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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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May 20, 2008 1:41 PM

Mini review of the amazing Wii Fit: What's hot and what's not

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few thoughts on the Wii Fit, after several days testing Nintendo's summer blockbuster that goes on sale tomorrow.

The great:

1. It really does make exercise fun. It's a million times more fun than working out in a gym, unless you go there to see and be seen.

2. It's a great way to introduce fitness routines and goal-setting to kids. It automatically keeps track of how long individuals play and how they're progressing. Results are visible in a calendar, charts and the physique of your "Mii" avatar.

3. The balance board controller fulfills the Wii's mission of getting players up off the couch. With the Wii Remote, you can eventually figure out how to play while sitting down, by moving just your wrist. But you can't trick the board -- if you're not up and moving, you're not playing.

4. You're not stuck to the board the whole time. It's sensitive enough to pick up motions in the vicinity, so when you do the running games, you actually run in place a few feet away from the controller and it can still tell what you're doing. This is an incredible capability for game developers; imagine if you had to actually run and jump through the jungle in "Halo" or the city in "Grand Theft Auto."

5. Wii Fit's fun, simple and accessible interface will raise the bar for consumer health monitoring products and services that will be built around the online health record systems that Microsoft, Google and others are developing. Could it be the iPhone of online health systems? But Nintendo wasn't trying to be cool -- it set out to build a universally appealing fitness game, not something for jocks, kids, seniors, geeks or the inform. The message is about fun and self-improvement, not discipline and obligation.

What's less great:

1. I wish Wii Fit was a little more transparent about how it calculates your fitness. The system considers your age, weight and balance capabilities to calculate your body mass index and your "Wii Fit Age." In my house, the females all received Wii Fit Ages much older than their actual age. My "Wii Fit Age" was six years younger than my real age, even though the females are in better shape and I have the balance of a drunken giraffe.

2. Some of the games are a blast, others aren't as exciting. That's pretty subjective. I preferred ski jumping and tightrope walking to yoga, for instance. I haven't unlocked all the activities yet, but I wonder if Wii Fit will need more action activities to keep the attention of boys in particular.

3. The Wii Fit games that are great are too short and you don't have extended play options. When ski jumping, for instance, you make two jumps and your rank is based on the combined distance. Then you have to click through a few screens to try again. I want to immediately jump over and over.

4. Although the balance board is amazing, it still has quirks, just as the Wii Remote does sometimes. On the tightrope walking game, it seemed slow to make side-to-side adjustments but it may have some kind of speed limiter to make it playable.

5. I'm not a privacy fanatic, but I wish there was a little more reassurance that Nintendo will be careful with the personal, physical information about players that it receives. You have the option of password-protecting your profile, but I didn't see any way to opt-out of sharing your stats with Nintendo. I didn't dig through the fine print looking for privacy information. Hopefully, it will resist the temptation to do targeted advertising.

Despite the flaws, it seems like a must-have for Wii owners. For parents, it's worth the price to introduce the fitness lessons to their kids and to have an easy lightweight gym on hand for themselves. Gamers will probably want to check out the balance board and have one to play future games using its controls. Either way, Wii Fit is a great way to offset the guilt about inactivity that's the albatross of videogaming.

A final thought: The Wii Fit is a platform game in more ways than one.

We haven't heard much about follow-on sales yet, but I'll bet the $90 bundle with the software and platform/balance board will be just the start. You'll soon want to buy more levels of the fun games -- WiiWare network downloads, perhaps? -- and probably accessories like the sticky-bottom socks that Nintendo provided reviewers or the protective Wii Fit mats that I wrote about at CES.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.