After a winter of glutinous comfort food, watching movies under a duvet and too many KFC nights, the fast-approaching summer beach visits were beginning to become an issue. Joining a gym was considered and procrastinated in equal quantities. So when Microsoft announced Kinect and Ubisoft followed with their fitness title Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, my prayers were answered. Now I could play games AND get in shape at the same time! Hallelujah, and all that.
However, one thing that many Kinect users will have found out is the amount of living room real estate that’s required to use it. When you’re lunging, squatting, thrusting and flailing your limbs around like a marionette puppet, having enough free space to truly let loose can be problematic. It all looks good in Microsoft’s promotional videos where people are playing in lounges the size of aircraft hangers but in reality most people will need to move the furniture every time they want to play Kinect. In fact I had already had a work-out from moving my sofa and coffee table before I even put Your Shape in the drive. Kinect really does have players ‘up off the sofa and moving around’. What it doesn’t mention is that it’s you having to physically move the stupid sofa in the first place.
Once I had destroyed the feng shui of my lounge, Your Shape was running and my initial reactions were surprisingly pleasing. Long gone are the days of hefty balance boards, wrist straps and clunky remotes. The Kinect hardware does a stunning job of tracking your body and capturing your every move from head to toe. Immediately the game had scanned my body, measuring chest size, height and proportions before creating a 3d ‘mirror’ of myself on screen. Or at least a gelatinous orange-jello version of me. But the outline of my virtual person was surprisingly accurate, letting me wave my arms and legs around with little lag. It even showed an outline of my hair.
Of course, this does have its draw-backs: for starters, not everyone wants to see their body recreated in excruciating (and probably unflattering) detail. Worst of all, it means you can’t cheat anymore. With Wii Fit, an impressive piece of hardware for its time, players could often find shortcuts when the burn was becoming a bit too much. With Wii Fit some of the strenuous exercises could be performed sitting on the sofa, eating a cheeseburger and simply moving one arm up and down to the cheers of “You’re doing great!”. Your Shape: Fitness Evolved’s full body capture means that every aspects of your work-out has be to completed properly. The game will detect if you’re not stretching your arm out far enough, or raising your knees high enough and will tell you to dig deep to reach those targets.
It’s just like having a rigid fitness instructor coaxing you along and the end result is a lot more unforgiving than any other video fitness game seen before. But of course, this same feature could deter some players. Unlike Wii Fit and EA’s Active 2, Your Shape isn’t a fun casual game. Even the ‘fun’ mini-games are purely exercise based and intent on causing you to sweat out a storm. However for people like me, this ruthless exercise simulator will be a God-send. It gives us an opportunity to really push ourselves and still stay within the comfort of our own living room.
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved is broken down into several categories to let players chose their preferred areas of fitness. For example if you have the goal of improving the shape of your legs and buns, you can chose the “Skinny Jeans Workout”. There is even a fitness routine for women trying to shift the post-baby rigours of being a mum. Of course, being a man I went for the “Sleeve Busting Arms Workout” with the pre-conceived notion I’d leave the room looking like Lou Ferrigno - possibly even the green, 1970’s Hulk-like version. Each of these fitness areas offer different classes ranging from cardio through to more relaxed, yoga-like routines to ensure that muscle and general tone can be achieved to suit your preference.
The classes generally follow the same pattern of presenting you with a screen of a fitness trainer and your 3d body-model along side him or her (you can choose what gender you’d prefer your trainer to be). Along with friendly voice-over instructions, you’ll need to follow what moves your trainer is doing. You’ll be told if you’re doing well or what you need to improve and a live on-screen scoring system will ensure you nail each exercise. A session often takes around five minutes and involves four to five different exercises, ending with a performance score. Even medium-level fitness bunnies will be sweating after four sessions due to the progressive difficulty that accompanies them.
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved also includes a ‘gym’ area where four mini-games can be found. The first (and most enjoyable) mini-game is ‘Virtual Smash’ which incorporates kick-boxing fitness and has you punching and kicking blocks that appear around your 3d model of yourself. Unlike similar block-bashing games in the past though, the Kinect camera ensures you complete it in a proper fashion. For example players will have to punch across their bodies in order to trigger a successful hit. No more half-arsed elbows or side punches. Having the game track your lower half of the body results in a proper work-out too, requiring the player to have quick reflexes and good balance. The hardest setting even throws in a swinging pendulum that players must duck and weave to avoid, resulting in a solid boxing simulator.
Another mini-game, ‘Light Race’ requires balance as well but doesn’t work the upper body. Instead it places highlighted circles on screen that you must stand on as quickly as possible. Unfortunately the game ends up like a lame version of Dance Central but it still offers a decent workout that will help strengthen and tone your body. The same goes for the third mini-game, ‘Loop a Hoop’ - except that this activity requires that you completely humiliate yourself. In fact I’m not even going to describe this one in words, but let’s just say you’ll be jiggling your hips in ways that no man should ever have to. Except once, in order to review this game.
The last mini-game is ‘Stack ‘em Up’ which is yet another impressive use of the technology, but the least ‘active’ of them all. Players must stand with their arms up as if holding a giant tray, replicated on screen with a big shelf above the player. Once in postion, Tetris-esque blocks will fall down that the player must catch on their shelf before sliding them off to designated pits to the left or right accordingly. Although your movements are fairly slow, holding up an imaginary beam for long periods of time can be surprisingly effective at working your deltoid and brachii muscles.
The end result is a solid exercise simulator for the more determined work-out fiends. It’s also one of the more impressive launch titles that show-off the potential of Kinect. Even the motion-controlled navigation system is extremely well thought out. But there are a few niggles that stop Your Shape: Fitness Evolved being THE fitness title of choice. The main one being that the game’s core scoring system all revolves around calories burnt. This works great if you intend to lose weight but it certainly doesn’t apply to all work-out routines. Also, despite how extensive the routines are in the game, Your Shape has an awkward manner of categorising the exercises in classes. Meaning that players wanting to setup a custom routine or pull out particular exercises for a quick work-out will be disappointed. I’m confident that the sequel will correct these issues, but until then Your Shape: Fitness Evolved is still guaranteed to give you a thorough work-out this Summer.