There’s no shortage of good fitness games for Kinect from EA, Ubisoft and more, but Zumba Fitness: Join the Party is the only one based on a real-life dancing craze. For those in the dark, Zumba is a fitness programme based on high-energy rhythms that’s designed to be taken in large classes, but how does it translate to a mostly solo experience at home?
After enrolling you can take on a Zumba Class, Zumba Party, play some multiplayer – locally or via Xbox Live – or take on the tutorials, which are recommended as the game’s workouts start at a strong pace. An on-screen instructor performs the step slowly at first and all you have to do is mirror their actions, with the instructor turning green if you’re doing well, yellow if you’re making some mistakes or red if you’re completely missing the mark. Red circles emanate from the body part you’re most out of step with but there’s no clearer detail, so you’re not always sure if your arm should be higher or lower, for example.
Unlike every other fitness title on Kinect you have no clear reference image of yourself on-screen – a dot-matrix display in the background shows your movements but they’re really for aesthetic appeal, rather than any form of user feedback.
In each tutorial you have to master a step before proceeding, with the steps getting progressively quicker and more complicated, though we were able to complete one step tutorial by standing still, arms folded. Sometimes the game skips ahead two steps as well, making the tutorials a fidgety and eventually unhelpful addition.
Should you decide to jump straight into a full workout you’ve got several choices, though overall there’s nowhere near the same range of options as Get Fit with Mel B or EA Sports Active 2, for example. Each class starts with a warm-up before going into the full-on exercise, changing music and style every few minutes to keep things interesting, but if you’re completely new to Zumba you’ll likely struggle to keep up with the instructor. As you get a feel for it and pull off moves you’ll boost an energy bar that calls extra dancers on stage at certain points, a small reward for your exertions.
If you can’t face one of the full 20-minute-plus classes, you can pick and choose one of 30 single routines that start from three minutes upwards. Sadly you can’t chain these together to create a custom workout, with the game’s workout calendar being a throwaway addition compared to the plans featured in the competition.
The appeal of real-life Zumba classes is the communal aspect, so it’s good that Zumba Fitness features online routines for you to play with others, and if you’re able to arrange regular sessions with friends you’ll no doubt find this boosts your enjoyment level significantly. Anyone just wanting to purchase a title to play alone that’s going to keep them motivate, however, will find Zumba lacking.
There are a few other niggles too: menus are fiddly, with a slider at the bottom to flick between menu options proving unnecessary. With big boxes to hover over to select each option it’s surprising the developers didn’t do away with the slider altogether, as it only serves to slow down the navigation experience.
The strongest aspect of the game is its audio accompaniment, predictably, with plenty of high-energy rhythms to keep you going during workouts. Your instructor will also offer verbal encouragement to spur you on, whether you’re doing well or need a little boost, though it’s rarely more than “great hips!” or “come on, you can do better”.
Zumba Fitness isn’t bad, just mediocre: its motion detection is passable, the presentation is clean (if a little light) and in offering simultaneous Xbox Live multiplayer it does a decent job of bringing the spirit of Zumba classes to Kinect. The problem is, with so many better fitness titles already available, why would you buy this one? There’s no doubt that although it provides a high energy workout that raises your heartrate, it does little else and just doesn’t cut the low calorie mustard.