Ah, what could possibly be better than the charming jank of the Simple 2000 series on PlayStation 2? Why, the Simple 2000 Ultimate series, of course!
Yes, indeed, not content with 123 volumes of low-budget, experimental and weird titles, D3 Publisher decided to put out another range of 34 games under the “Ultimate” branding. Exactly what makes these particular 34 games “Ultimate” isn’t terribly clear, although they are prime examples of what the Simple Series has always been about.
And, just like the main Simple 2000 series, we got a random selection of Simple 2000 Ultimate games in Europe, once again mostly published by 505 GameStreet. Here’s a particularly fine specimen: Fitness Fun, also known as Love★Aerobi or Love★Aerobics in Japan.
Fitness Fun is one of numerous Simple Series games developed by Tamsoft and HuneX, and if you’ve played any of their previous titles such as Party Girls, Paparazzi and Demolition Girl, you’ll know immediately what to expect: scantily clad ladies doing provocative things combined with simple but addictive gameplay, likely inspired by arcade games to one degree or another. Oh, and the presence of Riho Futaba, a character who became something of a minor “virtual idol” over the duration of the PlayStation 2 era… for those in the know, anyway.
In Fitness Fun, you’re tasked with helping Riho Futaba train up for her idol career — specifically, the dancing aspect. As you might expect, this is implemented as a rhythm action game — though it’s got a few interesting twists along the way that distinguish it from the various “me too” rhythm game titles we had throughout the PS2 era.
Rather than a single note chart, each song has four “lanes” of notes that appear, eight beats’ worth at a time. You can switch between these “lanes” by pushing up and down on the D-pad, but only when the beat marker is on a thick line. When on a particular lane, you can tap the circle button to hit the various notes, with each hit being graded according to accuracy. There are only two types of notes: single notes which require a hit on the circle button, and long notes which require repeated hammering on the button.
The lane system allows you to effectively “create” your own note chart for each song, as there are often clearly easier and harder paths to follow. And since these are the same each time, repeated play will allow you to learn the charts and the optimal routes through them. Interestingly, there’s no direct penalty for skipping notes, only playing them inaccurately, so after a particularly frantic period you can catch a brief breather before attempting to get back on the beat.
It better only be a brief breather, though, because all the way through the track, Riho is getting more and more tired, represented by her “oxygen meter” at the top of the screen. This drains more quickly if you’re stuck on a thin line on the note chart and if you’re making lots of mistakes, and drains more slowly if you’re maintaining a good combo. As such, making it to the end of the song requires you to at least put in a bit of effort to counteract the constant drain on Riho’s stamina, and avoiding the thin lanes on the note chart is especially important where at all possible.
At the end of the song — assuming you made it — Riho will react according to how well you did, and then you’ll be given a grading and score according to your performance. You can generally anticipate what grade you’re going to get according to the level of the oxygen meter at the end of the track — failure gets you a D, Riho panting and being exhausted but still hanging in there will get you a C, decent performance will net you a B, and I have no idea how it’s humanly possible to get an A.
Clearing a new song with reasonable performance will generally unlock the next, while putting in a decent performance (high C grade upwards) on an existing song will often unlock a new costume for Riho to wear. Riho starts the game with a set of frumpy pyjamas and a shiny pink crop top and shorts combo that leaves little to the imagination, but as you progress you’ll unlock a variety of other outfits for her to wear, including her iconic blue bikini that she’s typically seen in, a school uniform, a cheerleader outfit and a very, very 80s aerobics getup.
Despite being released in 2005, someone on the Fitness Fun team was clearly in love with the ’80s. Not only are a number of the outfits distinctively ’80s in style, a significant proportion of the 12-track music list is very obviously ’80s inspired. Lots of beats that sound like they belong on a Rick Astley track, jangly guitars, tinny synths… glorious.
Fitness Fun is a challenging game; 12 tracks may not sound like very much, but don’t expect to blast through each one first time. It’ll take you a while to master them thanks to the unique mechanics on display here, and the costume unlocks and pursuit of high scores provide additional replay incentive. As a game originally released at a budget price point, there’s a decent amount of content here, and much like other Tamsoft and HuneX releases in the Simple Series, there’s plenty of arcadey immediacy here to keep you coming back for more when you just fancy a bit of silly fun.
In terms of grabbing a copy today, Fitness Fun is one of the less frequently seen Simple Series releases in Europe, likely because the decision to make the cover art look like it’s an actual fitness title a la EyeToy Kinetic rather than a music game limited its audience somewhat. As such, expect to pay a little more than the 50p you can typically pick up other Simple 2000 games for.
I’ll allow you to determine from my description here whether or not you think it’s worth paying that little bit extra to see Riho Futaba’s admittedly fine butt gyrating energetically to ’80s-inspired J-pop, but I’ve certainly had some fun!
More about Fitness Fun
More about the Simple Series
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3 thoughts on “PS2 Essentials: Fitness Fun”
What a coincidence, I only just bought this game a few weeks ago after stumbling over it while buying Police Chase Down.
Another one I just bought was Fighting Angels, which of course also features Riho.
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Ah yes, I have Fighting Angels but haven’t got around to trying that one yet! I didn’t love Police Chase Down, but I only gave it a little bit of time. Perhaps I’ll revisit it! 🙂
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