This morning Wii Fit was announced at Nintendo's E3 press conference, and Shigeru Miyamoto surprisingly took the stage to show off the project. Nintendo showed videos and live demonstrations of the game in action, as well as demonstrating how the game could calculate the body mass index (BMI) of Nintendo US president Reggie Fils-Aime. Luckily, we were scheduled in for some time at the Nintendo booth shortly after the conference for some hands-on time with most of its upcoming portfolio, and Wii Fit was first on the agenda.
As we saw with the Reggie, you can't play Wii Fit without first letting the game calculate your BMI. This figure is apparently a realistic indication of fitness based on height, weight, and age. Once the game has this information, it can set goals to help you lose or gain weight and reach your optimum BMI level. After entering the relevant details, the game takes about 20 seconds to work everything out, and it then modifies your Mii character's appearance to fit. As it turned out, our body posture was bent slightly backwards and our BMI was in the red area, so our little Mii arched his back and grew a little belly accordingly. And as with Nintendo's own Brain Age series, your body is given a "real" age based on its BMI rating. It looked like we had some work to do, given the seven-year difference between our real age and our Wii Fit age.
Still lamenting our lack of fitness, we jumped into the first game, hoop twirl. In the game, you need to rotate your hips to keep a virtual hula hoop going, while two other Miis will stand on the sidelines and occasionally toss hoops toward you. When this happens, you have to stop twirling and point your arms out in the right direction to catch the hoop, then continue rotating again. It's pretty undemanding stuff, but it's a good introduction to the game. The second game is called ski jumping, in which you must re-create the daring actions of many famous sports stars, only in a much safer environment. As you hurtle down the ramp, the idea is to bend your body down and forward to pick up speed, while an onscreen guide shows you your optimum position. At the end of the ramp, you have to jump up slightly to gain height, then bend back down to ensure an optimum landing.
It's easy to see that Nintendo's peripheral essentially just monitors your balance, but Nintendo's game designers look like they've managed to come up with many different ways to exploit it. The third game we played was very different--a marble madness-style puzzle game in which you shift your balance to tilt a maze and try to get balls through holes in the floor. Each ball you sink adds time to the clock, but each puzzle increases in difficulty, and before long you'll be juggling many different balls over some very tricky mazes. Lastly, we played the same soccer-heading game that had been shown earlier in the day at Nintendo's E3 press conference. Shifting your balance to head the flying balls is actually very tricky, and the devious artificial intelligence players soon begin to kick cleats toward your head, which you obviously need to avoid.
As well as "games," the early demo build of Wii Fit includes some yoga and balance exercises. On the yoga side, you need to adopt poses such as the half moon pose, the tree pose, the single-leg stretch, and the sideways twist. The idea is to adopt the postures for as long as possible, stretching more and more as you progress. When you're finished, you can see how well you stayed within the optimum zones with a line diagram that shows how much you shook and stayed within the parameters. On the balance front, there are two-legged and one-legged exercises, as well as an overall body test; but our limited time in the Nintendo booth prevented us from checking these out.
At this point, Wii Fit is already looking polished, and like most Nintendo products, it's very easy to pick up and play. If Nintendo can make a product that's fun but also offers some real-world fitness benefits, then it will surely be on to a winner. The game is set for release in Japan during Q4 2007, while it will make it to the US sometime in Q1/Q2 2008.