Kinect is already awash with fitness games from most major publishers – THQ’s The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout, EA’s EA Sports Active 2 and Ubisoft’s Your Shape: Fitness Evolved have all launched in the sensor’s first few weeks on sale, but now relative minnow Black Bean Games has entered the fray with Get Fit with Mel B. While the game doesn’t do quite enough to gain a strong recommendation over the other titles, it’s still a worthy workout that might surprise you with its qualities.
Each fitness game so far has used a different method to track and feedback your inputs; The Biggest Loser used a 3D scan and EA Sports Active favoured an on-screen avatar powered by your inputs, but Mel B goes for the simplest method imaginable: a video of you, doing your exercises. While your trainer Mel works out on the left-hand side of the screen, the other half is taken up with your form copying her actions, making it easy to see where you’re going right or wrong.
The former Spice Girl performs each exercise for you to mimic, describing them first before performing a quick practice rep to get you up to speed, but the descriptions are often vague and don’t give you a good idea of what to expect. Memorising each description isn’t really an option either, with 200 exercises to learn, and although you can practise any routine before a workout or pause mid-flow and ask for a tutorial video, your first time performing any exercise will likely see you struggle to coordinate for a few reps.
Once you’ve got into the swing of each stretch, twist or bend your aim is to match Mel’s brisk pace and exertion levels, scoring points and filling a green performance bar to the right. If you slow down or have to stop, Mel will still continue to give you a chance to pick up where you left off, a better system than EA Sports Active 2, for example, which requires you to complete your rep before continuing. Here, if you lose the rhythm or struggle to perform each rep fully at least the exercise continues, letting you tackle it at your own pace.
Initially you enter your vital statistics and a fitness goal – keep up with the kids, lose the belly, tone up your arms etc. – which are then used to deliver a personalised workout program for you. Unlike EA's game, there’s no calendar function of on and off days, so you’re expected to turn up for exercise every day, although you can shorten your workouts to 15 minutes if you’re particularly pressed for time. After each session you’re presented with various graphs and statistics, including your calorie burn expressed in terms of food – a chocolate bar, a pizza and so on – which helps to make your achievements a little more tangible.
If you don’t want to tackle a preset program you can devise your own workouts in fitness or aerobics, piecing together up to 15 exercises of a variable number of reps to create your ideal fitness session. Sadly these workouts aren’t saved afterwards, meaning if you find one you like you’ll need to set it up every time you want to try it out - a real shame considering the possibilities offered by the 200 built-in exercises.
There’s also a range of challenges for you to take on based on kickboxing, dancing and getting abs of steel, with the step and bump exercises only available if you have the correct equipment. Whilst it’s good to have defined workouts to target particular body areas, they’re a missed opportunity and could have been used to set and smash personal goals.
The nutrition side of things is lacking too: each day you’re presented with a menu for the day, complete with ingredients list and recipe, but without any nutritional information it’s difficult to see this as an integral part of your fitness regime and it ends up being a section you visit less and less.
One pitfall affecting many Kinect games is a tricky navigation system, but Get Fit with Mel B mostly avoids this problem with chunky buttons, streamlined menus and far fewer options and variables than its EA opponent. There’s no voice command, a blessing in some ways as it avoids the shouting that often accompanies our workouts but also means should you want to pause mid-game you have to miss out on a few reps waiting for the Kinect Guide pose to register. The game also tracks both your hands as cursors, so you’ll want to make sure your weaker hand is out of the sensor’s view, and don’t try to navigate during the exercises that see you lying down as it just doesn’t work.
That said, generally the game registers your prone movements better than others, even when facing the sensor dead-on: press-ups proved no problem, something we struggled with in EA Sports Active 2, but it was less capable of detecting us when we lay side-on. In all the remainder of the exercises our movements and exertion levels were tracked well, although the lack of precise feedback is disappointing compared to other fitness titles.
In terms of presentation, there’s not really a lot to see: buttons are big and bold, menus are easily navigable and in-game there’s just you, a video of Mel B and one of a choice of backgrounds. Your ears receive similarly pared-down treats, with some anodyne music and Mel B’s beautiful Yorkshire accent calling out “can you feel it?”, “you’re doing great!” and other general words of encouragement. You can’t use custom music, sadly, though you can alter the audio levels if you’d rather turn the in-game music down and listen to an iPod.
Get Fit with Mel B does a surprising amount right considering it clearly cost less money to develop than its higher-profile rivals. The motion recognition is good, seeing your video on-screen helps you see how well you match up against your trainer and its array of exercises outclasses its competitors. That said, it’s really little more than an exercise video with you on the TV too, but if you’re only interested in a good workout - rather than an entertaining video game - this is a solid buy.