Monday, December 21, 2009

Nutrisystem Update and New Year's Resolution

I realize I've been spending a lot of time talking about Wii games, and haven't talked very much about Nutrisystem. I suppose I should admit I've fallen off the wagon--I started a new job in New York City lately, and let's just say it would be a crime against nature if I were to eat a harvest nut bar for lunch when I was surrounded by some of the best culinary delights in the world.

But as you can guess, the combination of my eating and my extended hours at work have not been great to my figure. In the last few months, I've gained some weight back. The good news is, I've kept up my exercise (both from walking as part of my commute and from continued use of the Wii for exercise), so I'm only about 5-7 pounds up. But still, that's going the wrong way. It hasn't helped that I'm down to the least tasty Nutrisystem dinners and snacks (I need to avoid these when I place my next order).

So, for the new year I've decided to make a resolution. I'll still treat myself to nice restaurants for half the time, but the other half I'll eat Nutrisystem Select (that's the plan that comes with two weeks of the yummy frozen food and two weeks of the ranging-from-yummy-to-blech shelf-stable food, I'll be sure to eat a good balance of veggies and fruit, and will counter any over-indulgence with exercise. I'll post again when I order my new food. Wish me luck!

By the way, you may have noticed that Nutrisystem's stock price almost doubled in the last month. Wish I could take credit with this blog :) But it's because of two things: one, people are starting to buy diet programs again in this economy (it's counterintuitive, but when you do the math, it can be cheaper than eating out or even cooking yourself) and second, they're going to roll out nationally to Wal-Mart and Walgreen's stores around the country. It's definitely catching on.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review of We Cheer 2 for Wii

4.5 out of 5 stars

Outstanding update to one of the first and all-time best Wii rhythm games.

Reviewer: Nutwiisystem
December 18, 2009

If you've been to a professional basketball or football game lately, you'll see that cheerleading has come a long way. Gone are the days of "pom pom girls" and guys clappping and yelling into bullhorns. Today's cheerleaders can be just as much athletes as the teams they're cheering for. They have to memorize playbooks, they have to undergo constant and rigorous training, they sustain injuries, and their competitions can be intense grueling. But of course the difference is, they try to do it all with a pretty face and a smile.

That's a good way to describe We Cheer 2 by Namco-Bandai. The primary audience for the game is quite obviously girls from ages 7-15, but it can certainly be enjoyed by people of all ages. The We Cheer world is a bright, colorful world with wide-eyed cartoon cheerleaders with big eyes and bubbly giggles. The music is licensed and recognizable music from such teen pop stars as Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Avril Lavigne. Even Fergie's "Glamorous" is the "Clean Version". You definitely won't find suggestive moves or skimpy outfits, it's all very family-friendly. Grown-ups probably won't have as much fun as the youngsters outfitting their characters with pom-poms, outfits, and every hair color of the rainbow, but kids will love it.

Unlike the last version, you also have option to play as a male character, although after playing a few minutes as a male character, I had to stop. I'm not sure why the artists opted to make the male characters awkward and effeminate as opposed to the more athletic guys you see at real college basketball games, but let's just say after a few minutes even I wanted to beat my character up in the hallway.

As far as the game play goes, I was very impressed. The best way I can sum it up is the same way I summed up the Wiiware game Helix--it's a lot like Dance Dance Revolution for your arms and hands. You hold the Wii remotes in your hands like pom poms, your on-screen character will dance in a cheerleading routine, and your job is to mimic her moves as closely as possible, with on-screen arrows and animated "timing star" showing you the precise moves you need to make and the speed you make them in. If you're feeling adventrous, you can even turn off the visual indicators and simply follow along with actual movements of the characters on the screen.

If you follow her moves precisely, the screen says "Cool!" and you hear a jingling sound. If you miss, the screen will say things like "too fast" or "too slow" or even "needs more energy". The routines you follow are actual, choreographed routines, so this game is truly as close to a real cheerleading simulation as you're going to get. Granted, you're only scored based on your arm movements, but if you want a full workout experience, you can also follow along with all of the dance moves the on-screen character is doing.

Unlike other rhythm motion games, which involve only moving your hands up and down and from side to side, We Cheer 2 takes it to a whole other level. literally simulating an actual cheerleading routine. You'll clap your hands, dance from side to side, tilt and twist your body, shake your virtual pom-poms, and twirl and wave your hands. The choreography is actually pretty impressive; after playing the game over and over again (especially on expert mode), you can literally dance a full cheerleading routine that rivals the kinds you see at high schools and colleges.

The original We Cheer, like Dance Dance Revolution, was touted just as good for exercise as it was for fun. With We Cheer two, they once again put an "exercise mode" under the "Training" menu. In it, your on-screen character will take you through a Jane Fonda-like aerobic workout, selecting exercise routines with names like "Cheer your Muscles" or "The Calorie Burn". Each routine has a little story; in one case, a tubby guy approaches you because he gained a lot of weight from eating hot dogs while watching soccer games; in another case, a chubby brown bear (yes a bear) laments that he's got a crush on a panda who won't give him the time of day because he's too fat (okay, whoever wrote the dialogue is not going to win a Pulitzer). As a nice touch, the characters will have different sob stories each time you play.

The exercise routine will start, with your character shouting out moves that you have to mimic (high kick! grapevine!). As you successfully mimic each move, the guy will "poof" in a cloud of smoke, revealing himself to be thnner and thinner. At the end, he'll thank you for helping him get in shape, and you'll see a report of your total workout time, "calorie points", and workout success. The workout you get here rivals anything you'll find in a "pure exercise" game, but is much more fun.

As far as room for improvement, I would have liked to see longer exercise routines (you have the choice between a 2 minute quick workout and an extended 4 minute workout). I also would have liked to see a lot more routines (you get four to start, but you can unlock others).

If there's one wrinkle in this game, it's the response of the controller. I should say that the controls are much more responsive and accurate than most other similar games before it, from Samba Di Amigo to High School Musical to Dancing With the Stars. With Wii Cheer 2, just as the authors of Helix did, Namco-Bandai made the very, very smart choice of eschewing the use of the nunchuk and instead using two Wii remote controllers to control the hand movements. This greatly increased the responsiveness of the controllers, although admittedly there was still room for improvement. The controls were spot-on when I was playing on beginning mode or intermediate mode. But when I moved to expert, it was admittedly a bit aggravating when I knew I was making the right moves, but the system just refused to recognize them. I suppose this is because in expert mode, the movements need to be so fast and precise, perhaps more than the Wii can handle.

If you're having problems getting the controllers to respond, here are some things I did to improve it:
  • The Wii system and the We Cheer 2 game have options to adjust the controller sensitivity and to calibrate the controllers respectively. Play around with these.

  • Make sure your movements are exagerrated. If it tells you to raise your hands, raise them emphatically all the way you can. When it tells you to move your hands in a circle, make a full circle. Like a real cheerleader, be very deliberate in your movements, and make sure you follow the animated star precisely.

  • Practice, practice, practice. You'll have your best success when you've memorized the routines and do them precisely in real-time with the on-screen characters, as opposed to trying to match the on-screen cues. In the video you see above, I'm embarrassed to admit that it took me hours to clear the Expert mode for Miley Cyrus' "Girl's Night Out". But what helped was that as I tried over and over again, I started to memorize the routine, and once I did that, it just became a matter of trial and error to find out which motions worked for which moves. For example, in the part of the song where the cheerleaders are "high fiving" each other, I eventually found that you need to move your arms and wrists in an arc, and to "snap" your wrists at just the right moment.

  • In desperation, at one point I ended up removing the plastic cover from my Wii remote, and unplugging the MotionPlus controllers.

  • The biggest thing that ended up helping me was to move the sensor bar under the TV, rather than over it.

Here are some other things I liked about the game:
  • There are great options for multi-player play. You can play alone, you can have two players each holding two Wii remotes, or you can have four players each holding on Wii remote. It's great fun to play with friends or as a family.

  • The soundtrack contains a lot of recognizable, licensed songs which will excite any teen or tween girl in the house (and the rest of us who won't admit we occasionally tap our feet to them), including artists like Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Lady GaGa, Rihanna, and more.
To sum up, We Cheer 2 is a worthy successor to the original We Cheer, a lot of fun, and  great exercise to boot. While most Wii exercise games focus on lower body, but We Cheer provides a great low-impact upper body workout. Sometimes the best fitness titles are ones that aren't fitness titles at all, because you end up playing the game over and over again to try to beat the game, without realizing you're working out. The only gripes I have with this game is that I wish they had much more extensive "Workout mode" options, and I wish the controllers were a bit more precise for expert mode (it might have helped, for example, if they included MotionPlus support).

Still, at the end of the day I was impressed. It's a game which can provide lots of fun, a good challenge, great fun as a group, and at beginning and intermediate levels at least, the motion controls are spot-on. Highly recommended especially for girls in their teens and tweens, as well as adults who want a new and incredibly fun way to work out (and have a very good set of window shades :))

(Note: this review is based on a review copy of the game provided by the publisher)


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Walk It Out for Wii - Details about Konami's Upcoming Exercise Game

For those of you who use Dance Dance Revolution for exercise, you'll be happy to hear that Konami, the company behind Dance Dance Revolution, will be launching its first pure "exergame" in a few weeks. It'll use the DDR exercise mat (which in my opinion is still the best and most responsive controller out there, even over Ubisoft's camera and Nintendo's balance board and MotionPlus)

You can pre-order a copy of Walk It Out at Amazon, and of course, I'll post a full review when it comes. In the meantime, here are some snippets from a press release they issued today:
  • Will contain a large number of virtual scenic areas to walk through, including oceanside harbors, gaze up at skyscrapers, amble through bustling city squares, parks and other vistas.
  • Will contain over 100 great songs, including licensed master tracks and re-records of some of yesterday and today's hottest artists (including Demi Lovato, Jesse McCartney, Ne-Yo)
  • Will track progress with in-game charts, graphs and visuals to show calories burned, distance traveled, steps taken and more
  • Uses the DDR dance mat or the Wii balance board
  • Contains mini-games and puzzles that can be played alone or with a friend, including:
    • Whack-a-Slack: Whack-a-Mole for your feet.
    • Psycolo: Solve a brainteaser while you step to the rhythm.
    • Smash 'n' Run!: Sounds like a version of virtual tag.
I'll post more details as I get them.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Nutwiisystem is on Twitter!

nutwiisystem is on twitterSo, after months of putting it off, I finally decided to set up a Twitter account. If you'd like to follow me, just go here:

Of course, I'll still be maintaining the ever-popular lists of Best Wii Fitness Games, Best of the Rest, and Worst Wii Fitness Games on, and you'll be sure to find the latest reviews on the blog. But I'll also be Tweeting some great deals I come across for Wii exercise games, as well as interesting news and tidbits I come across. Enjoy!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Review of Dance Dance Revolution 3 for Wii

5 out of 5 stars

Still the best way to "Work out without realizing you're working out"

Reviewer: Nutwiisystem December 5, 2009

Dance Dance Revolution 3 for Wii, of course, is first a game and second an exercise title. But ironically, this is the thing that may make it more effective than any "pure" exercise title.

It continues to have the "fun" features which makes DDR so fun to play alone or with friends and family. The dance mat controller was the first and is still the best controller for accurate tracking of movements.

There are different modes to suit everyone from beginners to seasoned pros whose feet move faster than a hummingbird's wings."DDR School" provides an excellent tutorial for those getting started. "Tournament Mode" lets you compete in a "DDR Tournament" with different challenges (you can play yourself or with 3 others, but there's no online support). "Training Mode" will take you step-by-step through any song you choose so you can practice particularly complex moves. "Relaxed Mode" is for those who just want to play without any pressure.

On a positive note, I appreciate the fresher track list with more recognizable music, and I like the fact that they use more actual videos from the actual stars. I also liked that owners of Dance Dance Revolution 2 could unlock costumes and songs with their saved data. I was a little disappointed that the songs and videos are abridged versions and that the soundtrack list was somewhat limited.

But enough about the game itself. The rest of this review will focus on how useful it is for exercise and fitness (i.e. "Workout Mode"). And in this area, it is a solid winner.

Konami invented exercise games before anyone knew what an exercise game was. Long before Wii Fit or Wii Sports, there was Dance Dance Revolution. Kids in malls and homes everywhere were doing 30 minutes of rigorous and sustained aerobic exercise without even realizing it, while their parents with their Jane Fonda videos hardly broke a sweat.

A lot of us had been using DDR for working out, but this version of DDR fully integrates exercise as a game feature, putting it right on par with other "exergames" like Wii Fit Plus and EA Sports Active.

When you start Workout mode, it'll use the balance board to calculate your weight before you start working out. One nice touch is that after it takes your weight it doesn't show it right away. Pressing the "A" button will toggle between the asterisks and your weight. A nice feature if you have others in the room.

You'll be able to set a goal for your workout sessions. You can set a goal by play time (e.g. 30 minutes), or you can set it by the number of KCALS burned.

As far as the types of workouts, you basically have three options:

Standard: This is "classic DDR", where you move your feet to the music, and in my book it's still the best way to work out. Every song has four difficulty levels (beginning, basic, difficult and expert). I find that the "difficult" setting provides me enough of a challenge while getting my heart pumping and my body sweating.

Hypermove Mode: This is basically the same as Standard move, but also using the Wii remote and Nunchuks to move your arms. Here, I was not thrilled with the way the remote and Nunchuk are implemented. You need to wave your arms to the side making a rainbow-shaped arc, and to wave your arms to the front as if you're casting a fishing pole. Even when you make exagerrated movements, the controls do not always register. I would have preferred Konami to do like Helix or We Cheer 2, and allow the use of two Wii remotes instead of the less responsive nunchuk. I also would have preferred more punching movements than arm movements

Balance Board Mode: Balance board mode is a new feature on DDR 3. In it, you stand on the balance board and bump your hips to the front, back, and sides; make punching movements with the Wii remote and nunchuk; and roll your hips like you're hula hooping. For the most part the movements are accurate, but sometimes you need to exagerrate your hip movements to get them to register. Each song has two difficulty levels (basic and difficult), but even at its most difficult it's not nearly as strenuous as using the dance mat controller. Still, it is fun, it does get your heart beat up, and it's a good diverstion to provide some variety to your workouts if you get tied of Standard and Hypermove modes from time to time.

Some other nice features:

- One nice thing about Workout mode in general is that if you mess up, it lets you keep going. (You'll just have to put up with the announcer saying "dancer needs groove badly").

- For the Standard and Hypermove modes, you can select a menu option called "Cut", which will limit any beats other than quarter notes. This will essentially make your workout feel like a step class. In Hypermove mode there's also a menu option called "jump" which can turn off simultaneous step arrows (good if you have neighbors downstairs).

- For Standard and Hypermove modes, up to 4 players can work out together. There are a number of interesting multiplayer options. You can compete against each other for accuracy, or you can use "Friendship style" or "Sync Style" where points are awarded as a group.

- The "Diary" provides a great running history of the total calories you've burned, the average calories you burn per session, and the songs you've played.

Konami has continued to hold the bar high with every new release of Dance Dance Revolution. I'm glad to see they're introducing new innovations and are fully embracing the "exergaming" craze. At the end of the day, the best way to exercise is to do activities that are so fun you forget you're exercising.