by Mike Jones
With the release of Nintendo's Wii in 2006, and, even more so, the Wii Fit in 2008, the gaming industry made a novel declaration: Why choose between gaming and fitness when the two things can be combined? By 2010, Microsoft and PlayStation had followed Nintendo's lead with their own versions of motion control gaming, releasing the Xbox Kinect and PlayStation Move, respectively.
While the age of fitness gaming isn't over, it does, unfortunately, seem to be on the decline (Until VR becomes mainstream….. see below). Nintendo has switched its focus from motion gaming to mobile gaming, with Wii U and the Switch, while Xbox discontinued its last surviving version of the Kinect in October 2017, and PlayStation chose not to update its motion control functionality for the PS4 (the motion controllers designed for the PS3 are compatible). Despite a lack of upgrades to the hardware, though, Nintendo, Microsoft and PlayStation's motion controllers and fitness games remain on the market. Here are the best consoles to get your fitness gaming on while the fitness gaming is still good.
Of the current generation of gaming consoles, the Nintendo Switch offers the most fitness games. As mentioned in the opening, the current consoles have kind of phased out fitness games and the Nintendo Switch still offers the most amount of options. The Switch has a lightweight controller and allows you to move around without much noticing any restriction. Here is a list of our favorite Nintendo Switch fitness games:
Fitness Boxing - As you may have guessed from the title of the game, Fitness Boxing is a Switch game specifically designed for a workout through boxing. Your goal is to throw jabs, hooks, and uppercuts to the rhythm of popular songs such as "Party Rock Anthem" or "Call Me Maybe". The game will give you feedback about form and accuracy similar to Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero. Difficulty as increases as you play so the workout will never seem too easy.
ARMS - ARMS is ideal for gamers who love combining fast-paced action with customized options. You have complete control throughout this game. You can build your own fighting champion who comes with extendable arms and can knock anyone out. Once you learn the controls and hand motions, you're ready to take on your opponent. This ARMS game is based off Switch's unique controls that provide an entertaining and memorable experience for you and your family. You can also upgrade your character as you win more challenges, which gives you more power over your enemies.
Mario Tennis Aces - If you love Mario and tennis, then you'll love this video game from Switch. This video game comes to life without the use of a heavy tennis racket. The control movements are much easier to use than the original Wii U version. However, it can take some time to master some of these movements, but it's more rewarding in the end. It's great for couples and families as it's competitive and fast-paced in style. If you love the ability to challenge someone, then you'll love this game.
Nintendo may have brought motion control into popular favor, but it could be argued Xbox did it much better. Unlike the Wii or PlayStation Move, which require fitness gamers to keep a controller in hand, or to stand on a (not entirely comfortable) balance board, Xbox Kinect is a controller- and board-free body motion system that provides true freedom of movement in fitness gaming.
With the use of a camera, a depth sensor and a microphone, the Kinect system "sees" a user's movement and conveys that information back to the console. Due to Kinect's unmatched range of motion, the games are far more active, providing a genuine cardio workout, while still providing feedback on form. Unfortunately, the Kinect was discontinued in October 2017 and even requires an adapter for the newer Xbox One consoles (S and X).
Kinect Sports Rivals - One of the best-selling franchises has returned to the Xbox One. It uses the console's Kinect motion-sensing camera to detect your movements. Once the camera captures your likeness, you're transported into the game as a champion. You'll be able to challenge your family, friends, rivals, and the rest of the world. Kinect Sports brings this game to life through accurate and responsive tracking. This game features a wide variety of games so you and your family will never get bored. Games include bowling, jetski racing, rock climbing, soccer, target shooting, and tennis.
Shape Up - Shape Up is fun for you and the whole family. The more fun that you have, the more of a workout that you'll get out of this game, which is a win-win for everyone. If you're tired of the same workout routine then maybe you need to punch asteroids for a cardio workout or squat your way to the moon to get the buns you always wanted. You can also try your hand at bench-pressing an elephant. Each of these workouts targets specific muscle groups in rapid, 90-second bursts. Choose between a four-week quest or challenge your friends for bragging rights.
Zumba Fitness World Party - Now you bring a Zumba class home with you. You get to explore over 40 routines that feature hits from chart-topping artists like Daddy Yankee, Lady Gaga, and Pitbull, including original tracks and songs from Zumba classes held around the world. You'll burn up to 500 calories per hour as you immerse yourself in the Zumba experience. The visuals will make it feel as if you're traveling around the world with one of your favorite Zumba instructors. You can work towards personal fitness goals or pre-set goals that guide your workout.
As mentioned in the intro, Playstation chose not to update their motion controllers for the Playstation 4. What's more, while the Move controllers designed for the PS3 are compatible with the PS4, the Playstation Eye Camera is not, and many of the fitness games designed for the Playstation require the Eye Camera (specifically) to work (not the PS4 camera). Due to this, the fitness games that gained popularity on the PlayStation platform simply don't work with the PS4, leaving you with limited options.
Instead, Playstation has reserved its true motion titles for PlayStation VR, so if you want to use your PS4 to get your heart rate up, you'll need to go virtual, and check out the best fitness video games for PlayStation VR here.
Just Dance 2019 - The only true movement-inclusive holdover from the PS3, Just Dance 2019 is like every previous version of the game, just with updated tunes and routines. It's meant to be fun, not grueling, but that doesn't mean the dances aren't challenging, or that you won't get a decent cardio workout as you have a good time. With limited motion control options available for the PS4 as a standalone console, and zero fitness video games for PS4 made, this is your best (and kind of only) bet for getting a workout with your PS4 alone.
Microsoft launched the Kinect in November 2010 and the fitness games for Xbox 360 took off. The Kinect tracks your movement and you can see what it is tracking on the screen. A variety of fitness games were developed to take advantage of the Kinect and you can see our choices for the best of them below. Sadly, the Kinect met its end with the Xbox One in 2017. However, Microsoft may be getting back into the space with the Azure Kinect which was announced in 2019 and is available only in a developer's kit.
EA Sports Active 2 - EA Sports Active 2 comes with a heart rate monitoring arm band, so it's clear straight out of the box that this game isn't playing around with the fitness angle. You begin the game by creating your avatar and entering your stats, so the game knows where you're starting out, and can choose one of the pre-planned workout regimens or create your own. Pre-planned regimens ease you into your fitness training by starting easier and increasing intensity, and incorporate activities from both the standard exercise options and the more playful (but still heart-pumping) funner options. If you need to sweat, lose weight, and tone up, this one's hard to beat.
The Biggest Loser Ultimate Workout - If there's anything that might beat EA Sports Active 2, it's The Biggest Loser Ultimate Workout. If you've seen the TV show, you might be able to judge the level of intensity this game brings to the fitness gaming format. There's well over a hundred activities to choose from, and, like Active 2, you can design your own routine or opt for one of the pre-planned routines, each focused on a specific fitness goal. A big plus for Ultimate Workout is the inclusion of yoga, notably missing in EA Sports Active 2, and compatibility with weights, resistance bands, and stability balls, allowing you to up the difficulty and benefits of your workout without switching programs.
Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012 - At this point, you're probably catching the drift - the best fitness games for the Xbox Kinect are those truly designed with exercise and training in mind, and Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012 fits that bill. Once again, you get to select from routines geared toward specific fitness goals, or choose from the multitude of activities to build your own workout. The main downfall of Your Shape Fitness Evolved, compared to Active 2 and Ultimate Workout, is that it can tell when you're doing an exercise wrong, but fails to explain what you're doing wrong, making it difficult to correct poor form. If you can figure out how to correct on your own, though, there's plenty of intensity here.
Zumba Fitness Core - Let's be real. Zumba Fitness Core is not for the faint of heart, or the rhythmically challenged. The title is also a little misleading, because, while Zumba does have an emphasis on core-strengthening, it also provides a full-body cardio workout that is hard to beat. The routines here are meant to be challenging, so don't expect some light and easy dance routine. If you're familiar with Zumba, or have a knack for dance, you will catch on fairly fast, learn some cool dance moves in the process, and get one heck of a workout without any "traditional" boring exercises, perfect for the person who struggles with motivation to get fit.
Just Dance 2016 - Need something just as fun as Zumba without quite the grueling intensity. Most of the routines in Just Dance 2016 cut the intensity down by half. But there are routines designed specifically for getting real exercise, so once you've mastered the art of the dance, you can get a true workout, burning almost as many calories as Zumba (but not quite), while listening to some of your favorite pop songs.
Nike+ Kinect Training - You'll challenge yourself like you never did before with the Nike+ Kinect Training video game from Xbox. No matter what your personal fitness goals may be, this innovative game can help you reach them. There are workout programs for those who want to stay active, lose weight, or train for an upcoming marathon. These workout programs will evolve and grow as you do so your outcome will be different from someone else's. This is the ideal fitness game if you're serious about your fitness goals.
There's no doubt the freedom and mobility of the Nintendo Wii served as precursor to today's fitness games. With it's release, the Wii drew gamers off their sofas and out of their gaming chairs and onto their feet, launching the revolution in motion gaming. Then, Wii Fit and the Wii balance board took motion gaming to the whole next level. While Wii Fit doesn't provide the freedom of motion of the Kinect, or the high-octane workouts, the Wii and its balance board still does what it does very well.
Final Verdict: The design of the Wii's balance board has limited its functionality as a fitness gaming system, but many game makers have overcome limitations to make great exercise games for the Wii.
Note: Wii games work on the Wii U console, so any game you can buy for the Wii is also usable on the Wii U.
EA Sports Active 2 - We're not trying to play favorites here. It just happens that EA Sports Active 2 has managed to do something no other fitness game for the Wii/Wii U has done: it has overcome the limitations of the Wii system. Instead of relying on the balance board, the controller and the nunchuk as intended, Active 2 designed a game that uses an arm monitor and the Wii's nunchuk as a leg monitor, increasing the freedom of motion of the Wii substantially. The leg band that holds the nunchuk is included (along with a resistance band that makes some of those pointless arm exercises available in other Wii fitness games actually count), but if you're still working with a wired nunchuk, it can be problematic. Upgrade to a wireless nunchuk for this game, and you'll get a workout like you never expected out of the Wii.
EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp - There's just something about getting off the Wii balance board that really ups the exercise value of the console. That's why EA Sports scores again with its Active NFL Training Camp. Like Active 2, Training Camp uses bands to monitor motion and is focused on providing a true workout regimen that helps you lose weight and get fit. You select your desired level of difficulty and which days of the week you want to workout. Then, Training Camp goes to work, feeding you exercises to provide a well-rounded routine as you work toward your fitness goals.
On the novelty side, you also get to train with your favorite NFL player, so if you're a pro football fan, there's some extra encouragement in it.
Gold's Gym Cardio Workout - If you own the Wii balance board, you've probably done your fair share of exercises with the Wii's standard Wii Fit game. You've probably also noticed some of those exercises are considerably more challenging than others. Rhythm boxing is one of Wii Fit's most physically strenuous games, and one of only a few that meet the moderate intensity level necessary for the health benefits that come with regular exercise.
Gold's Gym Cardio Workout takes Wii's boxing and strength exercises and runs with them. The exercises are varied, if fairly standard, and the boxing routines are longer and more intense. It's easy to put together a routine with warm-up, moderate cardio, and a cool-down that engages your entire body.
Active Life Outdoor Challenge - Another game that forwent the Wii balance board in favor of its own motion controls, Active Life Outdoor Challenge is played on a specially-designed mat that increases range of movement for players, upping the fitness ante, while providing a fun, family-friendly way to get your workout in. Unique activities include log jumping, seesawing, and rafting, and the mat is dual-player, so you'll never have to exercise alone again.
Active Life Explorer uses the same Active Life mat for controls to provide an equally heart-pumping workout.
Bonus: The Wii Fit U version of Wii Fit comes with a Fit Meter that tracks your daily activity and syncs up with the Wii U when it's turned on for more accurate fitness tracking.
Wii Fit Plus - Not a lot of games on Wii Fit Plus will give you a calorie-torching workout, but a few will, and, as far as variety of activities and pain-free introductions into fitness gaming go, this successor to the original Wii Fit game is hard to beat. Activities range from easy balance games and yoga to aerobics and strength training. While some activities, such as Step and Rhythm Boxing, manage your pace, others, such as Hula Hoop and Free Skateboarding have no set speed, so you can get out of the exercises what you put into them. Fit Plus won't tell you how to correct an activity if you're doing it wrong, but it does know when you're doing it wrong, allowing for improvement over time.
And Wii Fit U adds dance routines to the mix.
As far as mechanics go, the Playstation Move, combined with the required Playstation Eye Camera, work almost exactly like the Wii's remote and sensor bar. The controller stays in hand, and the Eye Camera captures its movement. Also like the Wii, this limits the functionality of the system when it comes to fitness gaming on the Playstation platform. However, several game makers have managed to overcome the limitations of the Playstation to manufacture truly challenging fitness games for the PS3.
EA Sports Active 2 - Might as well make it a trifecta. Like it does with the Wii, EA Sports Active 2 combines what works on the Playstation Move with their own motion bands to create a full-body monitoring system that actually gets the job done. Pre-designed fitness routines provide a calorie-burning regimen, or choose your own activities for an intense and fun workout session.
Frankly, when it comes to fitness gaming, this is simply the game to beat across every major platform.
Adidas MiCoach - Wish you could swap the time you put in at the gym with more time in front of your PS3? Adidas MiCoach may be as close to that nirvana as you can get. Unlike many fitness games, which are fun with a side of calorie-burning, Adidas MiCoach is a real training program, with a side of fun. Choose from one of the general training plans - men's or women's - or choose to train for a specific sport, such as football, basketball, or running. The system will set you up with the ideal training schedule, and tell you what equipment you'll need if you want to do all of the recommended exercises.
The training provided by MiCoach is legit. In fact, one of the main complaints by users of the game is that it's *too* hard for a fitness game.
Note: Many of the exercises require a stability ball or free weights, so, if you want to make the most of MiCoach, you should get them along with the game. MiCoach also supports ANT+ heart monitors, and will display your heart rate if you sync one up with the system.
Kung-Fu High Impact - When done right (that is, with plenty of passion behind it), Kung Fu provides a serious workout that incorporates both cardio and muscle control. Kung-Fu High Impact for PS3 gets you up and doing Kung Fu in your own gaming room. Not well, probably, but still you're doing it. And since perfect technique isn't key to success in the game, you don't need any real skills to get started. The ability to move your body is all it takes, and move your body you will with this game. You can play alone, or with up to four additional players. And, as far as passion goes, the game's got that covered too, because it even lets you star in your own comic book adventure.
About Mike Jones
As a child of the 80's, my fondest gaming memories are playing Pitfall, Frogger, Kaboom! and Chopper Command on our old Atari 8600. These days I've been rocking the Nintendo Classic and learning some new card and board games with the family."