ExerBeat - Wii Game Review

A Workout Game With a Lot of Variety and Very Little Sweating

ExerBeat
Arrows and the movements and instructions of the trainer tell you how to move your body. Namco Bandai

Pros: Good presentation, fun exercises, budget price.

Cons: Poor scoring, pointless busywork, light workout.

The workout game Exerbeat wants to make working out fun. It wants to make working out engaging, musical and varied. What it doesn’t want to do is make you work out very hard.

The Basics: Exercise to the Rhythm, Guided by Arrows and Enthusiastic Trainers

Exerbeat offers a variety of workout routines focused on yoga, karate, boxercise, Pilates and dance forms that include Samba, Meringue, and Hip Hop. A virtual trainer tells you what to do while virtual students follow along. Onscreen arrow indicators tell you where to move your hands, the game tracking and grading your movements through your Wii remotes (ideally, you play with a remote in each hand, although a single remote is allowed). To help with timing, movements are done to the soundtrack’s beat (thus, Exerbeat).

The mechanism is similar to that used in the We Cheer games, which like Exerbeat were developed by Namco Bandai. The game’s instructions are clear, although like We Cheer it doesn’t always read your movements correctly.

Most exercises also have footwork, which is not tracked by the game but which adds to the efficacy of the workout.

The one exception is Meringue, which focuses on hip motions measured by the Balance Board, trusting you to handle arm movements on your own. Apparently the game can’t deal with watching the remotes and the balance board simultaneously.

Trainers fall into basic stereotypes. Latin dances are lead by an enthusiastic woman with a Spanish accent, Aerobics is taught by a perky blonde while a black guy runs the hip-hop class, although he seems more like a music video choreographer than a street-wise hip-hopper. Most trainers have a suitable classroom, like a dance studio for Salsa or what appears to be a Vietnamese fishing village for Yoga, although Boxercise is inexplicably held in a dance club.

Exerbeat has a few mini-games, but these are too dull to even discuss. The shame is there are obvious possibilities for mini-games - like taking on a virtual opponent in karate or boxing - which the game’s designers have ignored.

I enjoyed many of the game’s offerings, particularly karate, which makes me feel like a student in The Karate Kid, and meringue, but I didn’t find anything particularly strenuous. A half-hour with Exerbeat is less exhausting than 10 minutes of Punch-Out!! or Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party.

The Downside: Workouts Interrupted by Tedious Busywork

Exerbeat was evidently conceived by game designers. In some ways this is a good thing, as there's a focus on fun and unusual presentation, but it has also resulted in the inclusion of the sort of bad, poorly thought-out ideas that often litter even otherwise good games.

The most aggravating feature of the game involves a world traveling theme. At the end of every exercise you are told how well you did, given a medal (gold, silver or bronze) if you earned it, given a score, and then taken to a world map, where for some reason your Mii walks from city to city based on how long you have exercised. You are told how many miles you earned, then given bonuses for medals and other things, requiring a button push for each bonus. Then you watch your Mii walk. If it reaches a city, you are congratulated, told a little bit about the city (requiring a few more button pushes) and then the Mii keeps walking until all your earned miles are used up.

This does not simply happen once at the end of a long workout, but after every single exercise. Some exercises, especially early on, are a minute or less.

Karate forms, for example, are around 40 seconds (I don’t know what a karate form is, but in the game it’s a brief series of karate movements). When you start a karate form, first the trainer talks for about 10 seconds, telling you that you must work hard, then you exercise for 40 seconds and then the trainer talks for another 20 seconds about how you’ve impressed him. Then you’re given a score, a medal, and your ranking. Then you go to the world map and press A.

Result: less than a minute of exercise and over a minute of pure button pushing.

Clearly this traveling is meant to be your reward for hard work, but instead it feels like a punishment in which the more bonuses you get, the more you are punished.

More Complaints: Poor Scoring, Strange Unlocking

This was my biggest gripe with the game (I began to absolutely loathe the sprightly Brazilian song that accompanies the World Map), but it is not the only one. At first, Exerbeat offers only a small selection of exercises, with more becoming unlocked as you play. The unlocking process is rather mysterious – why did “Offense & Defense III” unlock before “Offense & Defense I”? – but it seems related to scoring. The problem is that scoring is not all that accurate. The game refuses to recognize some movements no matter how closely you hew to the directions, while at other times I would move exactly wrong and please the game.

As for the exercises you unlock, at first they are consistent improvements, offering more varied and energetic programs, but after awhile you start to unlock workouts that are no more than longer versions of exactly what you’ve been doing all along. Many of the exercise programs are almost identical to one another.

You also have to unlock some modes that one would really prefer to have from the beginning, like the ability to create your own exercise program. This is very useful, as you can create a long, varied program, say 40 minutes, during which time you won't have to go to the World Map at all. Unfortunately, in this mode you can't get high scores or medals, which may or may not impede unlocking further exercises.

On the bright side, it doesn’t take that long to get all the modes; you should have them all by the end of the first week.

Verdict: Flawed But Likeable

I am left with mixed feelings about Exerbeat. It is well presented and offers a variety of unusually enjoyable exercises, but it also features some truly aggravating design choices and flaws, and if you’re in good shape you won’t get that much of a workout.

Still, if you’re looking for a light, fun, varied workout for a reasonable price (the $20 MSRP is a great deal compared to the top-selling workout games), then Exerbeat is arguably your best bet. It’s no replacement for an hour at the gym, but compared to an hour of sitting on the couch, it’s a great way to stay in shape.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.