National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Look Ma — No Joystick!

Wii Fit Gets Gamers off the Couch and Moving

BY THOMAS L. MCDONALD

June 29 - July 5, 2008 Issue | Posted 6/24/08 at 2:04 PM

 

With the Wii, Nintendo is trying to shatter the image of the gamer as a glassy-eyed youth grimly gripping a controller, moving nary a muscle save for the thumbs.

The system’s user-friendly design and appealing content is drawing all kinds of people — gamers and non-gamers, young and old. It’s turning video gaming into a social event and a workout.

Wii Fit is a heavy package, literally: The box includes not only the game but also a sturdy Wii Fit Balance Board that weighs 9 pounds. When a player creates a profile and steps on the board, the system calculates weight, center of gravity and Body Mass Index (BMI). The board then functions as a controller by tracking subtle shifts in weight.

Some parents are already complaining about the way the game depicts BMI, which is achieved by dividing the player’s weight by the square of his or her height. This places people in one of four categories — underweight, normal, overweight and obese.

Although BMI is a common measurement, some are upset to see themselves labeled “obese” by a game. A number of parents are complaining that the game creates body-image issues in young people. Since BMI is not always an accurate measure of obesity in young people, the complaints are legitimate.

In any case, each player can set a goal for weight loss if they choose, and then begin exercises chosen from four categories: Yoga, Strength Training, Aerobics and Balance. Although there are many options, this is not a complete exercise regimen. Wii Fit is light on cardio and heavy on muscle tone and balance exercises.

Each exercise is explained and illustrated on screen by a coach, who also guides you through the motions. The balance board is remarkably sensitive, and onscreen indicators help you adjust your rate and range of motion to the needs of each exercise. The first two categories, Yoga and Strength, are straightforward stretching and toning exercises.

Although Catholics concerned about potential issues with Yoga can always skip this portion of the game, there is nothing objectionable in the presentation. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cautions against Catholics practicing Yoga because of its problematic spiritual, mystical and meditative aspects.

In Wii Fit, Yoga is shorn of any mystical element, removed from its Hindu religious context and reduced to little more than benign stretching and breathing routines. The exercises do retain their traditional names, which have pagan origins. (Then again, so does the calendar.)

While the Yoga and Muscle portions are where much of the dry, serious work of Wii Fit goes on, the Aerobic and Balance portions are where the game gets fun. Nintendo has created a set of delightful mini-games in each category, each using the controllers in a clever way.

Aerobic exercises get the heart pumping as you spin a hula-hoop, jog in place while your on-screen character tours an island and perform rhythmic stepping. The game elements really take off in the Balance section, which includes clever mini-games such as ski jumping, slaloms, heading soccer balls, table tilting, tightrope walking and more.

Even without the other exercise elements, these minis make Wii Fit the equal of Wii Sports or Wii Play as a good family game.

Wii Fit is not perfect. It provides neither a true fitness program nor a customizable set of exercises based on personal preference. Various menus and messages separate activities, interrupting the flow from one exercise to the next.

The Yoga and Muscle portions of the game are visually bland and nearly monochromatic, with a somnolent air at odds with physical activity.

Still, Wii Fit is, overall, a great package that succeeds in getting the whole family to move and laugh together.


Satisfying Silliness

A different kind of laughter is to be had in Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures.

Anyone familiar with the brilliant Lego Star Wars games will know exactly what they’re getting here. Developed by Traveler’s Tales, the Lego games are some of the most unadulterated fun on any system.

With the first three Indiana Jones adventures joining the six Star Wars movies, Traveler’s Tales have now retold nine of the most popular movies of all time using bricks and minifigs (those little Lego people) — all in pantomime.

Part of the series’ success has to do with its innate silliness. Who wouldn’t laugh at remakes of beloved movies starring animated Lego figures? But that alone doesn’t explain the appeal.

The mini-movies that introduce and punctuate each level are some of the best comedy in games today. Wordless, impeccably timed, witty without being crude, they satirize their sources with the love of a fan and the heart of a child.

The gameplay is simple, forgiving and infectious. Although you may be “debricked” (the game’s version of being killed), you always come back. You proceed through levels based on scenes and locations from each film by collecting Lego pieces, fighting, jumping, building, solving puzzles and exploring.

Indy is joined by a roster of 60 characters from the movies, and one or two are always with him to help out. Each character has a strength or power that might be needed to solve a puzzle or get past an obstacle. You might need Sallah’s shovel to dig up artifacts, Marion’s jumping skills to reach high and Indy’s dad to decipher messages.

Although the games earned an “E10” rather than an “E” rating because of cartoon violence, there is little here to give a parent pause. The more gruesome aspects of the films are tamed, and mature elements have been expunged from the Indiana Jones world.

Thus, Nazis are now merely “guards” and there are no gross-out scenes featuring human sacrifice or melting villains. The humor is only faintly off-color at times, and doesn’t involve anything more objectionable than burned bottoms or minifigs briefly seen in underwear.

What Wii Fit does for the body, this latest Lego Indiana Jones does for the funny bone. It’s a game you don’t lose even when you don’t win.

Thomas L. McDonald

is editor-at-large of Games

magazine and a catechist

in the Diocese of Trenton, N.J.