- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nintendo revolutionized gaming with its magical Wii console and stands ready to change our lives for the better with its most ambitious, interactive peripheral to date.

The Wii Balance Board (rated E for everyone, $89.99, requires four AA batteries, included, packaged with Wii Fit) is a potent device that quickly can become part of an exercise and weight-loss program as long as its owner is willing to eat a balanced diet and participate in its challenges.

The board is a finely tuned pressure and movement sensor that when used with the Wii Fit simulation is part personal trainer, part statistician and part life coach as it melds virtual and real worlds.

Using more than 40 strength-training, aerobics, yoga and balance activities, the system enables players to establish a fitness routine and set attainable milestones.

An owner’s transformation from couch potato to active human begins after he or she creates a password-protected profile. He can design an avatar or choose from an already created Mii character from his core Wii system.

Next, he completes a few balance and posture tests, enters his age and height and stands on the board to get weighed. The system determines one’s body mass index (BMI) before it asks for goals to set up a progress calendar.

I need to note that the BMI calculation can be skewed for some and already has caused trouble. Actually, it’s Wii Fit’s biggest stumbling block.

The software can be inaccurate - and a bit cruel - in the way it definitively labels an individual as overweight, including giving his Mii a bloated gut. It’s especially unfortunate for a child. The software is just not smart enough to discern BMI on children. I would go so far to say that the Wii Fit software is geared more to players in their teens and older.

The system also does not allow the user to set up an individualized routine. It seems a no-brainer to have the ability to create an exercise package by cherry-picking favorite activities and stringing them together for a timed session, but there’s no such option.

Even with that in mind, folks still will find plenty of calorie-burning, sweaty fun as they choose a trainer and perform such muscle-toning tasks as push-ups (hands on the board please) step routines and body-exhausting yoga positions.

Those bored with more traditional workout methods can pass some time with balance challenges, such as trying to cross a tightrope while on the board and even keeping a virtual Hula-Hoop moving.

I especially loved being able to run in place (not on the board, but holding the motion-sensing Wiimote to monitor my movements) and get lost in virtual environments. On-screen courses were cartoony gorgeous, and I had a pal running slightly in front of me offering encouragement.

The Wii Fit regime is not a perfect system, but an even slightly motivated person will burn calories, save on the cost of a health club and perhaps become a much happier human.

The Balance Board is not just about serious exercise and has nearly limitless potential for use with other games. Namco Bandai already has proved the peripheral’s obvious functionality with the release of We Ski (rated E for everyone, $29.99).

Players use the board to virtually swoosh down 14 courses as they experience the fun - but not the cold snow in the face - of the outdoor sport. Using feet on the board to control ski movements and the Wiimote and Nunchuk as poles to push the on-screen Mii is a pretty slick experience.

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