Sunday, November 29, 2009

Review of Your Shape for Wii


3 out of 5 stars

A valiant attempt to create a new kind of Wii fitness game which unfortunately falls flat due to technological flaws.

Reviewer: Nutwiisystem November 29, 2009
jenny mccarthy your shapeLike others, I really, really wanted this one to work. Your Shape is an exercise game that, done properly, could have revolutionized the whole genre. At the end of the day though, Ubisoft bit off a little more than it could chew technologically. The result is a game which is nothing short of amazing those times you can get it to work properly (about 35% of the time), and just plain infuriating when you can’t (the other 65%).

Of course, what sets this title apart from the others is the inclusion of an “Innovating Motion Tracking Camera” to detect your movements. In actuality, this is just an ordinary USB Webcam. (Not exactly a technological revolution, but on the flip side if you don’t have a Webcam for your PC, you can use this one as a “free” one—I plugged it into my Windows XP laptop and it recognized it immediately).

Setup is a snap. You plug the camera into a USB port on the back of your Wii. When you put in the game CD for the first time, you’re prompted to perform a system update (presumably to install the driver for the camera).When you start the game the first thing you see is Jenny McCarthy giving a long laundry list of advice for how to set up your camera. Following these instructions will give you the best chance of success with this game but for reasons I’ll mention below, it may not be enough.

The video version of Jenny is then replaced with a slightly creepy animated version (with way too much computerized eye shadow on). An annoyingly frenetic, peppy cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” plays over and over and over again in the background, perhaps the game makers’ way of getting you to make your selections quickly.

Setting up your profile:

You start by setting up your profile. This works about the same as other games in the genre: you type your name, create an optional password, choose your units of measurement (not sure if people understand what “imperial” is, but it’s “not metric”), enter your gender and year of birth, and enter your height and weight. You still have to enter your weight by hand—in this day and age it’s inexcusable for them not to have added some balance board support.

Once you’ve entered all this, the game will turn on your camera and you’ll see yourself on the TV screen. From here, the system will “scan” your body and show an outline of your body. At first I thought this was amazing, but then I realized that the outline of my body was only just based on the height and weight I entered. In other words, the “body scan” is really nothing more than a gimmick. Its sole purpose is probably just to make sure your camera is in the right position.

You select a part of your body you want to work out: shoulders, arms, back, chest, glutes, or legs. For each of these, you can choose whether you want to burn, tone, and/or build strength. Ostensibly, your workout routine will be customized based on what you enter.

The Fitness Evaluation

The next step is taking you through an “evaluation”. Jenny will first ask you your current cardio level (sedentary, moderate, or active), as you how you're feeling, and then send you through some typical exercises of the type you’d do in your daily workouts. And this is exactly where you start to see both the best parts and the worst parts of this game.

The first exercise is a warm up march. I loved how the on-screen animated Jenny is juxtaposed to your video image, so the two of you will literally make the same movements at the same time. Every exercise has an optional tutorial where you can learn how to do it; or, you can just mimic Jenny’s movements.

The first time I did it, it did a fairly amazing job at detecting whether I was moving my legs and my arms. And it wasn’t just looking for random movement on the screen—if I stopped moving my arms but not my legs, the screen would flash “Arms!”, and Jenny would also tell me to start moving my arms. “Okay”, I thought. “This is going to be cool”.

The next exercise was jumping jacks. This was a disaster. Not once did the system properly detect my arm movements. For hours I tried everything possible to get this working. I tried changing into different colored outfits, exaggerating my movements, changing the timing of my movements, standing toward the front and toward the back, and even changing the lighting in my room. Each time, Jenny would yell out “Uhp! Please check out your arms!” and the on-screen report of how well I was doing the exercise would always plummet. My percentage of correct exercises was always in the 30 percent range, even though I knew I was doing all the exercises properly.

The next few exercises were lateral raises, squats, plies with shoulder presses (basically an exercise where you move your arms and legs like a frog and move up and down), and cool-down stretching exercises. They were hit or miss as far as my movements being detected. Whenever it worked, it was amazing. But unfortunately, for every one time it detected my movements, it would fail several times.

At the end of your “evaluation” Jenny will then give you a letter grade, but chances are you won’t be happy, as your grade will be artificially low because the game couldn’t pick up your moves. Based on all the information you provided and your “fitness evaluation”, she’ll recommend a fitness calendar with preprogrammed workouts for the week. You can customize the days and the amount of time you want to spend exercising.

Daily Exercise

From there, you just start up the Wii every day you’re scheduled to exercise and click “Workout” to go to your prescribed workout session.

As other reviewers have said, from a pure exercise point of view, this title is really no different from Ubisoft’s previous title My Fitness Coach. The exercises are “old school” calisthenics moves with names like “double heel jacks” (jumping up and down while kicking your heels) to “turn steps” (walking to the left and right while turning and swinging your arms) to “grapevines” (walking to the left and right while swinging your arms and clapping). The package touts that it has “over 400 exercises”, but the truth is there are just 400 variations of jumping, swinging your arms, moving your feet, and stretching. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—it’s a very complete set of workout routines.

On other positive notes, it really helps that you can see your own video image next to the animated Jenny, to see precisely how she does the exercise. And I do like the attention to detail, for example in how the on-screen Jenny will know “the weather’s getting cold outside” or that "mornings are a great time to work out", as well as how customized it feels (for example, how she’ll put together just the right exercise regimen to satisfy your goals).

The Achilles Heel of this title, of course, is how inconsistently the camera tracks movements. Poor controller response is the cardinal sin of Wii games. It seems that Ubisoft came up with a great idea and put in a valiant attempt to make it happen, but the technology simply isn’t there yet. I suppose the first warning sign was that they signed up Jenny McCarthy to be the star of the game. From Jillian Michaels to Daisy Fuentes, it seems to be the kiss of death for a Wii game when a celebrity is asked to headline a video game. Who knows what this title could have been had they spent the money they’re paying the celebrity for development and testing. I’m not a software engineer, but I wonder if there was anything at all they could have done to improve things, from providing reflective arms straps or leg straps which could be better detected by the camera, to doing more meaningful calibration than they do today, to supplementing the video information alone with Balance Board, Nunchuk, or Wii remote information.

From what I can tell, doing certain things gave you the best chance for success, but they were far from foolproof:
  • Stand in the middle of the screen. Make sure your on-screen image is about the same size as the animated Jenny’s image (stand 8-10 feet away).

  • Make sure the background is plain, and that your clothes contrast against the background (e.g., wear all black if you’re exercising against a white wall and wear very bright clothes if you’re against a darker wall). Clear away everything from the camera’s view.

  • Time your exercises to precisely match the animated Jenny’s on-screen movements. Your own video image will lag, so you need to match her movements. The music is completely useless (it’s just background music with a beat independent of the exercise).

  • Make sure the lighting is such that your images isn’t too bright (e.g. next to a sunny window) or too dim (have a lot of ambient lighting)

  • Make sure there’s nothing else in the image that’s moving.
To sum up? Ubisoft came up with a great idea here, but they just couldn’t get it working. You’ll get essentially the same exercises with the $19 My Fitness Coach, so you need to ask yourself if it’s worth an extra $50 for little more than a generic Webcam and a sometimes-brilliant, sometimes-frustrating experience.

To sum up? A great idea, and if everything worked, I’d be touting it as the new king of the hill. But at the end of the day the poor responsiveness makes it too frustrating to deal with. Exercise-wise, there’s nothing here you can’t get in the $19 My Fitness Coach. So the question you need to ask yourself is, is it worth an extra $50 for a low-end Webcam and the thrill of seeing your own image on-screen, knowing that the motion-detecting technology is frustrating and probably years away from being perfected.

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1 Comments:

At November 30, 2009 at 8:55 AM , Blogger raina said...

Wow, I still really want to try out this game. Ubisoft's games are incredible like the Rayman Raving Rabbids. I was really hoping that the camera would scan my body in. I thought Project Natal was scooped, but not yet... I'd like to try my hand at getting the game to work properly using my skills as a fitness professional and Wii fitness expert.

 

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