time - that social play is great fun. And if that's the case then it really is hard to criticise Nintendo, even if they are making bucket loads of money.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: