“Exergaming” has been around for a while now; I can recall working up a sweat in Dancing Stage (aka Dance Dance Revolution) on PlayStation 1 back in university.
It was arguably Nintendo who really popularised the concept in the Wii generation, however, with Wii Fit, Wii Fit Plus and subsequently Wii Fit U all setting a great example that a number of other developers and publishers strove to emulate. Exercising at home could be practical, said these games, and it could be fun, too!
The Wii and Wii U generations are behind us now — though I know some people are still religiously using Wii Fit, and all credit to them — so it’s time we had a successor, right? Enter Fitness Boxing for Switch.
Fitness Boxing was developed by Imagineer, a company primarily known for bringing a number of Western games to Japan, but with a number of original games under its belt. The game is, however, published by Nintendo, and it’s clear the big N had a fair amount of input. The overall aesthetic of the game is strongly reminiscent of the Wii [x] titles in terms of menu layout, colour scheme and even font — so it’s entirely possible that this is just the beginning of a new range of lifestyle games for Nintendo’s newest console. Whether or not this is the case, Fitness Boxing is a solid choice for those looking to make use of their console to improve their lifestyle.
Your first day in Fitness Boxing consists of a short introductory routine in which you’re instructed by default trainer Lin. She takes you through a simple series of exercises and shows you around the main features of the game — specifically, the “daily training” option and the “free training” option for those who want to push themselves a bit harder.
From your next day onwards, you are invited to enter some personal data — height and weight, from which the game calculates your BMI — and set yourself a fitness goal. Given that the Switch lacks a Balance Board (and is incompatible with Wii accessories), you have to know your weight yourself, but if you’re trying to get fit or lose weight chances are you’re already aware of this. If not, get on those scales; it’s better to find out sooner rather than later, and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. I speak from experience!
The fitness goal consists of a number of components. You’ll need to indicate what kind of workout you’re after — be that cardio, bulking up or maintenance — and the areas of the body you’d like to focus on, with “full body” being an option. After that, you’ll need to indicate whether or not you want to incorporate warm-up and cool-down stretches into your routine, and how long a workout you’d like to do each day; the game recommends 35-45 minutes, but you can make your daily sessions as short as 15 minutes if you so desire. You can also change your goal at any time — despite the word “goal” there’s no “victory” condition as such, it’s designed to be an ongoing thing — so if you’re concerned you might not be able to endure one of the longer durations, you can start small and work your way up.
After that, it’s up to you to tackle your fitness regime as you see fit, though the game clearly expects you to do a bit every day, as it records consecutive days in a “fitness streak” that you’re encouraged to keep up, and the in-game calendar shows on which days you will unlock new content for the game on the assumption you continue to follow your current fitness goal every day. Content is primarily unlocked by how many punches you’ve thrown, so these “unlock predictions” are based on the average number of punches you’ll throw in a session; since the individual workout components vary in duration and intensity, they are a guideline more than anything.
The workout itself unfolds in a simple, easily understandable way. The optional stretch routines do not use any sort of motion tracking and consequently are not scored; you’re simply expected to follow along with the moves of your on-screen trainer, which are clearly depicted and vocally explained in either English or Japanese according to your preferences — there are on-screen subtitles, too, and you can turn the trainer voice off altogether if you so desire.
After that, you’re taken through a sequence of discrete sequences, each of which corresponds to a musical track, and is either “Normal” or “Fast” as well as “High” or “Low” intensity. High-intensity sequences tend to last longer, encouraging you to build up stamina; lower-intensity sequences are often used to teach you new moves and combinations.
Each individual sequence works in the same way. There are two bars on screen, and icons scroll up them in a jerky, beat-by-beat manner according to the music. When the icon hits the “Target” marker, you perform the move with a Joy-Con in your hand, and you’re ranked on timing — “perfect”, “OK” or “miss”. The motion tracking is not particularly precise; you don’t actually need to do the exact move expected of you, just waft the Joy-Con in a vaguely punch-like fashion, but you get out of Fitness Boxing what you put in, so you may as well do things properly.
The structure of each sequence is always the same: you start in Orthodox stance (and are encouraged to bob back and forth in time with the music for additional cardio and work on your legs) and learn a combo, one punch at a time. You will then be challenged to repeat that combo four to eight times in succession, after which you’ll have a brief break of a few seconds, then switch your stance and do it the opposite way around. The higher-intensity or longer workouts will typically repeat this procedure after that, sometimes with a different combo.
The game begins with simple jabs (punching with your front hand) and straights (punching with your back hand) and gradually introduces other concepts such as hooks (swinging across your body) and uppercuts (swinging from low to high). After you’ve mastered these basic punches and some combos using them, defensive moves such as ducking are also added, working your legs as well as your arms. Again, all the motion tracking is handled with nothing but the Joy-Cons (a duck is detected by both Joy-Cons moving down, for example) so a certain degree of honesty is required, but really, what’s the point in “cheating”?
At the end of each individual sequence, you are shown a breakdown of your Perfect, OK and Miss punches, how many of the combos you got completely right, a percentage score and a rating from one to three stars. It’s very hard to not get three stars if you’re actually trying and/or have a decent sense of rhythm, but you’re never made to feel like you’re “failing” if you underperform in a particular area; the trainers all make use of positive reinforcement and encouragement in their dialogue rather than highlighting your weaknesses.
The workout sequences are each set to instrumental versions of a variety of well-known songs. These run the gamut from cheesy classics (I’m In The Mood for Dancing by The Nolans) to more modern hits (Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen) via stuff I never thought I’d hear again (Cartoon Heroes by Aqua) and all complement the workouts well with strong, regular, rhythmic backings; the instrumental arrangements mean that the songs are recognisable but not distracting and also, on a more technical level, means that the game can dynamically remix them and adjust their tempo according to the length, intensity and speed of the particular sequence you’re currently doing.
There aren’t a lot of songs on the soundtrack — just twenty in total — but the important thing to remember here is that this isn’t a music game; this is an “exergame” in which the most important thing is to get yourself into good habits, and the familiarity that a relatively limited tracklist brings is quite effective in establishing that feeling of routine. Besides, you’re not here to listen to the music; you’re here to punch the air and listen to a hot lady (or gentleman… but mostly ladies, since there are twice as many of them) count to eight and go “Boom, Boom, Boom” at you.
Some long-term appeal is provided by a series of costume components that you can gradually unlock for the six available trainers (naturally the skimpiest clothes for the hottest trainers are the most difficult to unlock), and you can also customise said trainers’ hair and eye colour to your own personal preferences. Each trainer has a unique voice, but they say the exact same things during workouts, so you won’t really get a feel for their “personalities” as such — they’re just someone to look at, listen to the instructions of and refer to while your workout is going on, but it’s hard not to start feeling a bit of attachment to them after just a few days of using the game regularly!
So how does it compare to something like Wii Fit? Honestly, it’s not directly comparable, primarily because Wii Fit provided such a broad array of activities, while Fitness Boxing focuses on just one. I actually think this is a point in the latter’s favour, however, since it means there are minimal distractions to take you away from the workouts that will be most effective.
More than once when I used to play Wii Fit, I found myself playing certain games because I found them fun and because they were easier than doing the “boring” yoga and muscle exercise sequences; here in Fitness Boxing, however, you don’t have the option to go and do something silly — and while some may miss that aspect, once again you need to ask yourself why you’d start using a game like this in the first place. For me, the tightly focused experience works much better, encouraging me to concentrate on what I should be doing. Plus the actual boxing “game” component is fun for me anyway — if surprisingly killer on the legs after a while — so I don’t find it a particular problem.
There are also some two-player modes available where you can either cooperate or compete against one another, and these can be played with either two pairs of Joy-Cons (one each) or a single Joy-Con each. These are designed to be more “fun” affairs than a part of your regular workout routine, however; the main focus of the software is on the single-player daily workout component, and chances are that’s where your main attention will be, too — when it comes to multiplayer games, you know the Switch has Smash Bros., right?
It’s early days for my fitness routine at the time of writing but I can already feel the game’s workouts having an effect — they work up a sweat without being overly exhausting — even for a fat shit like me — and you can definitely feel that you’ve been working both your arm and leg muscles in particular after a session is completed. For many people, the most valuable aspect will be the way it encourages you to get into a healthy, positive routine — and that’s certainly what I’m hoping to get out of it in the long term.
Will it magically make you slim and buff? No; you’ll nee more than a Switch game to do that, and you’ll need to commit to this to see even the smallest of benefits. But Fitness Boxing is certainly a great way to start yourself on the path to better personal health and fitness. And from there, who knows where you might be able to take yourself?
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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