It’s no surprise that plenty of developers have seen Kinect’s potential for fitness games, with Ubisoft’s Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, Zumba Fitness and more titles undoubtedly on the way. Now entering the mix is THQ’s The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout. Licensed by the TV show of the same name, it has a lot in its favour, but also suffers from a few flaws that have beset many Kinect launch titles.
Things kick off well – the game uses facial recognition to search for existing save data, and if you’re starting a new file you first create a short video diary to outline your hopes and dreams for your new fitness plan. It’s a very clever way to welcome you into the game, as is the accompanying fitness test.
Immediately you’ll see how this takes a different approach to other fitness titles: rather than showing a video of yourself on screen, it uses Kinect’s high-tech depth imaging abilities to show a rudimentary 3D model of your body. This is remarkably accurate, detecting bumps and bulges in a way that might spur you onto step up your routine just a little.
When performing exercises, you simply follow the movements of your on-screen trainer, checking your 3D self to see how you’re getting along. Feedback is given in several ways: a meter below your model shows your exercise speed, with the aim being to keep it in the green area, and there are text instructions such as “knee higher” or “legs wider”. If you pull off the exercise well, your model turns green, while slightly shaky sees you turn yellow, and if you’re really off the pace it turns red. If any exercise gets too much for you and you want to give up, simply stop moving and the game will automatically end after that particular part is over. You’re also able to use voice commands at certain stages, though we found these not particularly reliable.
On the whole, the game picks up your movements rather well, though you should be aware you’ll need a slightly larger playing area than usual as you’ll obviously be getting quite active. You’ll also do some exercises from the floor, side-on to the Kinect, which picked these up well too. During some exercises the game struggled to register our motions, however, for example in the lunges; following the on-screen advice didn’t help, so even though we were attempting the exercise it counted as a fail and our workout was over. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s still disappointing when you feel you’re working out well and the game doesn’t respond properly.
After your first test you step into a body analyser, which uses Kinect to measure your body. If you take the time to align yourself in the correct way you’ll find this to be passably accurate within a range of a few inches overall, which can be tweaked afterwards. You can update this scan as you proceed through the game, so even though it cannot weigh you, it can show if you’ve lost inches.
You can then choose to target a certain body part with a structured workout or go for all-around fitness instead. What’s impressive here is the level of choice: you can set the duration of each workout, the intensity and the length of programme overall, so whether you want a four-week plan to lose some inches before Christmas or a three-month schedule to get trim, those options are available to you.
As the game is based on the TV show, it follows the same daily and weekly structure, so you won’t be forced to play every day: generally you alternate, though you can still play any of the exercises on your designated “off day” if you have the urge to sweat. At the end of each week you take on the scales to see if you are, indeed, the biggest loser, introducing a healthy element of competition to proceedings even if you're just facing off against the CPU. If you want to introduce a human touch to proceedings, you can work out online with up to three friends, using Kinect’s microphones to chat to your exercise partners as you go.
To top off the package there’s also a wide collection of recipes and nutritional information, with areas to input your calorie intake and keep track of your daily diet. There’s very little unexpected in this side of things, but one thing we didn’t predict was the navigation system tying everything together.
As with most Kinect games you use your hand as a pointer, hovering over items to read more bits of information and ultimately select them. Unlike most of Microsoft’s output, however, here the selection process starts as soon as your cursor touches an option – hover over any of them and by the time you’ve read the description you’ve already selected it. It turns negotiating the menus into a cat-and-mouse affair as you try to flick your hand onto each option just long enough to bring up the text without choosing it.
Other input problems arise too. When starting out you create a virtual representation of yourself, built using Blitz’s impressive avatar creation tool, and input your weight and other details. Changing any aspect is a simple matter of hovering over up and down arrows, with the speed increasing the longer you hold it, but it’s imprecise and means lots of to-ing and fro-ing. It would have been better served with an Apple-style rolling number wheel or even just a calculator input.
It seems minor to gripe about such input issues, and many third-party launch games are struggling with making menus that work, but considering that the motion detection is pretty impressive throughout the exercises it’s disappointing to see it lose its way in the menu system. What is otherwise a great use of many of Kinect’s features becomes cumbersome and off-putting due to difficulty navigating through the interface.
The Biggest Loser offers good motion detection across a wide range of customisable workouts, and if you’re serious about losing weight and improving fitness you’re sure of some proper exercise here. With all the content included it’s certainly a full package, but the fiddly user interface does spoil the ease with which it’s all accessed.