I admit I wasn't brimming with excitement upon receiving ExerBeat to review, but I was interested in what Namco Bandai's interpretation of a fitness game would be like (not to mention happy to be getting some use out of my Wii Balance Board). I'll have to curb my desire to ramble on about what I think fitness games should be doing, but I will say ExerBeat surprised me with some personality I hadn't seen in this genre yet, as well as offering a large variety of workouts for half the price of competing fitness games.
What Exerbeat really excels at is making your workout fun and upbeat.
You'll start out giving some details like name, weight, and birthday to a little musical note named Rhythm, who serves as the guide throughout the game. The game will keep track of stats such as your workout time, calories burned (which can be made more accurate by inputting your heart rate), and rhythm points earned during workouts. Rhythm may be too cartoonish for some, but I saw it as a nice change from stiff realistic trainers or a faceless, talking balance board.
Avid fitness game players will love the large selection of 150+ exercises spread over eight categories: Hip Hop, Latin Dance, Aerobics, Stretching, Yoga/Pilates, Boxercising, Karate, and Karate forms. It really is an all-in-one kind of game; there are even five party games "for the kids": Swimming, Dance Fever, Pizza Toss, Wall Smasher, and Pirate Attack. Similar to Wii Fit, most of the exercises in these groups will need to be unlocked.
What Exerbeat really excels at is making your workout fun and upbeat. Time seems to fly during this game, and though it's very possible to work up a sweat doing some of the routines, you won't be counting down the minutes until it's all over with. The game focuses a lot on arm movements ( it doesn't use the balance board too often), but the arm motions in the game vary enough that it doesn't start to feel repetitive. I was a little disappointed that the Yoga and Pilates section didn't make use of the Wii balance board capabilities, because it really helps with proper alignment and posture, but the visual demonstrations and the trainer's instructions are enough to make sure players are getting their forms correct. The game did make great use of the balance board in the Merengue dancing, which happened to be one of my favorites. The board picks up hip movements excellently, and it was a lot of fun to play that way.
My problem with fitness games is after all the different modes have been unlocked (which never takes long) I lose interest pretty quickly. People aren't so much satisfied anymore with just the personal accomplishment of completing a workout; they expect rewards or some kind of recognition via leaderboards or achievements. The Wii, unfortunately, doesn't incorporate Achievements or a leaderboard into its games. But with or without Achievements, I'd like to see more fitness titles bring in some other game elements or another incentive for returning or even completing the game. I feel like ExerBeat took a step towards this with its "around the world" feature that takes place after workouts.
I'm going to defend this "around the world" feature that stay-at-home moms don't seem to have the time for, because heaven forbid they learn some facts or a little geography during their day! Basically, after workouts the results are converted into miles that are used to travel to different locations across the globe. Upon reaching a new city, the mascot, Rhythm, will hit you with some interesting (not elementary) facts. Doesn't sound like anything you've seen in a fitness game does it? It's something extra that makes it feel like the game is moving forward, even after the first five hours when otherwise you may have felt like you've seen/done everything the game has to offer. The biggest complaint with around the world is that it "takes too long" (but really, it doesn't) but this is remedied when the My Exercises tab becomes available, allowing players to customize their own routines and play uninterrupted. Another feature that allows customizing workouts is the Personal Trainer mode, where you can choose a workout routine based on objective, a problem area, a category, or at random.
It never seems like fitness games can have enough graphs or other indicators of progress. ExerBeat will satisfy this need by including a calendar you get to stamp every day you workout (similar to Wii Fit). It'll also allow you to set weekly goals for yourself that will appear on the calendar, and completed daily challenge will add an extra flag to every day you do them. Calories burned, and workout time will be recorded in the form of a graph as well. Unfortunately, updates on weight are never asked for, but perhaps that is so no one feels guilty.
Overall, Exerbeat is a game with a little of something for everyone, and at $19.99 with such a large variety of workouts, it's probably the best bang for your buck. I'd love to see another fitness game done by Namco Bandai in the future, and hopefully they'll expand on ideas like around-the-world and bring more game elements to the fitness genre.