The lights are on
I've dabbled in exercise-based games since Your Shape Fitness hit the original Xbox (No, I don’t count the Nintendo Power Pad.) In my latest foray into the genre, I'm running (and squatting, and lunging) through one of Nike + Kinect’s four-week training programs. In the first installment, I get assessed and exhausted.
Mixing video games and exercise may seem counterintuitive for people who don't play games, but I've always thought the combination made a lot of sense. The term gamification gets thrown around a lot these days, but games can add constant feedback and rewards that might otherwise be difficult to achieve. Not everyone has access to, or can afford, a personal trainer. These games provide the next best thing, though some are more…next best than others.
My goal here is to run through one of the game’s recommended programs while tracking my results. More importantly, I’m going to provide my thoughts on how the game fares over a fairly long term. I read through a lot of coverage on these games, and I find a lot of it lacking. It’s typically based on a quickie session or two, which are generally held during special events, under optimal conditions. That can be a great way to get a first impression, but I’d rather hear from someone who’s stuck with a program in the real world, sweating in their stereotypical basements. So that’s what I’m going to try to do. I’d like to continue doing this kind of coverage with other fitness games as they are released. Nike+ Kinect Training just happened to have come out now.
Once I cleared some space in my room, I fired up the game. I had to fill out a basic questionnaire (height, weight, gender, etc.), and then I was asked if I wanted to create or link to my Nike account. There’s a fairly complex social-networking ecosystem with this thing, which I’ll get to in a later post. For now, just know that I said, “Heck yeah,” and went through that whole process. At that point, I was feeling pretty good. I picked my trainer, Alex Molden, over his female counterpart, Marie Purvis. I don’t really have a good reason for my decision, aside from the fact that he seemed nice. But so did Marie Purvis!
With all that out of the way, it was time to actually get started. First, Alex ran me through a physical assessment, checking out my flexibility, balance, and strength. Kinect’s motion tracking worked quite well, which is always a relief. That thing is a fickle piece of equipment. When my form sucked, such as when my squats weren’t dipping low enough, Alex would give me some gentle verbal feedback. He wasn’t particularly impressed with my pushups, either. To be completely fair, it only counted the ones that were actually pushups. Busted. Apparently, my balance is better on the left side than the right, too, and Alex said that the program would address it. We’ll see.
Once the game had a rough idea of where my fitness levels were at, it was time to come up with some goals. I zipped past strength- and athletic-focused programs in favor of the “stop being so fat” option. OK, it’s phrased a little more diplomatically than that. The sentiment is identical, however.
My first session concluded with a series of running drills and other basic exercises. The actual workout was pretty short, probably because the assessment ate up so much time. When it was all over, I’d spent about 25 minutes hopping around in my basement. All of my progress and drillwork was converted into the mysterious Nike Fuel, which is the basic currency that Nike’s using across its various fitness efforts. I scored 44 fitness points and 66 under athleticism. That didn’t help much (context, please?), but Alex did say that he scored a 65 athleticism ranking. Apparently, I’m already more fit than my trainer! Maybe I should be leading him through these drills.
Before he left me, Alex asked how many days I wanted to commit to the program. I signed up for five days a week, because I am dumb. If nothing else, I can see how it responds when I miss a day. You know, for research purposes.
After Alex gave me the boot, I still felt good enough to check out one of the game’s weekly online challenges. I ran in place for a few minutes (knees up!) and tried to get as many strides in as I could in the allotted time. I did about 120 steps, and I felt pretty great about it. Then I saw the leaderboards, where the number one position was at approximately 400 strides. There’s always room for improvement, right?
The walk back up my stairs was surprisingly tiring. Spoiler: I think that’s going to be a theme of this program.
The second day built off the first day, continuing the “kill Jeff’s legs” theme. As expected, there was a lot of cardio. (I spied ahead in the calendar, and it looks as though I’ll be doing some strength and weight training next.) To give you a sense of what the drills were like here, I ran in place while occasionally following Alex’s instructions to jump into a spread-eagle pose. There were a couple of pushup routines, along with my least favorite activity, lunges. And there were plenty of lunge variations, too.
The hardcore activities were broken up by something that resembled that ridiculous Hole in the Wall game. A glass wall would scroll slowly toward the screen, and I had to align myself with holes to prevent it from shattering. Rather than throw up my hazy-edged Kinect body onto the screen, Nike+ Kinect translated my form into a matrix of little lit-up squares. I preferred it over the more recent Your Shape Fitness Evolved games, which turn your body into a monochromatic blob. There were a few glitches; my couch suddenly became part of my body in the first session, for example, but that didn’t happen in my second day.
At the end, I felt like dying, though the constant audio feedback helped out tremendously. Alex would let me know when I was approaching personal records, which was incentive for me to squeeze out a little extra effort. I was especially proud when my exhausted third-round self was able to break a record that my daisy-fresh counterpart set a few minutes earlier. At the end, I accidentally agreed to a bonus round, too. I even took on the daily challenge, which, in retrospect, was a stupid thing to do. Suffice it to say, I didn’t approach anything close to the 120 steps I’d made a day before.
At the end I was sweaty and exhausted. The onscreen counter showed a measly 100 calories burned, but that’s not the only story. I felt the effects for an hour or so afterward, and the walk to the parking lot this morning was awful. That’s progress, right? Right?!
Keep visiting for more information on the workouts, progress, and other details. As I said earlier, I’m going to try to keep this interesting and go beyond a simple “I did this, lost that.” Look ahead for deeper dives into online functionality, Nike Fuel (what the hell are they talking about, anyway), online competition, and more.
Email the author Jeff Cork, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.