Throwback Thursday – Wii Fit & the Dawn of the Exergame

Back in the day, if you or somebody you knew owned a Nintendo Wii, there’s a good chance you encountered Wii Fit at some stage. Released nearly nine years ago, the game sold over 22 million copies, meaning that 1 in 4 Wii owners have spent time jogging around a virtual park, pretending to ski or tightrope walk on the balance board, and generally avoiding that fateful  weigh-in on one of the first successful examples of an exergame.

Gameplay

Wii Fit definitely had a focus on exercise and information over gameplay. If you were serious about it you could engage in daily measurements and basic simulations that tracked your health improvements over the course of your workout period, with the Balance Board avatar (the updated version of Microsoft office assistant Clippy) giving you chirpy tips on how you can improve. You could even track your exercise completed outside of the game, although at the end of the day you were at the mercy of the virtual scales – and whilst he might not have said it, the balance board knew if you were lying.

The game included nearly 50 activities that made up the meat of the gameplay. Most of
those were simple yoga and strength exercises, but the aerobic minigames were the ones that kept people interested in playing – ranging from hula hoops to skiing, snowboarding and boxing. Clearly Nintendo took some inspiration from their hugely successful Wii Sports. Although whilst it didn’t really offer much in the way of health benefits, many would argue that Wii Sports was more fun and less clinical than Wii Fit.

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A Wii Fit user playing the ‘soccer heading’ activity

The Balance Board

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Arguably the most crucial component of Wii Fit, the balance board accessory accounted for much of the cost of the game and was certainly a step-up from your generic household scales. The board included four pressure sensors that could accurately measure the movement, balance and weight of anybody up to 150 kg – although the board itself was extremely sturdy and could withstand up to 300 kg of force (maybe they learnt a little too much from people throwing their Wiimotes around the room in frustration).

Apart from being used for the daily tests, the balance board was the primary way that you would complete the fitness activities. Given so many people found out how to cheat their way through Wii Sports, Nintendo had to build a more reliable accessory if they wanted the fitness aspect of the game to be credible.

The balance board is a good example of how important peripherals are in exergames, which is an issue as they tend to be the most expensive element of an active gaming set-up. Whilst moving into the future, VR systems will come down in price and they’ll always have more than just one use-case scenario, you can’t have a reliable exergame without a reliable tool for measuring fitness ability. For the time being though, the balance board can now be picked up for much cheaper than when it first launched, lowering the entry barrier to active gaming.

Wii Fit & The Future of exergames

Two years later, Nintendo released Wii Fit Plus which included 20 new activities and additional functionality such as custom fitness regimens. The sequel was hugely successful, selling another 22 million copies with the two games combined boosting exergame revenue exponentially, and most importantly introducing millions of new people around the globe to the concept of active gaming.

However, Nintendo’s third installment in the series Wii Fit U for their Wii U console went in the other direction, only selling a measly 890,000 copies (or 4% of what the original game sold) although this can largely be put down to the commercial failure of the Wii U console.

Wii Fit might not be able to address the exercise stimga concerns that we’ve discussed over the past few weeks, since it’s definitely a minigame-augmented fitness simulator and not the other way around, but it was instrumental in showing people that active gaming could actually work, and if you’re looking for a no-frills exergame that makes you a little less passive, then it still holds up as a good option today.

-EC

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Check out the original launch trailer for Wii Fit:

Sources:

Vgchartz.com. (2016). Game Database, Best Selling Video Games, Game Sales, Million Sellers, Top Selling – VGChartz. [online] Available at: http://www.vgchartz.com/gamedb/?name=Wii+Fit&publisher=&platform=&genre=&minSales=0&results=200 [Accessed 29 Sep. 2016].

 

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