14th Aug 2007 | 15:14
Nintendo is surely printing money with Wii Fit. It's going to sell shed loads, and it's a very clever move by the company that's managed to expand the games market by appealing to the lucrative mainstream crowd with similarly quirky titles on Wii and DS.
Following a fairly hefty session on the new Balance Board at Nintendo's lush office, we're certain this is going to be the next Wii Sports - a fantastic party game and one that will have everyone jumping in for a go.
Wii Fit is essentially a collection of simple mini games of varying styles. What we mean by that is, even though the game is currently known as Wii Fit (it's still a working title, officially), not all the games within it are based on fitness.
We played a yoga game that had you stand balanced in a range of different positions, following the motions of an on-screen character, and it challenges you to hold these positions for a set amount of time while it records your balance data, from which it will give you a score.
This was the more fitness-related half of the demo version we played, although the full game will have many more exercises, as shown in previously released media. There are also numerous balance testing games - one game having you lean your body slowly in different directions to keep a dot in a specified moving zone. It's harder than it sounds.
But Wii Fit has a more colourful, fun-focused side to it as well. If you're not into all that fitness lark (like us), or just aren't a bit round around the middle (also like us), then you'll be far more interested in the party-style games on offer.
The first we tried was the football heading mini game that Nintendo head honcho Reggie played during Nintendo's pre-E3 2007 media conference. This is where Wii Fit starts to look and feel more like Wii Sports.
You control a character who's standing in front of a goal, and balls are kicked your way which you must hit with your 'head' by leaning your weight left and right. You get a point for hitting the balls, but lose them for nutting any other projectile hurled your way, like football boots or panda heads (?).
This works well but takes some time getting used to because, controlling your character's head isn't as simple as leaning your own as the on-screen instructions will have you think. This is because, of course, the Balance Board doesn't detect the movements of your head directly, only the distribution of your weight which, in theory, will determine which way you're leaning
But we ran into slight difficulty with that theory. You see, the board is very sensitive. Imagine a ball comes at you to the left. It's fast so you react to it quickly. What you tend to do is push off (even if only slightly) with your right foot to shift your weight to the left (you know - Newton's third law of motion, equal and opposite forces and all that stuff).
The board detects this preliminary pressure and as a result, your on-screen character moves right first, before shifting left as the weight of your leaning torso comes to rest on your left foot. The result - erratic on-screen movement as you lean, and you miss the ball.
We were actually told, in complete contradiction to the on-screen instructions, that leaning your whole torso was not the best way to play, and that it's instead better to remain relatively upright and simply shift our weight subtly left and right. It was good advice - our score quadrupled - but it completely ruins the illusion that you're heading the ball. It just ends up feeling like you're standing on a giant D-pad.
Keep in mind the mums, dads and grannies won't have an experienced Nintendo employee there to tell them how to play - they'll lean, like the on-screen man tells them to.
We played another Monkey Ball-style mini game where you lean to tilt a platform on which multiple balls will roll around, with the aim of getting them all onto holes in the platform. That was tough but amusing, as was another game that had us leaning to move a dot around the screen to hit square targets as they appear.
The most party-friendly game we saw was a ski jump game. You crouch down and lean forward to build up speed as your player charges down a huge ramp, then abruptly stand tall, still leaning forward to coast through the air and achieve the greatest distance you can. That's great turn-based gaming, and the staff at Nintendo seemed to be totally into it, taking turns to nip in for another shot at the high score during screen breaks.
Sure, the games are simple, but Wii Fit has the same replay factor and community gaming-style appeal as Wii Sports, which we know is a massive contribution to Wii's overwhelming success.
We look forward to seeing more of what the full game will have to offer soon, ahead of its pre-Christmas release. In the meantime, check out the video to the right of us (okay, me) embarrassing myself for the benefit of you readers. The four-minute video demonstrates how games talked about in this preview (and more) are played. Don't laugh.