While hardcore gamers may have immediately looked at the release of the Microsoft Kinect as a chance to expand interactivity, several developers have looked at the full-body interaction as a chance to get players everywhere into shape.
After Ubisoft's first attempt to get gamers off their couches and into shape, with last year's Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, the studio has come back with a bigger and better experience. Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012 has arrived, but does it manage to set a new height for the series, or continue to suffer from the same lack of polish and intuitive exercise programming?
It was difficult to tell just how successful exercise titles would become after motion controls became available on all three major consoles. However, Ubisoft pursued the new audience with not just Your Shape, but Fighters Uncaged and a new range of dance 'experiences.' As the self-proclaimed top Kinect developer, the assumption can be made that Ubisoft will make innovation and advancement their mandate, and given the new title of Fitness Evolved 2012, they may be doing so on an annual basis.
In case you missed our review of Your Shape, the first title in the series offered some competent exercise routines, but ultimately the clunkiness and absence of tailored routines and guidance left it short of the mark. While several of the issues we had were more than addressed, it's still difficult to not find the game lacking overall.
For those looking to get motivated to exercise and put an end to inactivity, the new game still offers several activities and routines out of the gate, and many that will be appealing to a larger gaming audience. Thankfully, a new dose of structured workouts and a fitness plan have been added to keep players on track with their workout routines. Instead of a superfluous fitness test, the player is able to develop their own plan based on their activity level, personal motivations (lose weight, gain size and strength, endurance) and specific goals (lose muffin top, shed pounds). The game then creates a weekly plan, usually starting at two 30-minute sessions per week.
From there, the game selects several exercises and activities at various intensity levels and marks them with a flag, showing that these specific activities will help gamers achieve their goals. The upside of the game's range of workouts is that most are satisfying and appealing to those who tend to shy away from workout classes, or exercise in general. Whether it's punching bricks that appear at different areas around the body, or balancing blocks by holding an imaginary platform above your head, the game succeeds in keeping weary players from realizing they're exercising, not just engaging in mini-games.
If Fitness Evolved 2012 deserves credit for anything, it's the expansion of content. Not just in terms of exercises or routines that target specific areas of the body, but with the addition of several workout sessions and dance classes complete with contextual backdrops and instructors. Once again, engaging in a tribal dance on the plains of Africa, or being led through 'boot camp' by a drill instructor preparing players to 'take on the enemy,' the game offers several entertaining ways to get active while still having fun.
The motivation and feedback on form and rhythm have also been improved from last year's title, with the game's helpful narrator providing feedback during workouts, and the instructors themselves during sessions. The lag that plagued Ubisoft's Michael Jackson: The Experience is almost non-existent in most aspects of the dances and bootcamps, so it's good to see that the studio is improving on existing mechanics. And while it may be frustrating to be told that your form is incorrect, generally following the given advice does lead to a better score, and more impactful exercise.
But while the developers have added a significant improvement to both the Kinect interfaces (which are actually more effective than most seen to date) and the available content, most of the serious issues still remain. Stretching and warming up are now placed front and center when beginning a play session, but the importance isn't stressed. Since the game is presumably appealing to those who play games, highlighting the need to adequately prepare for a workout to avoid injury is of the utmost importance, but is only ever casually alluded to.
The exercises are usually effective and well-scaled for improvement, but their short length, coupled with time spent navigating the game's menus for the next suggested workout kill momentum that is absolutely necessary for a successful aerobic workout. And while weight training is included both as a free-standing mode and as a complement to others, again the decision of specific weights and scaling with progression is left entirely to the player to figure out.
The squat-happy exercises usually do offer a serious challenge for their duration, but it seems that an emphasis on players being able to craft their own personal workouts has taken precedence over explaining exactly how a competent exercise regime is structured. Variation and content is all well and good, but if the player in question has shown the initiative to pick up a copy of the game, it seems a bit odd to expect them to now take over their fitness plan without much guidance.
And that's where Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012 again stumbles, but its greatest strength is also its greatest flaw. Simply put, this game is just not going to replace a well-made fitness video, personal trainer, or casual trip to the gym. But with the sheer number of activities as well as a polished interface and body-tracking system, it absolutely could be. If the game had a 30-minute aerobic workout, or could combine one exercise after another tailored to a player's fitness preferences and goals, then Ubisoft would be taking a giant leap forward from traditional workout videos. Text explanations that detail which types of exercises would be best for the player's goals, or why certain routines should be worked up to, will certainly help keep users on track (and avoiding injury).
As it stands, this game just doesn't quite get there. The developers at Ubisoft have managed to come up with truly inspired methods of motivation, from simply punching away the calories burned in a specific workout, or showing real progress by watching inches and calories fly off our on-screen avatars as players run through a virtual model of Manhattan. But motivating is only as useful as the guidance and structure that directs it, which is where the game comes up short.
Given the presumed annual model Ubisoft is now planning, we can only hope that this aspect receives improvement next, since the game shows a lot of potential for both active users and couch potatoes. Given the current content and actual motivation, it's hard not to recommend the game to those wishing to get a bit more active without having to brave the gym - for financial reasons or intimidation. Fitness Evolved can be a great way to get moving, but only if other exercise advice is taken from somewhere else.
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012 is available now, exclusively for the Xbox 360 with Kinect.
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