Saturday, 26 November 2011

UFC Trainer. Fitness? And gaming?

... Surely not... but if you insist.

Yes, lately I have been making all endeavours to lose some weight and I am doing quite well there. I have picked up my old gym membership card and spent time on cardio there, changed my diet and now invested in some basic home fitness equipment as well as digging out the old dumbbells from my parent's loft.

I also remembered how I have a Wii with a Wii Fit board and also a Kinect for my XBox that I have neglected somewhat. I was not entirely impressed with the Wii Fit so it has gone to a better home. But the Kinect was promising, at least as far as I had used it with the provided Kinect Adventures game as well as the Kinect Sports game I got at the same time. You do feel a workout as you use it, and I loaded it back up to supplement my efforts at the regular gym. Does the Kinect have the potential to replace gym membership for the masses? Well.. keep that question in mind as you read on. I will answer it in the end. This blog will focus more on an individual game instead of the Kinect platform as a whole, but this is a question I was asking myself as I utilised my new purchase.

UFC Trainer from THQ took my eye as I browsed the Kinect games list on game review sites and looked at screenshots and video reviews and read what people had to say about it. I also checked out the EA Active package and the Your Shape: Fitness Evolved game as well. In honesty, Fitness Evolved was the initial reason I started looking for a more fitness orientated Kinect game to replace the Wii Fit game. I wanted something with progress tracking and fitness plans so I could see how well I was doing instead of just playing table tennis and volley ball in stand alone games on the Kinect Sport package.

However, impressions on the Fitness Evolved game were not great, despite the good reviews recomending it. Seeing it in action the game looked like a cunningly disguised dancing game instead of an actual fitness game. There was emphasis on rhythm tracking and timing to much of what I saw and I did not want a different looking rendition of Just Dance with stats after the game. I am sure it will all help in terms of fitness and burning off the calories, but it did not look like my cup of tea. And while EA Active looked pretty sound it seemed from the videos that I might need a bit of space and some equipment I had no room for like a swiss ball and such. While it looked like UFC Trainer needed little of this, though it gives you the option to use weights if you like so the game can track what impact it has on your state of calorie burning. This flexibility appealed to me and fit my own goals as well as the game having a little more 'gamey' feel to the activities. Kick boxing moves mixed with cardio and core workout routines looked like they would keep me busy for a while.

An example of hitting the heavy bag. The arrows change depending on
what kind of attack you need to do.
Loading the game I was greeted with much to occupy myself with, entering my stats like age and height and weight, selecting options to use weights in the training, calibrating the sensor and setting my profile up for tracking use. And then I discovered a little hitch with the game control using the Kinect Sensor. The menu operations are kind of hard with a Kinect, especially inputting a value such as my weight using up and down arrow buttons on the screen. I would hold my hand over the button and let it continue, getting after as the number increased, only to zip past what I meant to enter as I tried to move my hand away in time. So for anyone looking to use this game, feel free to leave the controller connected and at grabbing distance for these parts. Navigating the menu in other Kinect games is not as bad overall, though this one seems to need a finer control than the motion sensors can offer.

Another alarming aspect that quickly dawned on me compared to my experiences with the likes of Kinect Sport was the required distance to stand. I do not have a studio apartment, or a large empty room in my little town house. And many people in the past have grumbled about the required distances needed for the Kinect to really have it work well. You do need to stand some way back, though on games like Kinect Sport this is only needed to play with two people at once. And you can stand a bit closer to play single player without much of an impact. However, UFC seems to want you to stand all the way back at maximum range anyway. While I can do this as such, since I move my TV stand round to face lengthways in the room, this will put me at a place where my sofa arm and a recliner chair leave little more than walking space between them and I cannot make any more room.

The sensor on the bottom right shows your body position.
Anything other than green means a less accurate result.
A bad thing in a small room since you are mostly red...
Still, this is not a total hindrance if I stick to punch and kick based exercises, however the initial fitness test wanted me to lay down sidways to the sensor and do some situps so it could count them and record the results. This was pretty much impossible for me at that distance. And when I worked a way round it and moved on to presups the game failed to register some of them and gave me a shorter number than I would have got. OK it might have made a difference between 9 and 14 in a minute countdown, so it would still have been low... but still this was clearly an issue with not being able to be at full distance from the sensor.

Another issue with the game is the pace. While for the most part the game is happy for you to do your own pace, and not keep up with the trainer, it flips from one exercise to the next really quick with no warning of what is to come. It caught me unaware first time round when the game wanted me to go from doing some arm stretches to getting on the ground and doing a leg stretch routine. Before I could even get down the instructor had already begun and I could not quite see what he wanted me to do, busy getting on the ground and such. And getting back up again to do the next bit was as much a bother for someone not entirely fit like myself.

Anyway the actual fitness plans are pre-set, and you have a selection between three different trainers based on real UFC fighters and, I am going to assume, their own real fitness plans they use to keep in shape. They are split into grades and types, such as core exercises, leg exercises and so on. Some are fighting based, some develop your agility and such. However you can also make a plan of your own from the list of all individual exercises and save them for later use. Each plan consists of a warm up and a cool down stretching session too, ensuring you avoid injury as much as possible. So there is plenty to keep you active and stop you getting bored with the same routines over and over again. Though the afore mentioned menu system makes it hard to browse them easily. And there is another annoyance...

Insert gratuitous hot-chick here. 
The game is presented, as such, by UFC babe Rachelle Leah. And yeah she is very nice to look at. Emphasis on look at, not listen to. No, girls, I am not being a typical man here by saying the sexy girl should keep her mouth shut, but in her case I will make an exception. Her voice is used to provide tutorial voice overs and her voice is also nice to listen to as well, on its own. However, she chirps constantly while you use the menu system and very quickly it gets annoying as she spits the same token phrases over and over again on a loop with barely 20 seconds between each one while you try to study the exercise plan to see if it is something you want to do. (Or have the space to do, for that matter of fact. Something I will come back to next.) It gets very bothersome to hear 'Select a trainer, or just jump right in.' 'An ultimate fighter would have no trouble getting down to business. Why don't you?' 'Why not step into the ring with a fighter and start hitting some pads?'

Why don't you just shut the hell up! Driving me crazy. Thank god someone invented a mute button. If she only spoke after like 3-4 mins of idleness then I would be ok with this. But several times a minute is distracting, THQ!

I mentioned about the space to work, as well. With the sensor wanting to work at maximum distance, this is one problem that affects me personally, and maybe other people too. You have to be about 8-10 feet from the sensor, have space to lay flat sideways and maybe a few more feet of clear air around you as well so keep this in mind if you plan to get this game. If you do not have it then you are not going to get the most out of the game. However, finding out that I cannot do some of the exercises due to space constraints is not something readily apparent to me. I said above that you can study the pre-set exercise plans. And you can, to a degree. When you move your hand over one of them it shows you a list at the top of each exercise represented by an icon. However, it is not really clear from each icon what the exercise will want you to do. It might be a case of standing in one spot, or you might need to step around a little, or in one case I was asked to get on the ground, facing the sensor, then get back up again while attacking. I had not the room to do this anyway and had to hit the skip button in the pause menu to get past it. OK it is a benefit that there is a skip button anyway so guess this point in favour of the game nullifies the overall sense that I cannot use it to the fullest extent. Still, it gets a little frustrating at times not knowing what I am being asked to do until I am shown it and realise my room is too small for this. Again, navigating the menus is taxing enough as well when using the Kinect sensor to select the exercise plans. Moving your hand away from the icon for the plan could roll over another icon and the plan you wanted to look at is replaced with one you do not want to look at. So, again, keep the controller handy.

Need lots of space for your workout.
You can always tell the game to do a 'quick workout' which means it will select a random one for you. And if you have a wide open living room then knock yourself out. This will select a random plan and set you on it with a random trainer. So you can be assured you have space to take whatever it throws at you. If not then you have to just grit your teeth and work your way through various kinds of exercises until you locate the ones you have space for and make your own training plan to save for later use.

You could also just hit the free workout button, too. This gives you access to hitting some punch pads with a pre-set list of punches, kicks, elbows and knees as a trainer calls out the moves to you. You can hit the heavy bag on your own, selecting a time limit to score against with different strikes as you see fit. You can hit the fast ball and try to keep a rhythm going and you can do a tyre flip where you have to simulate lifting a tyre to move it from one side of a room to another. This last one seems kind of odd, since part of the real thing is moving the actual weight of a tractor tyre and not just dipping down and standing up again. But your heart will get going none the less and if you invest in a weighted ball of some kind or hold onto a pair of dumbbells while doing it you would get a similar workout. 

Hitting the mitts is a good exercise plan. Needs no space other than where
you stand.
Overall, the Kinect system can be criticised for the lack of any kind of realistic feedback and resistance when it comes to cardio workouts involving punches and kicks and such, and in a way the argument in itself has some merit. However, it is more like shadow boxing than it is actually going to work on a heavy bag or a pair of mits. And there is some emphasis on body weight based exercises and agility work as well, which with the afore mentioned advent of weights to some of the routines you will get a good workout. It is a shame that you really need a lot of space because so far, with the Kinect, I have found that to be no great issue even in my small living room.

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