Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review of Wii Sports Resort with MotionPlus Controller

Remember the "this is so cool" moment you had when you first swung a baseball bat in Wii Sports or bowled your first strike? Get ready for the feeling again.

Wii Sports Resort is the much-anticipated sequel to Wii Sports. It comes with the MotionPlus controller, a small cube-shaped attachment you snap onto your existing Wii-mote (you can see pictures and a more detailed description in my review of EA Sports Tennis). What makes the MotionPlus special? It gives new life to your old Wii-mote by allowing games that are designed for it to react not just to your arm movements, but to the angle of your wrists and the speed of your motion.

And just like Wii Sports was the perfect way to show off the Wii-mote, Wii Sports Resort is the best way to show the capabilities of the MotionPlus.

Like Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort is made up of several sports simulation games, with your Mii as the star of each game. Here's a breakdown of each sport, along with a video plus my observations on how useful it is for exercise.

Air Sports:
Fun *** - Workout Intensity *

When you start up Wii Sports Resort for the first time, you see your Mii on a plane heading for Wuhu Island, where the Wii Sports Resort is located. Your plane doesn't land there--you parachute out, forming in-air formations with other parachuters. It's a neat little way to present the title sequence, and you can replay it by choosing one of three "Air Sports".

The other air sport has you holding your Wii-mote like a paper airplane, and flying around the island collecting. You can literally spend an hour flying around slightseeing and never getting tired of it. Not much exercise value, limited replay value, but nonetheless a very, very cool introduction to the game and a demonstration of the Wii Sports Resort developers' attention to detail.

Fun ***** - Workout Intensity *

This is one that is nothing short of amazing. You hold your Wii-mote in your left hand, and you hold your Nunchuk in your right. You aim your Wii-mote like you're holding a bow, and you pull back on the Nunchuk like you're pulling an arrow. This game makes great use of the sensitivity of the MotionPlus.

Fun ***** - Workout Intensity ***

This one takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do you'll find it does a fairly good job of simulating a real basketball workout, both as a classic NBA-style three-point contest and a game of three-on-three. For the three-point contest, you pick up a ball from a cart by reaching with your Wii-mote pointed down and pressing the "B" button to pick up the ball. In one motion, you lift the Wii-mote in an arc (which will make your on-screen player jump), and then make an arcing motion with your hand (just like you're shooting a real basketball). You let go of the ball by releasing the "B" button, and just like in the NBA you repeat until you've finished five racks of five balls. It'll be frustrating at first, but you'll soon find out that (just like in real life) you need to exert a different amount of force and spin for each location you shoot from.

The pick-up game uses similar controls for shooting, except you have to avoid defenders, and you also play defense by blocking shots and stealing balls.

The trick to this game is to release the ball when you're at the top of the jump, to flick your wrists to put spin on the ball, not putting too much or too little force in your throw, and to aim the ball right at the basket when you let go. Try it a few times and you'll get the hang of it. The more you envision yourself shooting a real basketball, the better you'll do.

Fun **** - Workout Intensity *
This is a remake of Wii Sports Bowling, but with controls that are much more precise and subtle due to the MotionPlus. It does take some "re-learning" to do properly; instead of getting strikes for just flicking your wrist, you'll be rewarded now for using proper bowling technique like curving the ball with your wrist.
Fun *** - Workout Intensity *****

I'd say this is the most intense of all the games on Wii Sports Resort for exercise. You hold your Wii-mote like a canoe paddle, row to the left, and row to the right. The MotionPlus can tell how fast you're rowing and how deep in the water your paddle is. You'll find yourself flailing your arms trying to reach the finish line before time runs out, and your heart will be pumping.
Fun **** - Workout Intensity ****

Reminiscent of the running game in Wii Fit, this is a brilliant game where you simulate the strategy of a bicycling race like the Tour de France or Olympic cycling. You alternate waving your Wii-mote and Nunchuk to simulate your biker's pedaling. Wave too hard, and your biker will go out of breath or even need to stop for a bottle of water. Wave too lightly, and you'll be left in the dust. Like in real cycling, you can "drift" off of other riders by riding behind them, you'll move from pack to pack of bikers, and you need to conserve your energy for a mad sprint to the finish line.

Fun **** - Workout Intensity *

This is another incredible game that really shows off the MotionPlus. You basically hold your Wii-Mote like a Frisbee, and you can aim it at any angle, control the spin with your wrists, and throw it at any speed. One of my favorite parts of this game is the cute little digital dog who always fetches and returns the Frisbee to you, something that doesn't always happen in real life.

Fun *** - Workout Intensity *
Another huge upgrade to the golf in Wii Sports. You can consider this a "lite" version of Tiger Woods Golf. Like Tiger Woods Golf, you basically hold your Wii-mote like it's a golf club, and you try to swing it like a real one. Like a real golf club, you want to keep your wrists rigid throughout the swing. Twist your wrists or fail to properly follow through on your shot and it'll be off.

Power Cruising:
Fun **** - Workout Intensity **

I've driven a Sea-Doo once in my life at Walt Disney World. I have to say that this experience was amazingly close. You basically hold your Wii-mote and Nunchuk as if they're the right and left handlebars on a Sea-Doo. Twist the controls to rev up your engine and go faster. Turn to the left or to the right to control where you go on the water. You basically have to maneuver through a slalom course. The only thing missing is the feeling of water splashing on you!

Fun=* * * * *, Exercise Intensity=* * * *
Swordplay sort of reminds me of Wii Boxing. Like Wii Boxing, I imagine that the workout intensity will increase the more levels you increase. Basically, it's a fencing game. You wield your sword, and you can swing it high or low and in every direction. You can fence against a computer opponent, but my favorite game is when you compete with the computer (or a friend) to see who can be the first to slice an object thrown at you (ranging from sushi to a diamond to a boiled egg).

Table Tennis:
Fun=* * * * *, Exercise Intensity=* * * *
This is another one where you scratch your head and wonder how they got it so close to the real thing. The MotionPlus makes your control of your paddle extremely accurate; you can tilt the racket and use differnt amounts of force to aim shots and spin the ball. It's one of these games that may not be the most strenuous workout, but it's so addicted you'll play over and over again and get pretty decent exercise. If you've played ping-pong on Wii Play or Mario and Sonic at the Olympics, prepare for a whole new experience.

Fun=* * * * *, Exercise Intensity=* *

In this game, you hold the Wii-mote horizontally (as if you're on jet skis holding onto a tether), and waterski in the boat's wake, doing jumping tricks and collecting points.

To summarize, Wii Sports Resort isn't an exercise game, per se. If you're going for pure exercise, you're still better off with games like EA Sports Active and Gold's Gym Cardio. But like Wii Sports, it's incredibly fun and will certainly get you off your backside and moving your arms and shoulders. Like its predecessor, overall I'd rate the fun a solid * * * * *, and the exercise value a * *.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Dance Dance Revolution on Sale at Amazon: July 27, 2009 only!

If you're reading this on Monday July 27, run, don't walk, to Amazon.Com's Gold Box, where today and today only they have Dance Dance Revolution for the Wii for the ridiculous price of $34.99, which is 50% off the retail. This is almost guaranteed to sell out quickly at this price, so hurry!

In addition, it looks like the entire day of "Lightning Deals" (limited-time deals that are offered every few hours) will be related to dedicated to rhythm video games.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Spicing up a Nutrisystem Pizza

So, if you read this blog a lot, you'll know I also have a blog dedicated to Indoor Gardening. In another case of blog-crossover, I wanted to report on how to use fresh herbs to spice up a Nutrisystem dinner.

The first step is to take a batch of fresh basil.

The next step is to make a Nutrisystem pizza the same way as always, but instead of just pouring on the cheese and tomato sauce, add a layer of basil in there.

I gotta say, it turned out incredible. The added taste of the basil transformed it from a ho-hum pizza slightly under the quality of a frozen pizza to, I kid you not, a gourmet meal. The smell of the cheese and the tomato sauce and the basil was nothing short of heavenly, and the taste was great. It didn't look too shabby either.

You'll end up with something that looks like this:

I'm not exagerrating when I say it was amazing. It added a whole new dimension to the standard Nutrisystem pizza, changing it from a ho-hum TV dinner quality meal to something that tastes and smells like something you might find in a fine restaurant (okay, maybe a fine diner).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Review of Dancing With the Stars for Wii

The first thing to get out of the way is to make clear that Dancing with the Stars for Wii is not really a dancing game. You don't learn dance steps, you don't get scored on how well you dance, and you don't even use your feet.

The best way I can describe this game is that it's like "Dance Dance Revolution for your arms". To play it, you hold the Wii-mote in one hand, the Nunchuk in the other hand, and as in Dance Dance Revolution you move your arms to the beat, getting higher scores depending on how precise your timing is. Something they added to the game are "flair moves" with names like "Maracas", "Mashed Potato", and "Twist" which will fill up a meter if you do the move right, boosting your score.

Dancing with the Stars will be enjoyed most by those who are already fans of the show. It has all the same theme music, and on-screen graphics as the show, and the dancers you compete using are actual celebrities and dance experts from past seasons of the show, including Season 5 chamption Apolo Anton Ohno and Julianne Hough, among others.

The judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Toniolli have all lent their voices to the game, and they'll "grade" your performances. You advance by getting "voted for" by the audience. The music is the same popular music played on the show (thank goodness the producers chose to license the music rather than playing generic stock music). And while you won't learn any dance moves, it is entertaining to watch the animated celebrities dancing on the screen as you're moving your arms,

The controllers are mostly accurate, but from time to time as is common for games like this theymay fail to register movements. But there's nothing too bad here, unlike other games like Samba Di Amigo.

Even after you've won the game, the game is still a lot of fun with a friend. You can compete against a friend, or the two of you can dance with in "Duet" mode.

There are actually two Dancing with the Stars games for Wii out there. You'll want to get the newer one called Dancing With the Stars: We Dance! (in some cases, it's also called Dancing With the Stars: Get Your Dance On), which has gotten far, far more positive reviews than the original.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Review of Punch-Out for Wii: can it be used as a workout game?

I decided to try out Punch Out for the Wii. Reviews of this game have been overwhelmingly positive. Reviewers love the nostalgia of the game--the characters and personalities are the same as the original Punch Out for the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) from 1987 and Super Punch Out that was so popular in arcades. It still has the same kitschy quality of its prececessors, but has been updated with slicker looking characters (still cartoony, but with a 3-D feel).

And of course, you have the option to use Wii motion control. The game developers basically allow for the game to be played using three different controller configurations:

  1. Holding the Wii-mote sideways (mimicking the buttons of the old NES controller)
  2. Boxing with the Wii-mote and Nunchuk and using the Nunchuk control for ducking and weaving.
  3. Boxing with the Wii-mote and Nunchuk and using the Wii Balance Board for ducking and weaving.

The consensus of most reviews is that the game is best played using just the Wii-mote--this yields the quickest response needed to play the game properly. Of course, this'll give your thumbs a nice workout, but not much else. In this review, I'll focus in on #2 and #3, and let you know how well this works as a fitness game.

The game concept itself is great for both those who remember the original series and those who don't. You play the part of a little boxer named Little Mac and work your way through a boxing circuit, facing a series of 13 colorful characters with increasing degrees of difficulty. Each boxer is bigger than you and has his own personality and very, very annoying traits and mannerisms, so annoying that you can't rest until you've beaten the snot out of them. I should probably also mention that this game has never quite been politically correct: each character is a walking stereotype of the country they're from, from the Frenchman who bleeds croissants to the Japanese guy who bleeds sushi, to the guy from India who rides on a magic carpet. I suppose what makes it all okay is that they offend everyone equally, and with tongue firmly in cheek.

Once you beat all 13 it doesn't end there: the game actually goes into a "Title Defense" mode where the vanquished boxers come back, angry and harder to beat.

The controls take a little getting used to. Like in Wii Sports Boxing, you mainly thrust with your hands to throw punches. I found Wii Boxing to be more responsive, and I preferred the way that Wii Sports Boxing allows you to block punches by putting your hands together in front of your face and weaving back and forth (with Punch Out, you use Nunchuk joystick to block, dodge, and duck).

But then again with Punch Out, the boxing is much more involved. Each boxer has a different pattern (which can in fact change through the course of playing the game), and as you go through each one you need to identify the pattern and have quick enough reflexes to strike or duck out of the way when a boxer tips off which way he'll go (conveniently, the boxer will glow red right before he strikes, but in some cases you have a fraction of a second to respond).

Here's a video of me boxing Super Muscle Man (who was the final fighter in earlier versions of the video game)

The characters and the storyline make the boxing more immersive--there's something about being taunted by a giant Frenchman or a giant blonde muscleman from LA that just makes you want to pound the stuffing out of them. And of course the graphics and animation, while still cartoony, made it a more complete experience than Wii Sports Boxing. Unlike the repetitiveness of Wii Sports Boxing (which you can eventually beat easily by looking for patterns), Punch Out provides a good variety of fighters that use a variety of techniques and require you, as in real boxing, to look for their weaknesses to beat them. Listen to your coach between rounds to learn what the weaknesses are (or, if the coach is telling you how much he likes chocolate, chances are you've figured it out already).

It takes some time, but the game is nice enough to give you a practice mode where you can box against a "holographic" version of each opponent to learn their strenghs and weaknesses without affecting your won-loss record. It's a classic Wii workout game in that it's so fun and so addictive that you can work up a real sweat without even realizing you're working out. Case in point: by the time I won this fight against "Mr. Sandman", the final fighter between you and the title, I had lost over 100 times (but in the losses got great exercise)!

While the balance board addition was a good thought, the responsiveness was just too poor to use seriously. The Wii didn't quite respond accurately when I bobbed and weaved on the board--either the timing would be off or the screen would display something completely different than I was doing. At the end of the day I stuck with the nunchuk controls.

So the question is, was it a good workout? Yes it was. It wasn't an exhausing, full-body workout, but I most certainly did sweat and get some good aerobic exercise. Unlike the boxing games in Gold's Gym Cardio and EA Sports Active, this one immerses you in the storyline which provides plenty of motivation for you to continue.

Ultimately, I'd give this * * * for workout intensity, and * * * * for fun. If you like Wii Sports Boxing, this is a nice little step up.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Some Nutrisystem Highlights Over the Past Few Weeks

I thought I'd post about some of the Nutrisystem food highlights which I haven't mentioned in the blog yet.

Apple Granola Bar. Breakfast and lunch bars are where Nutrisystem shines. You've got a whole meal of nutrients packed into a tasty bar. They're great for meals, and I also like to pack them when I go biking or hiking. This one is the Apple Granola bar, but they're all quite good. Check out the texture (8/10).

nutrissytem apple bar

Beef Pot Roast with Vegetables and Gravy. While this is yet another one of those slabs-of-meat-in-a-brown-sauce that look like so many other Nutrisystem foods, I have to admit this one tasted a cut above the rest. The portions were a good size, and while the meat was a tad on the dry side, the ample sauce made up for it (8/10).
nutrisystem pot roast
While most Nutrisystem lunches are either tiny little cans of soup you put in the microwave, or paper cups of dehydrated pasta or powder that you just add water to, the Red Beans and Rice with Sausage actually comes in a vacuum-sealed pouch. When you open the pouch, the already-cooked rice and beans comes out. Stick in a microwave, and it's one of the best tasting lunches they have (9/10).

nutrisystem sausage and rice
I was a bit skeptical at first when I heard about Nutrisystem's Cheesy Mashed Potatoes. First of all, I wasn't sure if just eating mashed potatoes for lunch was enough. Second, I opened the container and inside I just saw light yellow powder. This is another one of those "is it a meal or is it a science experiment" ones. But I added water, stirred, microwaved, fluffed, and this is what I got. And it tasted REALLY good with the cheese and herbs infused, even better than when I make it from scratch (10/10).

nutrisystem mashed potatoes
I've heard rave reviews about the Nutrisystem Chicken Salad. This is another one that comes in a pouch, not a box. They tell you to "spread in on melba toast". Since I had a coupon for Bagel Chips at BJ's, I decided to do that instead. It was a great decision. The chicken salad comes in ample portions and tastes fantastic (10/10).

nutrisystem chicken salad on bagel chips

So, that's it for the most recent highlights. I think by now I've tried just about every Nutrisystem food out there, and wrote about most of them. Leave a comment if there's another food you'd like me to try. :)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Nutrisystem Foods That Are Fun to Make and Eat

You may notice I've stopped giving the daily recap of every single meal I eat. It just became too much to keep track of. Instead, from time to time I'll post here about some especially good Nutrisystem Foods I come across or some cool tricks I've discovered in my Nutrisystem travels.

In today's post, I'll focus on Nutrisystem foods that are as fun to make as they are to eat. I've already talked about the wickedly awesome "science experiment" Nutrisystem foods like the amazing expando-mashed potatoes. Today, I'll talk about foods that go great with whole wheat wraps.

The first step is to go grocery shopping and buy a package of whole wheat wraps. I got this from BJs.

roll ups
The first food I want to show you is the Chicken Fahitas for dinner. Opening the red pouch, you see a dry mix. You pour it into a bowl and "just add boiling water". At first it doesn't look all that promising.

fahita guts
Stir well, and stick it in the microwave and you'll see an amazing transformation. This is what it looks like out of the microwave and on a wrap:

fahita on open rollRoll it up, and you have something that looks like a regular fahita.

fahita wrappedAnd believe it or not, the taste and texture are simply phenomenal. (10/10).

For my next magic trick, I'm going to show you the "broiled patty". This is one where you unwrap the pouch and find what looks like a hockey puck in the middle of a plastic tray.

nutrisystem broiled pattyPour boiling water into it, let it rest for two minutes and something amazing happens. Like a sponge, the patty absorbs the water, and presto, you have what looks and smells like a hamburger patty that you just grilled, complete with grill marks and smoky flavor!

I'm going to do a cool cross-over with my other blog, IndoorGardener.Org. In that blog, I'm growing my own lettuce indoors using the Amazing Aerogarden, which is a Nutrisystem dieter's best friend because you can have freshly grown vegetables and herbs right in your own kitchen. Here, I'm cutting some fresh lettuce leaves to put on my burger.

aerogarden lettucePut it all on a wrap, add some ketchup, wrap it up, and voila...you have a burger that tastes amazingly good (10/10).

patty with aerogarden lettuce and bjs wrap