If you're turning to a video game to get in shape, you're probably looking to save time or money, stay inside, or just need something new to inspire you. The good news: Your Shape: Fitness Evolved for Kinect does all of those things. It takes calorie-burning seriously, innovates by tracking your body movements, and has options for both men and women.
But like many first-generation launch titles, it's rough around the edges. The body recognition can, at times, be discouraging and even though there are quite a few exercises in total things will get repetitive, especially if you're focused on a particular routine. Still, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved is a solid entry into Kinect's get-healthy lineup and is worth the price of admission if you're willing to accept some of these shortcomings. Plus, it's just cool to experience.
Ubisoft has done a great job of making an interactive exercise product and not a game that's trying to disguise itself as one. There are no big-headed avatars, no confetti and party horns -- Your Shape: Fitness Evolved aims to be slick. The company's touted "player projection" technology actually puts your body shape inside of the game. And it's not just for looks. It scans you in for a few reasons: it creates menus around you customized to your height and it allows you to watch your form closely while you work out.
The menus are pretty ingenious. In a way, you're warming up just using them. They make you feel like you're really part of the environment and work well for the most part. But they are too over thought in some ways and occasionally slow you down. Given that you probably want to get in, get your workout done, and get on with your life you'll be wishing you had much quicker selection options.
Overall, though, the visual effort is appreciated. It's one of the few Kinect titles that tries to achieve the Minority Report look instead of the Nintendo Wii look. The workout environments are bright and clean, which will be a huge lift for those of you who intend to work out in the dark, dreary winter months. But there should have been more than the handful of them that are here. Your Shape feels rushed in that respect. I felt similarly about the visual player effects; all the right ideas are there, but it's only scratching the surface. There are around a dozen digital skins to choose from, including the ability to project your own image into the environment. For extra flare, you will see particles or flower petals streaming off of you, or your core may glow. It would have been great if this visual fluff meant something or acted as a reward for your success level. There's just not enough variety if you're going to be constantly coming back to the same environments.
The one design element that actually interferes with your play sessions is the tracking skeleton. It looks out of place in this glossy world, as if it was never quite finished. It will even shake around erratically when Kinect gets confused or can't see you correctly.
Fitness Evolved is a pretty ambitious idea and aims to show off the power of Kinect by watching your body while you work out. Form and pace are extremely important in fitness, so I was impressed that Your Shape is fairly capable when it comes to getting you to do things right. Every move comes with criteria that it's rated on, and if you're not hitting the speed or form you'll see the criterion go grey on screen or you'll get verbal feedback. It is really a breakthrough to have artificial intelligence correcting your form as it's watching you. Thanks to it, I had to squat lower, raise my arms higher, and slow down my pace -- all for the better. I see people working out poorly all the time, and the mistakes they make are often related to things like slouching, doing reps too quickly, etc. Your Shape: Fitness Evolved's ability to correct that is a huge leap forward and probably the most impressive aspect of it.
The problem is that it isn't always accurate. And, worse, when you may be doing something wrong, there's not enough feedback or on-screen cues to set you right. It's a combination of the software being totally wrong and not being able to specifically communicate with you like a trainer would. Furthermore, the way the game rates you feels harsh. This can really bring you down, because the feedback system is a centerpiece of the design. Whether you drop out of sync, start losing percentage-complete points, or don't hear that positive "ding" to reinforce that you're doing things right, it is quick to frustrate you. Interestingly, if your form is fine despite all of this, you're still getting a great workout. You have to learn to just keep moving and avoid becoming obsessed with 100% ratings.
So the big question is this: how much will this recognition inconsistency bother you? It will vary depending on your calibration, your initial detection, how bright or dark your lighting is, and some have even reported baggy clothing to cause issues. I didn't have trouble with the latter even when I threw on looser clothing, but here's a little tip: in the privacy of your own home, you can work out in the nude if you really want to. But, seriously, get some dry-fit gym clothing and ditch the baggy cotton! In that same vein, it is expected you realize you'll be moving around at least an eight- to 10-foot square space, and that you'll need a surface you can really stick to and move quickly on. You have to expect these things if you're going to get active.
Once you get your room, mind, and Kinect calibrated, Your Shape will give you a good workout and even some enlightening instruction on your form. Just be ready to ignore the moments when it's bickering at you to improve on already-good form and be available to experiment as you try to find a more accurate angle towards the camera.
IGN's Jessica Chobot's gives her preview impressions.
Content is broken up into three main categories: personal training, gym games, and fitness. All of them encourage use of dumbbells, and if you want more than just light toning and calorie-burning, you have to add that resistance. Ubisoft partnered with expert publications Men's and Women's Health, who are huge proponents of proper resistance training. So you can definitely trust in the workout routines. Unfortunately, there's no in-game tracking of the weight levels you're using, so you can't see your progress or gauge that intensity. Although to be fair, that data would be limited. The routines are about toning and never meant to be high-powered muscle builders that gym rats would want.
Unless you switch from one workout to the next, these routines get redundant as moves are recycled. The really bad news is that invaluable exercises like push-ups, planks, and sit-ups are sorely missing. Apparently, Ubisoft could not integrate these so Your Shape is ultimately focused on cardio, legs, and shoulders. Sure, the workouts are still intensive and provide overall toning, but variety is key if you want constant progress.
The gym games are quite a lot of fun, and leave you wondering why more of Fitness Evolved wasn't designed around these virtual environments. Hula hooping is fantastic for your abs, and the brick-breaking game is a great example of the potential of Kinect fitness games. There is also a light-chasing game that challenges your footwork and a board balancing game that will work your midsection and upper body. But they are just mini-game distractions, and it would have been great if they were turned into predictable, virtual workouts. For me, the true power of Kinect here is that you can be engaged in ways you can't be in real life. The gym games are definitely great for kids and family, though, and support up to four-player turn-based play where you compete for high scores.
Lastly, you have the fitness portion. It's a mix of Tai Chi, Zen meditation and cardio boxing. I was surprised that I really enjoyed the punching and kicking cardio sessions. I've never liked the idea of doing that in a class setting, so being able to get instruction in the privacy of your own home is great. The Zen portion is a solid addition, and a great way to stretch and cool down. You do some Tai Chi poses and some light, standing-only Yoga. However, because of the recognition issues, if you don't know these moves it's very hard to figure them out. The skeleton only helps so much and was definitely just completely wrong at times when I was playing. It could have really benefited from a mode like you see in Dance Central where you can slow things down until you get it right and memorized. After all, you shouldn't watch the screen if you want to get these poses right.
There is also an online element at Your Shape Center, where you can challenge friends to calorie-burning goals, as well as compete in leader boards and events, similar to the popular Nike Plus program. It's definitely great for replay value and your own motivation if you can get some friends online to challenge you. You'll also earn Ubisoft Uplay rewards and will be able to hook up your account there to download a few extra workouts, as well as things like Xbox 360 dashboard themes. It seems unnecessarily complicated to have to have multiple accounts, but Ubisoft will also be releasing add-on downloadable content before the end of 2010 for an average of five dollars. It promises to add dance-based routines and, with any luck, some more advanced moves to extend the replay value.