Sunday, December 17

Get Fit With Mel B Review

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UK REVIEW–Get Fit With Mel B is a fitness game, where “game” is understood to mean “something that runs in an Xbox 360 but won’t run in a DVD player.” Closer to the mark would be “interactive celebrity fitness video,” since there’s not much to it that’s game-like (that is, playful or competitive), though it does ostensibly know, via the magic of the Kinect, whether you’re replicating Mel B’s movements or not. In this respect it is functional, if not fine-tuned. Likewise, the presentation is passable, but no more than that; it’s cheap and cheerful rather than slick.

With silhouette mode on, to spare our blushes.

You start out by entering your gender, date of birth, height, and dietary requirements. You also pick the build that most resembles yours from a set of silhouettes, along with primary and secondary fitness goals from a wide selection, ranging from the predictable (losing weight) to the specific (getting fit to play golf or getting “arms like Mel’s”). Here, as in the rest of the game, menu selections are made with the point-and-hold method that’s prevalent among Kinect titles: use your hand to hover over an option and hold it there while an icon fills. It makes the brightly coloured, large-buttoned menus easy to operate but slow and languid-feeling. Something livelier, such as Dance Central’s select-and-flick method, would better suit a motion-sensitive fitness game. Once your profile is set up, the game generates a customised daily workout: a routine of exercises compiled from the game’s master set of 200, which include dance and combat-style moves alongside the standard jumping jacks, squats, and crunches. The automatically generated daily workout can be tweaked–you can alter your goals and the length of the session–or you can ignore the daily routine altogether and build yourself a workout from scratch. On completion of a workout, you’re asked if you found it too easy or hard, to let the game adjust the difficulty of selected exercises for you. If you’ve got a resistance band, weights, or an exercise step at home, there are also exercises to include these in your workout–a nice addition for the home fitness enthusiast who has already amassed a collection of workout accessories.

The green-screened Mel B, former Spice Girl and reality-TV star, appears in your workout to demonstrate the exercises. Your Kinect-captured image is placed on a mat beside her to copy her moves, with both of you backed by your choice of cheesily rendered location–luxury yacht, apartment, Central Park, and more. As you follow Mel, a gauge fills or empties according to how closely the Kinect thinks you match her, and a counter records how many reps you and Mel have each performed. The tracking appears to be based purely on your silhouette rather than on the more advanced Kinect skeletal tracking system, and it’s not entirely convincing; a rough or lazy copy of Mel’s movement will often do the trick, and you can sometimes pick up a few reps by just jigging about. But you can’t cheat it altogether, and it knows when you’ve totally given up (Mel: “Having problems?”). If you do put the effort in, you will work up a sweat–you’re doing several reps of genuine exercises, after all–but it doesn’t help that new exercises aren’t really described. Mel B isn’t so much an instructor as a demonstrator, with her ever-present voice-over offering only vague instructions (“crunch!”) and generic encouragement (“yeah!”). You can pause the workout to enter a tutorial mode that is only slightly helpful and misses the point of an instructor-led workout. At least seeing yourself working out on the screen provides useful visual feedback–it’s an upgrade on a workout video and a mirror–and it will be an amusing novelty for some. If you don’t want to watch yourself sweat, though, you can choose to appear as a coloured silhouette or an outline instead.

Curl power.

At the end of a workout, you’re told your percentage completion mark, the number of calories burned, and the number of fitness stars to add to your cumulative score. The latter, along with a medal for completing multiple workouts, is your incentive to persevere. There’s nothing competitive on offer, and there are no minigames or race modes–it’s just you, Mel, and your workouts. The supposed challenges (Abs Attack and Legs of Steel) are just targeted workouts. If you were wondering where those dietary requirements come in, it’s in the nutrition section, where Get Fit With Mel B generates a daily food plan to go with your daily workout. The food plan suggests your meals for the day, with a shopping list and recipes, but it’s a text-heavy, feature-poor, perfunctory addition that wouldn’t satisfy a fitness or diet enthusiast, with no calorie count and no nutritional information. At a push, it might be useful if you really, really can’t think of something to make for dinner.

The production values are generally on the budget side–not offensive, but unimpressive, especially given the hardware the game requires to play. The fantasy backdrops are idyllic but flat, and the music is cheery but bland. When Mel B appears onscreen to talk, rather than to exercise, voice and video don’t always match, giving the appearance that Mel B is badly dubbing Mel B. And Mel herself isn’t the most inspiring of fitness icons, rarely cracking a smile. For a fitness game, the format is sound–seeing yourself onscreen while you work out beside your instructor is useful–and there’s nothing outright broken, but there’s little else to recommend it over other, better Kinect fitness games, unless you’re a devoted Mel B admirer and want the Kinect to count your reps.

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