The appeal of Your Shape: Fitness Evolved is hard for exercise buffs to deny. While other fitness games allow you plenty of room to cheat your way out of a good workout, the Kinect hardware tracks your whole body. You see a representation of your entire form right there on the screen, and the game tracks your every motion, telling you when you need to squat lower or when to raise your arms higher. It knows things, and that kind of omniscience means Your Shape should, in theory, be a terrific step in meeting your specific health needs or at maintaining a healthy lifestyle in the comfort of your (ideally spacious) living room. It could have been the ultimate fitness product, if only it always functioned properly and all of its features had worked at launch. Your Shape doesn't do a consistent job of rewarding you for performing proper movements, particularly if you aren't wearing skin-tight clothing. The game isn't all it could have been, but it's still a fascinating and flexible workout tool that reminds you of its worth whenever you wake with sore quads and triceps the morning after.
The most striking aspect of Your Shape: Fitness Evolved is the way it renders your body onscreen in menus and during workouts. By default, your shimmering onscreen shape glows with a particular color, but you can change to a remarkably realistic representation if you prefer. You see yourself alongside your virtual trainer, making it easy to compare your movements to his (or hers, if you choose a female trainer). It's not a camera-perfect image, but the game makes use of stylized visual touches to make your slightly fuzzy form feel like a natural fit on the screen. During tai chi and yoga exercises, flower petals float from your limbs, as if to represent the stress and calories dissolving away. During the hula-hoop fitness game, bouncy balls gather up around you into a tornado of primary color. Tranquil music and floating water lilies accompany your Zen exercises, while other workouts might occur on a rooftop, with a sterile cityscape as your backdrop. The menus are on the fiddly side, but the interface is pleasantly slick, emitting soft blips when you hover your hands over various buttons or step on them. Your Shape isn't a beauty or a charmer, but it provides a serene, avant-garde context to your squats and leaps.
One of the first things you will want to do is select a regimen based on your needs. Whether you're looking to shed pounds or get in some postpartum exercise, there's probably a regimen that's effective for you, though you can select individual exercises if you prefer. (Surprisingly, there is no way to completely customize your own routine.) After you plug in information about your age and weight, the game guides you through a tutorial workout and then sets you on your way, adding new exercises as the minutes, hours, and days pass. Toning, sculpting, and performing cardio exercises are all on tap, involving various squats, lunges, kicks, and so forth. The cardio boxing workouts are especially fun and interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the kicks and punches start at a reasonably mild pace but gradually get faster and more complicated, doubling the pace and adding jump rope, guards, uppercuts, and so on. Secondly, the game generally does a good job of reading your motions during these exercises. It feels good to get credit for hooks and jabs when you perform well, and a single session typically has a lot of variety. As a result, cardio boxing does a great job of both keeping you entertained and making you feel immediately rewarded for a hard workout.
In fact, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved is rewarding whenever it notices what a great job you did of emulating your trainer's movements. Unfortunately, it isn't always kind enough to give you props for a grueling workout. Sometimes, the game's ability to sense the movement of your legs and the contours of your body is uncanny. Other times, trying to figure out exactly what it expects of you is a chore. The calming voice of your workout guide will helpfully clue you in when you need to squat lower or raise your arms higher, and it will praise you when you make the proper adjustments. But sometimes, you will raise your arms to the exact height as your virtual trainer and crook your elbows in exactly the same way, only to not get credit for what seems to be a flawless motion. Or you might step exactly in time with your trainer and the up-tempo music, yet still be told you are not in rhythm. Sometimes, you can get a good idea of what the game hopes to see in a few tries, but at other times, it's never quite clear what you're doing wrong, so all you can do is plug on ahead.
These irregularities are most noticeable during the Zen exercises, which consist of both yoga and tai chi moves. These varied routines feel good to perform and include all sorts of great poses and stances--the warrior, the golden rooster, and so forth. They are also challenging, requiring you to align your joints to get credit for the pose. Sometimes, it's the right kind of challenge, encouraging you to perfectly imitate your trainer and rewarding you for excellent posture. At other times, the game gets confused, particularly when you're wearing loose clothing. It might think your shirt tail is your hip or that your pant leg is your knee. You might stand completely still only for the game to flip its acknowledgment of your wide stance on and off because your clothing isn't skin tight. These workouts not only require a lot of room for you to move about (and for the hardware to function properly), but they also penalize you for not wearing a leotard.
Things pick up when you move over to the fitness games. You can play them on your own or trade places with up to three other players to compete for high scores. The best of these involves punching and kneeing blocks in front and on either side of you. Not only do the smashing sound effects and visuals give it a bit of flash, but the game knows when you are using the correct arm and when you aren't, which is pretty neat. In fact, Your Shape does an excellent job of sensing your motions in all of these activities. In one of them, you hold your arms out to balance a board and collect falling blocks. In another, you step about and hop on a circular grid that looks a bit like the electronic Simon game. This game can take a bit of time to get used to, so you might fumble around the first few times, but once you memorize the patterns, it becomes a lot more enjoyable.
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved tracks the calories you shed and other statistics, but you should note that at the time of this review, the website used to track progress and set personal goals is a slow-moving mess. It's nice that you can go in and create calorie-loss goals, but important features, such as leaderboards and stat comparisons with friends, either don't work correctly or are listed as "coming soon." It's fortunate that the game is still a complete product without these features--and a good one at that. More consistent tracking is needed for future iterations, but when the game and hardware work in harmony, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved demonstrates that Kinect is a natural home for the genre. It provides a good variety of exercises, offers a comfortable virtual set for your routines, and has that "cool" factor that makes interacting with it a pleasure.