Winter is Coming: A Guide to Exercise Gaming

I haven’t talked much about exercising beyond an occasional very boring biking post. That’s because biking has almost been exclusively my only form of exercise. Which makes winter very problematic, since I lack an indoor velo track (someday, when I start playing the lottery and winning it…).  I have a stationary/spin bike, but it gets deadly boring very quickly, so I’ve built up a pretty impressive arsenal of exercise video games (or “exergaming,” I guess it’s called) to supplement. I’m also constantly looking for new ones. This kind of post is exactly what I always dream of finding.

Hopefully it goes without saying that this arsenal requires additional equipment. I have an Xbox 360 with Kinect and a PlayStation 3 with Move (which I only bought when it became obvious Microsoft was abandoning Kinect, a crying shame in my opinion).

(Note: I’m not being paid to say nice things about anyone (though I wouldn’t mind if I was), so you know these are my honest opinions. All prices are Amazon unless otherwise noted.  New, but the beauty of shopping for older systems is in most cases you can practically steal them used.  Also, I can’t be arsed to research all the systems each game is available on.  You might have to do some searching on your own. It’s good for you.)

Biking/Running 

Goji Play:  ($99 when I purchased) This is a pair of controllers that strap onto a bike or elliptical (or a pair of batons if you want to run). Connect via Bluetooth with a phone or tablet. Games downloaded separately (free on Android or iOS).  The harder you exercise, the better you do in the game. This kept me happily occupied for an entire season, and I used to be their biggest advocate. Except now they’re branching into VR, which I’ll bet is amazing but will never know for sure since it only works with ridiculously overpriced sets and is “too complex to work on Android” (I’ve asked, many, many times).  The old games still entertain, but new ones would be welcome.

GameFit Bike Race (iOs only, free trial/$1.99 full) Not as sophisticated but not as pricey, this measures speed by device vibrations (calibrated at the beginning) and takes you on a kind of dull computer graphic (versus video) course. You do have the option to steer by touching the screen, or let it auto steer, which frankly is about as boring as mindlessly pedaling while watching Netflix. There’s another app by the same company called GameFit Racing (also $1.99) which is this with cars. Guess I’ll see how long winter is this year.

Bitgym:  (Android and iOs, free trial/full version with $7.99 monthly subscription) Although not as engaging without games or joysticks, this is an easy way to spice up a bike or treadmill (or in my very cheap case, jogging in place). The front camera tells the app how fast you’re going and the HD video speeds up or slows down accordingly. The free trial only allows 10-minute sessions, but there are 16 free courses (there are nearly 130 in the full version, plus the option to increase to 30-minute sessions).  There are quite a few similar apps (Virtual Active, Virtual Runner, Treadmill Trails, Virtual Roads are the ones I actually tried) but these were either too expensive (up to $8.99 per course), or required additional equipment (heart rate or cadence tracker) or too much space on my poor iPad (which I hardly use for anything so yours doesn’t stand a chance if it’s your primary device).  I like BitGym because you can stream the video rather than download it. And right now 10 minutes of jogging is a lifetime for me, so the free version will keep me busy awhile.

Gym Workouts

Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012: (Xbox, $19.74) For those who like gym memberships but the fees not so much, these are the games for you.  This one includes both structured programs of exercises (which are for me too boring–might as well use a workout DVD) or mini games, which are fun but require stopping and clicking around in between, and losing your groove.  Also you’re dependent on the Kinect sensor picking up your movements to score you, and the reason the Kinect system is so universally despised is its notoriously hit-or-miss accuracy doing this.

Move Fitness:  (PS3, $9.99 from Sony Network) People are selling this on disc for much, much higher, but if you don’t care about having a physical disc, this download is worth every penny.  It’s basically mini games collected into routines, for instance ball-related games, boxing, cardio, etc. or you can customize your own.  This lets you move continuously and keep your heart rate up. You can also easily switch to another routine if the first one didn’t kick your ass enough. This game is a fantastic replay value and one of my favorites of this entire list, and I have no idea why it’s buried so far down in the store (I found it purely by accident after clicking through probably 20 screens).

Sports Games

Sports Champions/Sports Champions 2: (PS3, $4.99 each on Network) Again, better deal discless, which I wish someone had told me. I’m a real sucker for these team sports compilations, which is ironic because I don’t give a rat’s ass about them on TV.  I wish these came on one disc because I can never remember which games are on which. Better than button mashing, but I can’t say they’ll make you sweat. For some reason, the Xbox equivalents do that much better.

Kinect Sports Ultimate Collection: (Xbox, $23) Don’t be fooled, these also aren’t on the same disc. But there are some great used deals on this 2-disc set. And, of course, you need both to get the best games. My favorites are basketball, bowling, soccer, track and field, and occasionally football (highly simplified versions of each). If you get bored playing the “real” game there are mini games as well (if you haven’t noticed, variety is essential to exergaming).

Motion Sports Adrenaline: (Xbox, $8.49 + shipping) A clunkier sports compilation, with extreme sports. I say clunkier because the user interface for each sport ranges from adequately enjoyable to downright unusable. Still, it’s a cool alternative if you’re sick and tired of Kinect Sports fun.

Crashed Ice: (Xbox, $4.99 on Marketplace only) This is an odd sport I’ve never heard of. It’s like downhill skiing plus roller derby but on ice skates.  It’s also a hell of a workout with all the crouching, leaning and jumping required. I thought it was a great deal at $5 until I beat all the tracks pretty quickly. Of course, with my terrible memory, if I go a year between playing it will be new again.

Boxing

The Fight: Lights Out: (PS3, $13.79) Of course there’s boxing on the sports compilations, but it’s cartoony and unrealistic. If you want to see a guy bloody and beaten (and feel just as exhausted as you would after an actual fight), then my little sadist, is this the game for you. You can customize your fighter (no female options though), you have to pay to mend bodily damage, and you can build street cred depending how dirty you fight (brass knuckles optional). If you can get over how ludicrous Danny Trejo looks brandishing a pair of Move controllers on the tutorials (notice they kept that out of the trailer), this is the best boxing game available.

Fighters Uncaged: (Xbox, $21.99) If you aren’t dedicated to exergaming enough to own multiple consoles, Xbox does have this alternative. It’s not terrible (if you don’t play The Fight and don’t know what you’re missing).  You can kick at least, which is a no-no in The Fight (Move in general doesn’t like foot motion), but sensing is imprecise and opponent difficulty seems to rachet up quickly and unfairly.

Adventure Games

Fable, The Journey: (Xbox, $7.90) This is a whole series, like a bargain bin Zelda, but this is the only one Kinect enabled. You don’t need the rest to get the gist, and you don’t need to be good at these games to finish it (I’m not and I did). But it’s surprisingly physical; my shoulders were seriously sore after every session. And it’s probably the closest a Muggle can come to feeling like they’re casting spells. A lot of fun for the price.

Gunstringer: (Xbox, $13.69) This game is a trip.  You’re the gunstringer, a reanimated skeleton marionette (you read that right) exacting revenge with a rain of bullets on those who betrayed you.  It’s a clever mix of animation and live action as a theater audience thrills to your exploits.  From hurdling logs with a riverboat (you read that right) to summoning a huge Pythonesque foot to stomp a boss by slapping the floor, this game is endlessly creative and amusing.  The workout comes with the many shootouts you get in, that require exaggerated firing and recoil motions. I still haven’t finished it because it tires me out so quickly (which is a good thing).

Sports-Adjacent Games

Kinect Adventures (Xbox, $12.90)

Fruit Ninja Kinect (Xbox, $9.99 on Marketplace)

Mini Ninja Adventures (Xbox, $9.99 on Marketplace)

These are all mindless, plotless fun that completely distract you from the fact you’re exercising (well, that’s the point of everything in this post, but I can’t think of another way to describe them).  My surprise favorite is the mini ninjas, which is sadly kind of short but requires fairly intense activity to win (lots of darting back and forth to dodge attacks or aim your own).  Adventures comes bundled with the Kinect to show off its capabilities, and Fruit Ninja is the popular mobile game except using your entire arm instead of a finger (I like to pretend I’m Wolverine slicing with my claws).

Thinking WAY Outside the Box

Child of Eden: (Xbox, $12.05) This is really impossible to explain. It’s a “rhythm action” game where you have to clean viruses off the environment. It’s as New Age-y and tree huggy as it sounds, but it’s also gorgeous visually and sonically, as well as a killer arm workout. Also fairly short to complete, but enjoyable enough to replay.

Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved: (Xbox, $5.08) I confess, I’ve saved my favorite for last. This game is fantastic, and I’m sure would have had a sequel if it wasn’t one of the last Kinect titles released before Xbox One came along and killed the format for good. I call it Conductor Hero — complete certain arm movements like a conductor to keep the music going.  But there’s more!  You can change up the instruments mid song to make it more techno or orchestral.  Free form sections to add your own funky backing track (and nothing you do sounds bad).  Between dancing to the irresistible beats and the swooping hand motions, I work up a great sweat. I have conducted so hard I’ve been too sore to move the next day. Like any exercise, you get out only what you put in.  This game is almost worth getting the Kinect for all by itself.

That about covers it. There are a bunch more Kinect games (including about a hundred dance games, but they’re all new music that I don’t get), but if they didn’t make this list I either tried them and didn’t like them, or spent hours poring over enough reviews to decide they weren’t worth it.  Hopefully if you’re thinking about exergaming, something on here will help you make some decisions.  Bring on the snow!

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