Monday, October 26, 2009

Buy $80 of Wii Games from Amazon and get a $40 credit for a future purchase

I guess Amazon is trying to move some inventory for video games before Christmas shopping period starts. They've got one of their great deals where you can buy $80 of games and receive a $40 promotional credit for a future purchase. But hurry, this deal is only good for purchases made between Monday, October 26, 2009 and Saturday, October 31, 2009

I've seen this done in the past, but the difference is that with this promotion they've got a lot of games which are listed on our list of top Wii fitness games, including Wii Fit Plus, Wii Sports Resort, The Biggest Loser, My Fitness Coach, Punch-Out!!, Gold's Gym Cardio Workout, and Active Life Outdoor Challenge.

Here's a link to the actual offer (which includes official rules and links to Wii, PS3 and Xbox games)

Here's a list of Wii Games Eligible for this promotion

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"To Start Please Step Off Me and Press A" - Broken Balance Board, a cautionary tale

This is somewhat of a cautionary tale.

I've owned the Wii Fit since November 2008 and its worked flawlessly for 11 months. Then yesterday, in the middle of a game I got this message saying "To start, please step off me and press A"

To start, please step off me and press A

Problem is, I would step off and nothing would happen. I'd try getting on and getting off, and nothing would change, the screen would just be stuck on this message. The balance board, to use geek parlance, is bricked.

After searching on the Internet, I found that this is not an uncommon problem. Those commenting have dubbed it the "white screen of death". Nintendo has an FAQ on the subject, but it's fairly useless if you're in this predicament. Oddly, when you select "Settings" from the Wii Fit main menu, the diagnostics all check out okay.

And unfortunately there seems to be no solution. The warranty on the Balance Board is three months, so if you're within that period you can call Nintendo at 1-800-255-3700 and they'll repair or replace it for free. If it's after that time, unfortunately, you'll have to pay about $50 to get it repaired.

Here's a compilation of all the tips I've found on the Internet on this subject. In some cases, people have reported that these steps have solved the problem. In my case I didn't have luck, but maybe you will.
  1. Most importantly: if you are using a silicone cover on the Wii Fit OR are using a rechargeable battery (instead of standard batteries), STOP IMMEDIATELY. Evidently this is a common theme across Balance Board units that fail. It galls me, because vendors will push these products upon us at discounted prices, but in the long run Nintendo personnel have stated unequivocally that these things have caused problems and WILL invalidate warranties. Caveat emptor.

  2. Try a basic "reset" of the system. Here's how: 
    1. Disconnect the Wii from the wall outlet and remove all batteries from the balance board for at least 15 minutes. 
    • Plug in the Wii and power it on
    • Open the front cover of the Wii and press the red "sync" button of 15 seconds. This should clear all controllers from your system. 
    • Take your primary Wii-mote and open the battery cover. Press the red "sync" button on the Wii-mote, and then quickly (while the front blue lights are blinking), press the red "sync" button on the Wii. Your Wii-mote will register with the system
    • Put the batteries in the balance board
    • Start up Wii Fit or Wii Fit Plus
    • Once the game has started, press the "sync" button by the balance board's battery cover and then quickly press the red "sync" button on the Wii. Your balance board will get recognized as the fourth controller.

  3. Desperation measures. Some users have reported success when they rotate their balance board. Presumably if there was a stuck gyrometer or something, this would unstick it. 
If none of these things work, chances are your balance board is totalled. The fact that the diagnostics work indicates that it's not a problem with the actual balance board hardware per se, but perhaps a fried circuit board or something.

I ended up buying a new balance board at Amazon. The one good thing out of allthis is that I can give the extra copy of Wii Fit Plus I get to my nephew for his birthday. It was a tough $93.99 pill to swallow, but now I know NOT to use a rechargeable battery pack in the future. I also used a credit card with extended warranty.

Has the "To start, please step off me and press A" white screen of death happened to you? Post a comment to report your troubleshooting steps, or just to vent!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review of The Biggest Loser for Wii

4 out of 5 stars

A Wii fitness title which provides an impressive set of calisthenic moves and accurately captures the spirit and entertainment value of the TV show.

Reviewer: Nutwiisystem
October 14, 2009

The Biggest Loser for Wii was just released this week. Since 2004, The Biggest Loser has been one of the most popular shows on TV. The premise of the show, of course, is that overweight contestants compete against each other to see who can lose the most weight. They're helped along by expert trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels. Aside from being a runaway hit TV show, The Biggest Loser has spawned books, cookbooks, exercise videos, kitchen appliances, exercise equipment, protein shakes, music CDs, clothes, and more.

So, it was only a matter of time before a Biggest Loser Video Game for the Wii came out. Now, I admit I was a bit skeptical at this one. Typically when game publishers buy rights to great brand names and trademarks, the games they create are anything but great. From Daisy Fuentes Pilates to Jillian Michael's own Fitness Ultimatum 2009, game publishers often get lazy knowing that the brand name will guarantee them a certain number of sales regardless of the quality of their game. And so they get sloppy with the game design or the quality assurance.

I'm happy to say that The Biggest Loser bucks this trend. It's a very solid fitness title for the Wii. I don't use the word "game" because it's not exactly fun like a game. It's more like an interactive fitness video. In fact, it reminds me most of Ubisoft's My Fitness Coach in that way, but they've come a long way since My Fitness Coach (so much so that The Biggest Loser has officially bumped My Fitness Coach out of our Top 10 list of best Wii Fitness games).

The core of The Biggest Loser is its very comprehensive list of dozens and dozens of Single Exercises, which are essentially calisthenic exercises (i.e. exercises that don't use weights or equipment). They really hit a home run with these. Every calisthenic exercise you can think of is included, including exercises for a cardio workout; for working out the upper body, core, and lower body; and even yoga poses. Each exercise ranges from light, moderate, challenging, hard, and intense. Each one is identified by an icon (color-coded by intensity). As you select each icon in the menu, there's even a figure telling you exactly what muscle groups you're working out.

When you start each exercise, an on-screen figure will show you very clearly how to do the exercise, including the correct posture, moves, and timing. You basically follow along. The exercises typically use the Wii-mote and/or the Balance Board passively to "check" your progress. For example, when you choose the jump rope exercise, you hold the Wii-mote like the handle of a jump rope and make small circles with it. When you choose "tire drills", you put the Wii-mote in your pocket and run in place, simulating the kinds of drills that football players do when they run through tires. Similarly, "fast skaters" is an exercise where you simulate a speed skater waving his or her arms. There are a number of exercises which use the balance board such as the "plank" (where you press both hands against the balance board), a "T-Raise" (where one hand is on the balance board and the other is stretched out). Some exercises will be very familiar (jumping jacks, push ups), but even the ones that aren't familiar are very intuitive once you watch the on-screen character doing them.

I should note that for the most part, you're on the "honor system" as to how closely you follow the on-screen examples. Even if you get a little sloppy in your form or don't do the exercise properly, more often than not it'll still register and Bob or Jillian will continue to shout out praise and encouragement. That said, when you do it exactly right, you'll usually see confirmation on-screen.

You can do each of the exercises a la carte, but more likely you'll want to choose Exercise Routines, which combine multiple single exercises into comprehensive pre-designed programs to work out your full body, upper body, core, lower body or do yoga exercises. You can also create a custom routine, made up of your favorite single exercises. As with single exercises, you can choose anything from light to intense exercise.

Sample Exercise Routine, Part 1

Sample Exercise Routine, Part 2

And of course, you can choose the full Fitness Program. You enter your name, sex, birthday, height and weight (conveniently, you can use your Balance Board to measure your weight, both your initial weight and in your very own "weigh ins"). Then, you pick your favorite real-life Biggest Loser contestant to play as, whether it be Matt Hoover from Season 2, Ali Vincent from Season 5, Michelle Aguilar from Season 6, or from a list of five others. You can customize the color of the T-Shirt your character wears, and then you pick whether you want to hear Bob Harper or Jillian Michaels as "your trainer".  From there, you can pick a personal goal: whether you want to simply maintain your current weight and improve your health, lose a little weight, or lose a lot of weight. You'll also pick a skill level and a program length. Based on all the things you enter, the system will calculate a specific exercise regiment for you, complete with dates. If you're really committed, you can also input the number of calories you eat every day, as well as log any additional training you do outside of the program (such as walking, running or biking outside), and the program will adjust itself accordingly.

An interesting part of this title is a menu option called Health and Lifestyle. Here, you'll find a large number of recipes, straight out of The Biggest Loser Cookbooks (they'll even show you the cookbook the recipe came out of). There's a pretty impressive list of food for breakfast (e.g. blueberry muffins, breakfast patties), healthy snacks (e.g. pesto pizzettas, creamy onion dip), lunch (e.g. BLT burger, chicken soup, cajun salmon), main dishes (e.g. broiled cod, sweet and sour chicken, chicken skewers), sides (e.g. noodle salad, squash casserole), and dessert (e.g. strawberry pie-lets, quick rice pudding, Italian hot chocolate). It's a bit awkward reading recipes on the Wii, as your Wii is probably not in your kitchen. But still, the recipes are generally short enough that you can jot them down on a piece of paper. Under this menu option you'll also find a large number of "quick tips" from past Biggest Loser participants, including short video clips from Bob and Jillian themselves. Finally, there's an extremely useful feature called the "Calorie Counter", which calculates the daily calorie intake recommend specifically for you based on your weight, age, and goals.

Health & Lifestyle Screens

The most interesting part of The Biggest Loser for Wii are what they call Challenge Events. Here, your chubby on-screen character will compete against other characters (all off-screen) in a number of interesting events, the types of which you'd see on the show. In a clever twist, you make your on-screen character perform by doing specific exercise routines, which must be done precisely and timed perfectly. As on the show, you start out competing with 7 personalities from the show, and after each round one is eliminated. I found this by far the most effective part of the game, because my instincts to compete far exceeded any resistance to exercise. While it's a bit contrived to have you controlling a character's progress by doing single exercises (I would rather have done something which simulated the on-screen character's movements rather than some random exercises), the bottom line is it got me motivated to work out more than I probably would have normally without getting bored.

Challenge Event: Light Cycle

Challenge Event: Skate or Splash

Challenge Event: Highflyers

There are a couple minor annoyances. If you connect your balance board and the balance board power goes out, the game is completely hung up until you turn it back on. The controllers are passive, meaning that instead of actively tracking your movements accurately, it'll just check whether you come close to making the on-screen movements. Sometimes the controllers will not register properly, and I admit I was a little disappointed that most of the activities didn't take advantage of the unique capabilities of the Wii and its controllers. And one thing to keep in mind is that you need a LOT of room to move around.

But still the bottom line is, they have an impressive number of exercises to work out all different areas of your body, and when I chose "intense" level, it really did make my heart pound and gave me a great workout that rivaled any kind of workout I'd get at the gym, for a fraction of the price.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

EA Sports Active is the Amazon Deal of the Day for Tuesday October 13, 2009

If you've been on the fence about buying EA Sports Active, there's no better time than today if you're reading this on Tuesday, October 13, 2009. That's because EA Sports Active is today's Amazon Video Game Deal of the Day. You can save $15 off the retail price and help a great cause while you're at it.

EA Sports Active: Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Awareness Edition is a special limited edition of the very popular Wii fitness title from EA Sports.

The actual game is pretty much the same as the original (see a review of EA Sports Active here). The difference, of course, is that some of the proceeds will go to Susan G Komen For the Cure.

EA Sports Active takes interactive fitness to new levels by allowing you to customize your workouts, choosing from a variety of aerobic, upper body, lower body, and athletic exercises.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Review of Wii Fit Plus

5 out of 5 stars

Nintendo reclaims the number one position on our list of Best Wii Workout Games with fun and beautifully executed improvements to the aging Wii Fit platform.

Reviewer: Nutwiisystem
October 7, 2009

When Wii Fit and its Balance Board were released a year and a half ago, it was a runaway hit. Wii Fits sold out for months at a time and it was the hottest thing you could get for the Wii.

Unfortunately, as time went on, millions of Balance Boards went into the closet. Wii Fit was an innovative title, but once the novelty wore off, a lot of people simply found it wasn't very useful for continuous exercise. The Yoga and Strength training exercises were good, but you could only perform them one at a time. The Balance Games were fun but with a few exceptions like Hula Hoop, they didn't really do much as far as aerobic exercise. The need to calibrate the balance board each time you played or switched players was a major annoyance. Your progress was based on time spent, not calories burned.

The best thing to happen to the Wii Fit was a little something called EA Sports Active. It was released by Electronic Arts a few months ago, and they raised the bar for what a fitness title should be. The influence of EA Sports Active on Nintendo's Wii Fit Plus is very clear, and the Nintendo folks did a great job of improving Wii Fit. The result was Wii Fit Plus.

The first thing to note is that Wii Fit Plus is not a "sequel" to the original Wii Fit, but rather it contains all the content of the original Wii Fit and adds a number of improvements. In other words, if you don't have Wii Fit already, you can skip it, buy Wii Fit Plus with the Balance Board. If you already have Wii Fit, you can buy the Wii Fit Plus game only.

For those with the old Wii Fit, the conversion of your old profile data to the new is quick and seamless. It just takes a couple seconds and voila, all of your old weight data and workout data is available in Wii Fit Plus.

The first improvement, clearly influenced by EA Sports Active, is that instead of choosing individual strength and yoga exercises ad-hoc, you can choose from a number of pre-configured workout routines. There's a new button called "My Wii Fit Plus". When you click on it, you're taken to a virtual locker room. Your animated balance board (as chipper and encouraging as ever) walks you through the process of choosing a workout routine based on any number of specific goals, ranging from better health to improving specific parts of your body. In all honesty, there may be a few too many options for my taste (I like the simplicity of EA Sports in this regard), but if you're committed to a specific workout and exercise goal, chances are you'll find what you need here.

The activities are still broken out by category: Yoga, Strength Training, Aerobics, and Balance Games. All of these are identical to the old Wii Fit, except that there there are a 6 new Yoga and Strength training exercises which add some more variety and challenge to those categories.

But here's the part of the review I'm sure you've been waiting for. The biggest improvement in Wii Fit Plus is the addition of 15 "Training Plus" activities.

Perfect 10 (Workout intensity: 2 of 5, Fun 4 of 5): A game that tests your math skills as much as your flexibility. Numbers will appear on giant mushroom, and you bump your hips to hit the numbers that add (or subtract) to 10 or 15 or 20. You won't be losing huge amounts of weight from this one, but it's a great way to test your mind and body coordination and this is one you'll play over and over again to try to beat your last time or the best score of a family member. 2.5 METs.

Island Cycling (Workout intensity: 4 of 5, Fun 4 of 5): This is a game that uses the Balance Board (you step on the board with your left and right foot to simulate bicycle pedalling) and the Wiimote (which you use to steer). The game itself looks a lot like the cycling game on Wii Sports Resort. Unlike that game, this game isn't timed; rather, you need to cycle around a large island collecting flags. The island is beautifully designed with amazing details, from the sound of distant trains as you go over a tall bridge, to the sound of windmills in the breeze, to an amazingly intricate layout of caves, ramps, cliffs, and bridges, to the need to "pedal" harder as you're going up hills. This is definitely one you can spend a lot of time on and not even realize you were exercising. 2.5 METs.

Rhythm Kung-Fu (Workout intensity: 3 of 5, Fun 5 of 5): This is the first game that put a huge smile on my face. Using your Wiimote, the Nunchuk, and the Balance Board, you have to strike different "kung fu" poses in rhythm to delightfully cheesy kung-fu movie music. It's essentially a game of "Simon Says", where you mimic the moves of a groups of Miis standing behind you (and if you have family or friend Miis on your system, you'll see some familiar faces). Another game that perhaps doesn't provide the most strenuous workout at first, but one you'll be playing over and over again to try to beat your high score (you're judged based on your timing). 3.0 METs.

Driving Range (Workout intensity: 1 of 5, Fun 4 of 5): Sure, golf has been done in Wii Sports, in Wii Sports Resort, and in games like Tiger Woods PGA Tour. Wii Fit Plus brings something a little different to the table, though. You position the Balance Board vertically, and swing your Wii-mote like a golf club. There's a "swing analyzer" which is surprisingly good not just for casual video game golfers but also for real golfers to analyze their form. It measures the straightness of your swing, your weight distribution, and gives a pretty good indication of how far your drive will go. With these new improvements and the improvements of the Wii MotionPlus (which surprisingly isn't taken advantage of in Wii Fit Plus), I think it's safe to say that the Wii is very close to being a real-life golf simulator. 3.0 METs.

Segway Circuit (Workout intensity: 3 of 5, Fun 4 of 5): In a clever co-branding deal, Nintendo teamed up with the folks at Segway for this game. In it, you ride a Segway around the island trying to pop balloons that are being put up around the island by pesky moles. Like a real Segway, you lean forward to move forward and you lean back to go back, steering with the Wii-mote. An especially fun, if infuriating part is when you need to chase down the last mole all over the island to pop the last balloon. 2.0 METs.

Bird's-Eye Bull's-Eye, a.k.a. Flying Chicken (Workout intensity: 5 of 5, Fun 5 of 5): This is the one you probably heard about, and it (along with Obstacle Course) is the winner. Your Mii dons a chicken outfit and has to fly from target to target. How do you fly? By flapping your arms. Seriously. You can either flap your arms with your hands extended, or do a "chicken dance" type movement by bending your elbows. Either way, the Balance Board will amazingly detect how strongly, quickly, or slowly you're flapping. Like a real bird, you flap faster to get better control, and you flap slower to soar great distances. You control where you're moving by leaning on the Balance Board. It is, I kid you not, the closest you will ever come to flying like a bird. It's a great upper body workout that you'll do again and again. 2.5 METs.

Snowball Fight (Workout intensity: 2 of 5, Fun 5 of 5): This one is just plain fun. You use the Wii-mote to shoot snowballs at an invading army of Miis (again, if you have custom Miis stored on your system you'll see some familiar faces), and duck left and right to hide behind a barricade to avoid getting hit yourself with snowballs. All of the fun of a real snowball fight, none of the frostbite. 2.0 METs.

Obstacle Course (Workout intensity: 5 of 5, Fun 5 of 5): This is the game I was most looking forward too, and I was not disappointed. The way it's been described is that it's like Mario Bros, only you are playing the part of Mario running through a 3-D obstacle course. You run in place on the Balance Board to make your character move forward and you straighten your knees to make him jump. In the process, you'll be navigating around huge swinging wrecking balls, moving sidewalks, and falling logs. 3.0 METs.

Tilt City (Workout intensity: 1 of 5, Fun 3 of 5): I admit, I'm not so crazy about these "tilt" games, maybe because I'm just not very coordinated. This is a game where you need to tilt the Wii-mote and shift your weight on the balance board in a coordinated fashion to steer colored balls into the right container. It's not really an exercise game, but one more to test your reflexes and coordination. 2.0 METs.

Rhythm Parade (Workout intensity: 4 of 5, Fun 5 of 5): This was another one to put a huge smile on my face. You're basically a drum major, marching in place to the sound of a beat. Like rhythm games like Helix and Samba Di Amigo, you move your Wii-mote and Nunchuk to match on-screen cues. The better you match, the bigger your marching band becomes (and again, you'll see familiar faces join in the band if you have custom Miis). Like other Wii rhythm games of this ilk, I'm not sure how accurate the Wii and Nunchuk are (there are times I'm sure I move it on time but it doesn't register on the screen), but the game is pretty forgiving. 3.0 METs.

Big Top Juggling (Workout intensity: 3 of 5, Fun 4 of 5): No, this one won't really teach you how to juggle, but once you're done you'll have the same satisfaction as if you did know how. It's a game where you have to stay balanced on a giant ball (using your feet on the Balance Board), while at the same time keeping 1, 2, or 3 balls in the the air by flicking your Wii-mote and Nunchuk. Like with the Hula Hoop game, Miis to the side will throw balls in your direction, and if you've got three going at one time, they'll throw bombs to distract you. 2.0 METs.

Skateboard Arena (Workout intensity: 4 of 5, Fun 4 of 5): I am not a skater-boy, but still, this is a pretty fair representation of riding a skateboard. You position the Balance Board vertically and stand on it like a skateboard. You can build speed by pushing off your back foot (I find it helps to pull up on my front foot just a bit and push down to move). You steer by moving your body back and forth, and you can jump by straightening your knees. You go through a series of exercises just like a real skateboarder, from jumping on ramps to riding on rails to doing tricks on half-pipes. 3.0 METs.

Table Tilt Plus (Workout intensity: 1 of 5, Fun 3 of 5): This one is a lot like those labyrinth games where you're trying to steer a ball around holes (in this case, you're trying to get balls into holes). Again, not a big fan of the games where you tilt your body to control the playing field, but I suppose for someone a lot younger, thinner, and more coordinated than me these kinds of things are loads of fun :P. 1.5 METs.

Balance Bubble Plus (Workout intensity: 1 of 5, Fun 2 of 5): Same sentiments as I wrote above. This is an improved version of the old Wii Fit Balance game where you're floating in a bubble trying to navigate your way through a maze. As your bubble gets close to edges, you start to fidget and your bubble pops if you don't fix it right away. And don't get me started about the killer bees you meet at the end of the maze. As for me, I typically end up falling over on my face with these games :). 2.0 METs.

Basic Run Plus (Workout intensity: 5 of 5, Fun 3 of 5): This is a variation of the jogging game in the Aerobic games section of Wii Fit Plus. Like that game, you control this one by running in place on the Balance Board, and you're treated to a lot of great scenery and new paths to explore on Wii Fit Island. An added feature is that at the end of the game, you'll be quizzed on things you saw, which is added to your final score. This little improvement surprisingly makes the run a lot more interesting, as you make sure to carefully observe every little detail as you're running. 4.0 METs.

Other improvements:

1) The use of METs and report of calories burned. What does METs stand for? METs (which stands for Metabolic EquivalenTs) is a standard way to measure energy expenditure. One annoyance with the old Wii Fit was that whether you did an exercise that used no energy like a stretching exercise or one that expended vast amounts of energy like Super Hula Hoop, your progress was marked by the time spent or "Fit Credits" that didn't mean anything in the real world. With Wii Fit Plus, METs are used in conjunction with your body weight and the time spent to calculate the number of calories burned. There's even a neat little function in My Wii Fit Plus where you can see the number of calories you've burned in terms of food (you can even choose the type and amount of food you want to burn off and set it as a goal).

2) Balance Board improvements. With the old Wii Fit, each time you started a new routine, you'd need to wait for the Balance Board to calibrate. I suppose this was intended in the case where multiple people would be sharing the Balance Board, but it got annoying very fast. Wii Fit Plus is a bit more intelligent, in that it'll sense whether the weight has changed and give the option to recalibrate only if it has. I've experienced a number of "false positives" in which it thought my weight changed when it didn't, but that's just a minor annoyance compared to the old way. I was actually a bit puzzled as to why the Wii MotionPlus wasn't used in this game, but with the improvements to the Balance Board they really weren't necessary.

3) The ability to measure a child or pet. This is a gimmick, of course, but a totally fun one if you have the aforementioned child or pet to measure. :)

Overall, Wii Fit Plus is a winner. To Nintendo's credit, they weren't content just to rest on their laurels, but they came up with improvements that truly breathed new life into the Wii Fit. As for the title of Best Wii Fitness game, I would say at this point it's a virtual dead heat between EA Sports Active and Wii Fit Plus. EA Sports Active is still the better game for a traditional workout with a good combination of strength training and cardio exercise. But Wii Fit Plus wins hands-down for responsive and beautiful graphics and pure fun, which at the end of the day can be just as important (if it's fun, you'll play it again and again). I'm looking forward to seeing how EA Sports ups the ante.