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Fire up the Wii, work up a sweat

Langston Wertz Jr.
Langston Wertz Jr. writes about video games, gadgets, golf and sports for The Charlotte Observer and Charlotte.com.

Wii Fit with Balance Board

Nintendo, for the Wii, $89.99 Rating: * * * *

As I write this, my 8-year-old son, Trey, is trying one of the best video-game innovations I've seen in years: the Wii Balance Board. It's up there with the Wii-mote, the first PlayStation and “Rock Band's” drum sets.

“Wii Fit” – due in stores this week – comes with the board, a simple white apparatus that looks like an oversized bathroom scale. When you use it for the first time, it asks for basic information, like height and weight and birth date. When Trey stepped onto it, it measured his weight and gave him a body mass index based on those numbers.

(Trey's BMI is optimal, but mine's not, so the game developed a program for me to bring it down. Judging from how Trey and I were huffing and puffing, I think it might work.)

But back to our setup. The Wii measures Trey's balance. It's good, but he tends to rest on his heels a bit. The game gives him some drills using onscreen icons based on how his weight shifts to help improve his balance.

Next, you choose a male or female trainer. Then you can choose yoga, strength training, balance or aerobic exercise training. Each opens a wealth of games and exercises to get you moving and having fun.

Trey jumps forward to a balance game using soccer balls. You try to head the balls coming at you by shifting your body left and right while keeping your feet down and avoiding getting hit by the shoes coming at you. It's a fun and ingenious way to improve balance.

“Dude,” Trey says, “this is really hard.” (So much for the theory that all video games turn kids into couch potatoes.) Then he tries again.

Later, he chooses push-ups in the “strength training” zone. You put your hands on the board, your feet on the ground and mirror the trainer's movements. . She does a push-up. In the same motion, she rotates onto one hand – crossing one foot over the other – and stretches one arm to the sky. The machine tracks whether Trey does it correctly by checking his pressure on the board. It beeps when he gets it wrong. He adjusts quickly. Trey scores 91 points and is having fun.

There are tons of exercises that kids and adults will enjoy. Difficulty levels can be adjusted, and you'll be surprised at how much of a workout you can get from playing a video game.

A few weeks back, I said “Grand Theft Auto IV,” taken for what it was – a game and not social commentary – was the best of the year. “Wii Fit” is going to be right up there with it.

The Wii Balance Board will bring new players to gaming. Tons of them. There will be a class at a YMCA somewhere in America (probably at the Siskey Y in Charlotte) where 20 spandex-clad women will stand in front of a TV and get their Wii workout on. I guarantee it.

We Ski

Namco Bandai, for the Wii, $29.99 Rating: * * *1/2

This is one of the first games (along with “Wii Fit”) to use the new Wii Balance Board.

The game is pure fun. You create a character and basically go skiing. Using the Wii-mote and nunchuk is cool, but it's much more fun to get on the board and assume a skiing position. You hold the Wii-mote in front of you like ski poles and swivel your hips as you go downhill.

I actually got good and sweaty playing this on the board, and found myself laughing out loud. This is about as close to real skiing as you're going to get without packing up the car and heading to the mountains.

The only bummer here: Though up to four people can play with standard Wii-motes, only one person can play when the board is connected.

But this game should be a huge hit nonetheless.

Get more Games N Gadgets news at http://langstonwertz.blogspot.com; Reach Langston: 704-358-5133; lwertz@charlotteobserver.com
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