Before 2008 (or 2007 in Japan), the only exercise you really managed to get from console games was some button bashing in a quick time event. There had been casual games that could have been classed as mildly energetic – dance mat games, anyone? Mostly, however, console gaming was a pretty sedentary pastime. Then along came the Nintendo Wii and, more importantly, Wii Fit.
Post 2008, there are plenty of exercise games on the market, with anyone able to buy a few bits of kit and turn themselves into gym bunnies without the need of an actual gym. Well, in theory. Truth be told, I have a Nintendo Wii and Wii Fit; I occasionally charge the batteries and convince myself that this time it’ll be different, I’ll do it for more than a few days. Then, I remember that I really want to sit down and shoot things without raising my arms past 90 degrees, speed around the city without running on the spot, or throw a punch by pressing a single button.
With other console manufacturers jumping onto the motion-sensing bandwagon, there’s been a slow rise in the world of fitness titles. Since the introduction of Kinect in 2010, we’ve seen EA Sports Active 2.0, Get Fit With Mel B, and Kinect Sports, among others, taking their places on the shelves and convincing buyers they can sculpt the perfect body (or at least get a bit fitter) by waving their arms like demented windmills in the privacy of their own room.
Oddly, while I did buy the rather fun and quirky Wii Fit, I couldn’t bring myself to part with my cash for Zumba on the 360. I did, however, pick up The Fight for PS Move and that was… an experience.
That’s the crux, you see. If I’m really going to invest in Kinect as widely as I’d want to, I want games that aren’t silly, casual or aimed at children. I don’t want to pet an animal, clean windows, or throw things at other things. I want to fight, kill and maim. I want, just as with my regular controller games, to pretend to be manly and aggressive.
So, this brings me to the ultra-masculine world of UFC Personal Trainer, developed in conjunction with the National Associate of Sports Medicine (the American NASM) and published by THQ. It’s a Kinect title that will take you through the type of training that UFC fighters probably go through before they smash each other around the skulls until there’s a winner. Sadly, the trainer finishes before we get anywhere near the skull smashing bit.
The fitness suite begins by assessing your current level of fitness with a series of sit-ups, press-ups and star jumps, before you take your pulse for fifteen seconds and tell it how fast your heart is beating. Kinect is a strange beast, recommending six to eight feet between you and camera; it’s fine for a sit up, where you’re on your back horizontally to the camera, but press-ups are far more challenging, as you’re perpendicular to the camera and must stay ‘green’ in the octagon. Sometimes, it’s a bit off and fails to correct you – I managed to do ten sit-ups without moving. I think I may have discovered a new exercise regime.
Once you’ve assessed your fitness, you move onto workout activities and programmes, choosing your trainer to help you through. It can be a bit tempting to try absolutely everything, but you’ll probably only end up bent over double in pain and regretting ever putting the disc in your console. Having said that, no pain, no gain!
In workouts you can go for pre-made options, or create your own. A pre-made workout sees you do a range of activities, including jabs and crosses against a virtual punching bag, lunges, twists, kicks and variations thereof. You can choose a part of the body to work out and all major muscle groups are considered, so if you want that tight six pack, you’ll be going for the core workouts. Of course, it would be remiss of any fitness game of this calibre not to include a warm up and cool down routine, and we’ve got plenty of stretches to cover this.
Being able to create your own workout allows to you improve your fitness in specific areas by choosing bits of the pre-made workouts and linking them together. It allows for a great deal of customisation to ensure that you get the best from the product, though there’s nothing wrong with going for the pre-made workouts if you, like me, aren’t entirely sure what you’re doing to begin with.
Initially, I chose Mark Dellagrotte, who taught me some jabs, crosses and elbows. Wii Fit this isn’t! He guides you through each of the activities, getting you to do a few quick sample shots, before going into the real thing and finding yourself against the clock. You’ll then be graded on your performance before moving onto the next bit of the workout. Whilst you’re working out, the trainer will give you motivational nuggets and keep you going as well as a virtual trainer can.
Other trainers are available and the workouts are crafted by ‘fitness experts’. The workouts target different parts of your body and train you through, primarily, punching and kicking techniques, showing you how to move your body to get the best out of each routine. If you’re into it, it’s never boring and you do ‘feel the burn’ (to use a fitness cliché).
Annoyingly, some of the advice from the trainers is repetitive. I wasn’t expecting completely personalised training, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to have the same “it’s important to stretch after a workout” dialogue two or three times in a row. The trainer will push you if you achieve the target number of reps, but still gives up before the time is up. As if all this wasn’t enough, it’s rather bizarre hearing your trainer say how well your cool down is going when you’ve stopped and gone to make a cup of coffee. It seems that it doesn’t track the cool downs in the same way that it tracks the workouts.
A workout routine lasts roughly fifteen minutes with a good few minutes of warm up and cool down. It certainly is tiring, though you can pause the process at any time using voice commands. As each session is quite intense, you’ll end up breaking a sweat (unless you happen to be quite healthy already) and this really does leave you with the feeling that you’re achieving something.
As one exercise segues into another, you don’t get that moment where you’re back at a screen and having to choose something else to do only to decide that a game of Call Of Duty would be a better use of your time. You find yourself wanting to see the workout to its conclusion, even if you’re pouring with sweat at the time. Perhaps this is what it’s like to have a real personal trainer!
Activities are the closest this comes to being a game. You can choose from flipping tyres, hitting mitts and speed bag, amongst many options. These last a few minutes and can be quite fun, except on the occasion when the Kinect decides not to detect that well placed cross. As you progress through the activities, you unlock new, harder ones. They’re a perfect way to take out any pent up aggression without breaking things (unless you’re particularly clumsy), so you might want to use this option if you want to exercise and have just had a bad day at work.
If you’re lucky enough to know someone else with the game, you can play against them online. Without wanting to sound too wussy, I didn’t dare take it online just in case I was laughed out by some buff American.
Kinect is an ideal platform for fitness games, offering a controller free interface (unlike PlayStation Move or the Wii, where you have to have a device of some description in your hands.) It looks at you and registers your movements pretty accurately, most of the time, and is as close to what you’d expect to do in a fitness class as you can get in your own home.
Potentially, it could even be used to assess your posture and technique, but UFC Personal Trainer doesn’t have this, which is a shame. It would be nice to have a Wii Fit-style balance board as an optional extra, in order to carry out some of the balance, posture and stance exercises.
Talking of optional extras, some of the exercises do benefit from using your own weights or resistance bands, enhancing the exercise and showing how serious this product really is. You can opt to do the exercises with or without the aforementioned accoutrements.
As you work through exercises, additional workout videos are unlocked that offer a range of advice. The videos cover a range of topics from setting goals to actual workout advice. They are interesting to watch, but are hidden away in the activities menu instead of easily accessible from a workout screen. There are also the obligatory achievements to unlock, but it’s unlikely you’ll really be aiming for these if you’re using the product for fitness.
Depending on the amount of space you have and the lighting in your room, you should find that Kinect recognises you quite well. However, when it doesn’t, it’s annoying. The pause screen appears, you have to get back in front of the sensor and punch towards your screen. This can happen during a workout routine and really does break your momentum. To avoid it, try to stay in the green in the ever-present octagon in the bottom corner of the screen. It can be a particular problem when you’re flat on your back warming up or cooling down and have to stand up so that you can get your console to recognise you.
By being a UFC product, it doesn’t carry the online stigma amongst your macho friends of something like Zumba or Mel B’s fitness suite. It’s not going to turn you into a UFC fighter, but it does give a really intense experience that feels more like a proper workout than you might imagine. If any of your mates do make a comment, visualise their heads as a punchbag and remember how frustrated you got by the trainer repeating the same missive over and over.
It’s not as fun as Wii Fit, though it’s not really aimed anywhere near that audience. UFC Personal Trainer is for those of us who want to take fitness a bit more seriously, without the commitment of the gym, and will give you a really good workout if you keep at it. It is a well thought out product that has lots of potential, not just for fitness but as a starting template for other more serious fitness games, and it would be good to see the product get a range of new routines through DLC.
While the visuals of CG trainer aren’t as high quality as you’d expect from a current generation console, you do quickly get used to the look of the game. The only real problem seems to be detection issues, which drag you out of your routine back to the pause menu and, occasionally, fail to register a move or miscalculate the number of moves that you have done. Hopefully this will be easy to tighten up in updates to both Kinect and UFC Personal Fighter. Put in the time and effort, put up with the shortcomings, don’t treat it as a casual game, and you’re bound to find UFC Personal Fighter a worthwhile investment.
You can rent or buy UFC Personal Trainer at Blockbuster.co.uk.