Fitness has become a huge topic in the past few years, as it should be. Tired of yo-yo dieting and rip-offs by the industry as a whole, twentysomethings have taken heavily to jogging, weightlifting, Pilates, and even alternative workouts like spinning and suspension classes. Competitive reality shows like MTV’s The Challenge and CMT’s Redneck Island have helped to encourage young people to get fit, with many of both shows’ stars actively promoting healthy lifestyles on their social media accounts throughout the years. It’s not that awareness of physical fitness is lacking, but the time required to get physically fit often seems scarce.
To achieve a good workout, 30-60 minutes of uninterrupted activity are needed, and many working adults find that nearly impossible to do with their typical schedules. However, many of these adults also squeeze in one-to-two hours of video games per night. As a gamer myself, I understand: after a long work day, you want to relax with a fun adventure into another realm. But if you’re like me, you also want to feel productive and less guilty about that potluck you devoured at lunch. That’s why you have to find the best of both worlds.
Starting with the release of Wii Fit in 2007, numerous fitness games have been released across all major consoles. Some of these are straight fitness titles, which emulate the gym experience and hold you accountable with daily progress reports. Others are fun, “party” titles, that feel more like a typical gaming experience than your typical workout session. Think of it as gym class vs. Recess: while gym class is more structured, both activities cause you to build up a sweat.
Again, there are numerous fitness games on the market today, perfect for filling anyone’s specific needs and goals. Below are some of the games that I have enjoyed best, along with which systems they can be found on.
#5: Wii Fit/Wii Fit Plus (Wii)
Wii Fit and its successor are widely touted as the games that started the fitness game craze. I remember working at GameStop when this game was released and receiving numerous calls from anxious customers wanting to grab a copy. Why? Because it works.
One big staple amongst the gaming community is the rewards system found in most games. Achieve big things? Add to your gamerscore! Collect many items? Use the currency to purchase new ones! Wii Fit realizes this and executes it into its system. The more workouts that you do, the more coins that you receive in your exercise bank. These coins allow you to unlock new games, levels, and workouts to add to your roster, motivating users to push themselves to unlock new levels and skills.
Instead of focusing on one aspect, the Wii Fit helps to improve your balance, strength, cardio, and stretch flexibility. The game tracks your progress, weight, and BMI as it rotates you through yoga, soccer, and even hula-hooping to help you achieve your fitness goals!
You can find a copy of both game discs and the needed Wii Fit Balance Board for fairly cheap at most vintage game stores, as well as via online sellers on eBay and Amazon. If you still have a Wii in your home, pick up a copy and start on your road to wellness!
#4: Zumba (Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, Wii, Wii U, DVD sets)
Dancing is a fantastic way to work out, and it is one of my preferred methods. Although all forms of dance will improve your health and create noticeable changes, Zumba is one of the best methods of achieving this. Not only is there constant movement involved, but you also get treated to hip swishing, core crunching, and lots of choreographed leaping.
The Zumba Fitness organization has realized this and has developed many games and DVDs to encourage you to get your dance on. I highly recommend using this series via Xbox consoles due to the full body tracking system the Kinect offers players. This way, you can make sure your moves are on point for your entire workout, and can foster moves that you can show off to friends and family post-workout.
My favourite title in this series is the original Zumba Fitness game for Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. It features authentic Latin music to combine with authentic Latin moves. From Salsa dancing, to the Meringue, to the Flamenco, to Belly-Dancing, this game features it all. Another favourite is Zumba World Party for Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, and Wii U, which—alongside tradition Latin grooves—comes equipped with some chart-topping American hits from Lady Gaga, The Donnas, and more!
The fantastic thing about the Zumba games is—as mentioned previously—you are learning traditional dance moves. This means that you can attend dance classes and incorporate the moves learned in your living room for these very same classes. The Zumba Fitness organization has top coordinators like Tanya Beardsley, Gina Grant, and Marcie Benavides creating the choreography for these games and DVDs, so you know that you are getting the top treatment!
#3: Your Shape: Fitness Evolved (Xbox 360, Wii U)
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved is probably your typical fitness workout, like you would expect from a gym. Using the Kinect and Wiimotes systems, you are able to choose whether you want cardio, strength building, running, yoga, dance, etc. and are put through increasingly difficult rotations of each. Similar to Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus, players are treated to a rewards system that unlock new workouts and modes.
One of my favourite elements from this series is the running mode. Replicas of major cities like New York City have been inserted into the game, so as you run in place you are able to experience a virtual demo of a new location. Your previous times are also recorded, so you are able to pace yourself and also try to beat your own time. Do you have friends who have used this game? Their records are also present in the game, so you can try to out-do your friends.
Another favourite for me is the dance feature. Similar to Zumba, you can choose a style of music to use for your workout. You then can either undergo a training regimen for that style, learning the ins-and-outs of your salsa or jazz dance, or you can choose to jump right in and follow an on-screen instructor for a sweat-inducing jam session.
This is definitely my top recommendation for someone wanting more of a traditional workout session without all of the fancy bells and whistles many of the other fitness games have to offer. You can get in your push-ups and burpees with ease, all from the comfort of your own living room and without all of those pesky gym on-lookers!
#2: Dance Central series (Xbox 360, Xbox One)
Whereas Your Shape: Fitness Evolved is my pick for a traditional workout, Dance Central is my pick for a non-traditional workout. There is nothing in this game that advertises to people, “You are going to get into shape playing me”, but by golly you will!
The concept is pretty easy: follow on-screen dancers to perform hit songs using any of three difficulties. If you run out of songs, you can purchase more of your choosing. A story mode also helps to guide you throughout the game, making it quite addicting to many that I’ve seen play it, including myself.
You will get drenched playing these games, especially with the harder difficulties. Top choreographers were hired to perfect these routines, so the dances on their top difficulties are fully-fleshed out works of art that will leave you leaping across the room, spinning around, popping-and-locking, and sometimes even rolling on the ground. If you have ever wanted to feel like a talented dancer, learning these routines will do it, and they will leave your heart pounding as a result.
The perk is that—since this is not toted as a fitness game—it’s easy to get friends involved with it as well. With Wii Fit and Your Shape, you can’t really throw a party for those. Those are more of solo projects. For Zumba and DDR (which I’ll mention next), you’ll get some people to join in, but others will just sit on the couch and watch.
Most people will easily want to join in for Dance Central, however, and many Dance Central parties that I’ve thrown have gone on for hours and gotten hugely competitive. Insults may fly, arms may collide, and at the end of the night, everyone leaves sweaty and refreshed.
My top recommendation is Dance Central 2, both for the track listing and the story mode. Also, games from Dance Central can be imported into its successor, and games from both predecessors are easily imported into Dance Central 3. Dance Central Spotlight for Xbox One, has left something to be desired and is the series’ weak spot in my opinion, but any of the original three will leave you with a phenomenal 400-calorie-per-hour burn rate of awesomeness. In fact, there is only one fitness game series that I feel can defeat Dance Central…
#1: Dance Dance Revolution series (PS2, Xbox 360, Wii, Arcade)
DDR is one of the most versatile fitness games out there, due to the sheer number of systems that it can be found upon. While it is true that the latest consoles have not released any new games on them at this time, the older consoles are now very cheap (along with the games) making it very cheap to pick up a few.
DDR was my main workout throughout high school, and I was in the best shape of my life as a result. I would play for at least one hour per day, with multiple hours on weekends. For fans of coordination games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, DDR (and its cousins Pump-It-Up and In The Groove) will be right up your alley. With four difficulty settings, this series is perfect for both first-timers and veterans of the series. Regardless of your difficulty level, it is nearly impossible not to leave a thirty minute session not breathing heavy and covered in sweat.
The PS2 games are widely hailed as the best of the console ports, and I would have to agree. I recommend those interested in trying out the series to pick up Extreme and Extreme 2 on the PS2 and get used to those. Extreme is a little easier and a great starting game: it’s the game I primarily used when first starting out in 2005, and it is the game that I still train new players on to this day. Extreme 2 is one of the hardest (but most loved) in the series, has a HUGE roster of songs available, and provides literally hours of fun before you ever have to repeat a song once.
For those preferring Arcade cabinet systems, you are in luck! A new machine was just released this past July, christened Dance Dance Revolution A (pronounced “Ace”). These cabinets are primarily available at Dave & Buster’s locations throughout North America, and are popping up in some newer locations as well. Ace features many new songs by EDM creators, a few radio hits from America and Japan, and numerous fan favourite tracks from over the past twenty years. Sadly, no word on a console port has been revealed at this time, but you know that I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.
Bottom Line: Fitness is for everyone, and substituting an hour of your normal game routine for a fitness game is a great way to build a healthy lifestyle and maintain it. Most of these games can be purchased for cheap via secondhand stores and used sections of GameStop. Most of these systems (apart from Wii U and Xbox One) are also pretty easy to come by.
It is rare that I go to a gym or do a traditional workout, and my fitness has been maintained for the past ten years almost solely using fitness games! Try out one of the titles listed above for a week, and experience results that you would have never imagined could come from a video game. I believe in you!