New U muscles into the serious fitness niche with a game that combines diet and exercise regimes. It takes a very personalised approach, tailoring workouts to your level and gradually increasing their length and difficulty as you progress.
You start by creating a profile: your build, activity level, dietary preferences, lifestyle goals, and
so on. Other than the choice of trainer and workout location it's all relevant to your health. You
don't mess around picking out shoes and hairstyles for an avatar, or other window-dressing.
New U is far too grown-up for that.
There are lots of different choices for workout goals, some of which have baffling names like
"Pulling Power" or "New Year". And it's not obvious what practical difference there is between
"Sports Fit" and "Active Holiday", for instance. The good news is, you can swap these around
at any time without losing your progress towards each individual target. Goals revolving around
detox, yoga and stretching make for the gentlest workouts. To get the most variety out of
New U it's a good idea to swap your goals around every week or so, although this
means starting afresh with low-intensity workouts.
Exercise programmes can be done daily, but you won't get moaned at if you miss sessions.
How long they last depends on your strength. Typically there are 9 or 10 different exercises,
but the number of repetitions rises or falls depending on what you can cope with. A session
may last between 10 and 25 minutes normally. If you're in a hurry there are quick workouts,
which involve exactly the same moves as the regular workouts, but fewer repetitions.
The exercises are varied, although you need to use a balance board to access the full
range. Everything is tracked using the Wii Remote, the balance board, or both, and there
are tutorials for each move. This tracking is where things start to go wonky. It's not that the
moves are complex or the motion detection is imprecise. It's generally very good, but it can
appear completely inaccurate until you figure out exactly what the software is looking for. More
often than not it wants perfect timing, closely followed by excellent balance. So you can
perform brilliant lunges, but if you're half a second out of step with the trainer you'll get no
points. Using the wrong hand or foot has the same result. Or leaning too far forward or back
when you perform slow leg raises. Unfortunately the trainer assumes you've simply stopped
working, instead of prompting you to fix your timing, change sides, or work on whatever else
you're doing wrong. More meaningful feedback would make this game far easier to get into.
When it comes to feedback, New U makes up in quantity what it lacks in other areas.
There are no calorie counts, and although it records your weight it doesn't offer graphs of how
it's changed over time. But after each exercise you get a percentage score, and you earn
stars. These stars get collected on your Progress screen, along with your BMI, total reps
completed, and any awards won. There's also a graph of your progress towards your
current goals. In order to advance you need to earn gold medals, which you get when
your score for the whole workout is 90% or above.
There are slight differences between the way the four trainers carry out exercises. Pick the
burly Stephen and you'll work twice as hard on the hip driver move, for instance. Some are
more encouraging than others when you fail, although they all indulge in some cheesy
gurning when you've done well.
Once you've got the hang of regular workouts there are five challenges. These involve
fewer moves, but they last longer. Failing any one of the exercises means failing the whole
challenge, so they're tough and satisfying to master.
The menus are an interesting feature, because you can exclude nuts, gluten, dairy, and
various types of meat and fish from them. Unfortunately if your food intolerances extend to
different types of vegetables you're out of luck. This menu allows you to generate a shopping
list for the whole week, but it's not very practical. It's usually massive, and contains items
like "6 olives" or "half a leek". That's a lot of fresh food to buy and then waste. Some people
might find the menus useful, but they won't be for everyone.
Overall this is a pretty good title, once you get used to the need for precise timing. It
can take a little time to figure out what's required, but this applies to a minority of exercises
and it's worth the effort. This is a game that improves with familiarity. It's
varied, well designed, and challenging enough to suit a wide range of people.