The Biggest Loser Challenge

The Biggest Loser takes fitness and weight loss and turns it into a tacky game show where contestants compete to slim down the fastest. But can a game based on an over-dramatic TV programme really be any good for health conscious players?

This is a highly tailored game. Although you can jump straight in and try it as a guest, the real meat can be found when you set up a profile. This involves a thirty minute fitness test as well as weight and body measurements, and more. You can also customise an avatar to look like you, but the main aim of the game is to meet your fitness and diet targets rather than dressing up a character.

Fitness routines make up the bulk of the game, and your performance is tracked using the Wii remote and balance board. This means that like New U and EA Sports Active you have to get the timing spot on for your score to reflect the work you're actually doing. Your performance is shown in a bar that lights up in the bottom left corner of the screen. Slack off or get out of time and the trainers, Bob and Jillian, will soon start to moan at you. They can be unforgiving. It's not the best game to play if you need a lot of positive comments for encouragement.

However the exercises provide a thorough, effective fitness programme. There are several difficulty levels and workout lengths, and an impressive variety of different moves. You need a resistance band and stability ball to get the full range, but even without these there's lots to do.

The pre-set workouts start with a warm-up and end with a comprehensive set of stretches to cool you down. In between there are short "stations" when you can drink some water and listen to the trainer's feedback. At the hardest level these workouts are rigorous and sweaty, and I think they will challenge all but the most dedicated sports and fitness professionals. At the gentler end there are yoga moves and low-impact exercises as well, so this game has something to offer people at most ability levels.

Many of the moves are easy to pick up, and they track your performance accurately. A few, like tyre jumps and football runs, require very careful timing which takes practice to master. In theory you're supposed to copy the trainer, but in practice you need to concentrate on the performance gauge if you want to get the best score, and sometimes they don't match up. It doesn't help that your avatar stands next to the trainer, and the two figures are often out of synch with each other. Which are you supposed to get in time with if you fall behind? It's not clear. What's more there are some moves, like the sumo squat and the awkward airplane, that are particularly baffling because it takes pinpoint precision to get them right.

You can choose how long you want to work out each day, and at what intensity, and so on. Unfortunately the workout time can be inaccurate, often running over by several minutes, which makes planning your time harder.

You can track your daily intake in the diet section, and the game suggests how many calories you should be eating. For the sake of your sanity and health, ignore it. The Biggest Loser Challenge is geared towards drastic weight loss for the maximum telegenic impact and excitement, but television is not always sensible. Losing too much weight too quickly is unhealthy and unsustainable, and it will make you feel like a worn-out, worhtless old rag. The game consistently told me to eat between 1300 and 1400 calories a day, which happens to be 400 calories less than I need for effective weight loss, and 600 calories less than I need to maintain my current healthy weight. (I recently lost over 6 stone over the very reasonable period of 15 months, so I track my diet very carefully, some would say obsessively.) However it is useful to be able to track your intake on a graph over the week, so you learn more about your diet and adjust as necessary. I found the game's recommendations too drastic, but of course everyone is a little different so your mileage may vary.

Another thing you can graph is the exercise you do outside the main programme, which is recorded in the Additional Activities section. This is also where you can try the challenges or do extra exercises in freeplay mode. There are both individual exercises to do singly, or a selection of pre-set workouts in different styles, lengths and intensities. Do as much or as little as you like. This is a good way of topping up your score for the weekly challenge, and working towards various achievement badges.

The Health and Lifestyle section offers advice, which is usually pretty basic stuff. There's also quite a varied and healthy selection of recipes.

In the profile section I discovered a bug when you try to record your workout preferences. It resets itself to the default setting for exercise equipment periodically. This means that you can end up trying to do workouts with equipment you don't have, which is only a problem because you can't then quit the workout mid-way without losing points and having to start over.

The weekly weigh-in is the game's focus. There's a short challenge event first, and then the scales. Even if you don't lose any weight you can still do well in this part so long as you've completed the workouts. You're competing against the other contestants here, so it is possible to lose and get eliminated here. But when you're done there are even more graphs to pore over, showing your progress in the minutest detail.

This title surprised me with its substantial depth of content. In spite of the flaws I've mentioned it's still a serious fitness game with satisfying gameplay and a lot to recommend it.