I popped two ibuprofen pills into my mouth after a recent workout and sighed, "A video game did this to me."
"Wii Fit," Nintendo's latest product for its phenomenally successful game system, caught my eye long before its May 21 release, with a promise to offer balance games, yoga, aerobics and strength training for people of any age.
Its bathroom scale-like console and $89.99 price tag didn't seem unreasonable, considering my son has been pining for comparably priced games, such as "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Star." And this game is aimed at the whole family. We already were feeling downright Herculean with "Wii Sports," a collection of animated games such as bowling, tennis, baseball, golf and boxing.
Wii Fit, however, is a lot more like a true workout than I expected. Despite the requirement that I designate an adorable avatar "Mii" to serve as my online identity, the games, strength conditioning and yoga poses by virtual personal trainers pushed my core and back muscles farther than they had been in years. Hence, the ibuprofen.
The Wii Fit's strength, without a doubt, is its ability to assess the balance of each game player while standing on the unique wireless console. Just a few weeks into playing and discovering a slight tilt to the left, I'm far more aware of my posture and stance, and I think I'm making adjustments.
The console also is what makes Wii Fit perfect for yoga novices. Yoga is reliant on a person's ability to stabilize and center his or her body, whether the pose is a half moon or sun salutation. Here, the virtual instructor talks you through a pose and breathing. A bright yellow circle and red dot represent your balance, and they help you visually focus on using proper posture and stance. It can be distracting, but it's an incredible indicator that you can't get with a traditional instructional DVD.
It also aims to be kid-friendly. All the balance and aerobic games operate in a cartoon Mii universe that is similar to many other Wii games. I admit loving the Hula Hoop toss and a game in which I propel my body in a bubble down a river. I'm close to beating my kids' best scores.
There is one aspect of Wii Fit that leaves me cold: running. I'm used to moving forward when I run, even on a treadmill. Wii Fit requires you to run in place for five minutes and maintain a pace. That's far too short a time to feel like I've burned legitimate calories. Also, my dog, Cooper, doesn't understand that I'm standing, squatting or lunging in the middle of the living room for a reason. He thinks I'm available to scratch his belly, and he waits and waits for the workout to end.
It's obvious Nintendo was aiming this new product at recreational athletes like me. Perhaps they hoped to pick up a few more parent couch potatoes too. The "Body Test" feature tracks your athletic progress by assessing your center of balance, weight and body control. Your Wii Fit age and weight, in fact, is based on a person's Body Mass Index - a scale that can distort even the buffest of bods and call them overweight.
This feature in particular already is being criticized for suggesting that some of its players are too heavy. Kids and teens have enough self-esteem issues and don't need a game knocking them down, critics say. I think it's more important that kids are finding out that exercise is fun.
And though my kids already have figured out a few ways to outsmart the console - say by using their hands and not their feet - they find it as much fun as games that only require hand-held controls.