As 2019 dawns and gamers the world over wake up after New Year celebrations, Fitness Boxing arrives in time to take advantage of resolutions to get in shape. From the moment it boots up, anyone who’s ever baulked at their BMI beside a frowning Mii or stamped an onscreen calendar following a daily workout will feel right at home. The branding may be missing but this very clearly belongs to Wii Fit’s ‘exergaming’ lineage; everything from its green menu fonts to progress-tracking bar charts feels comfortingly familiar.
There’s no need to dust off the Balance Board this time, though; slide off those Joy-Con and you’re good to go. This has necessitated some simplification and Fitness Boxing’s learned a thing or two from a certain Ubisoft dance series. In fact, it feels like Wii Fit and Just Dance met at a party, drank some Dance Dance Revolution and – boom! – nine months later found themselves the proud parents of a little rhythm-fitness game.
It’s a more streamlined and straight-laced experience than before; the lack of Balance Board or plastic doohickeys means no tobogganing, penguin-flipping or other such Mii-based frivolities – this is Fitness Boxing. It’s positioned more as a lifestyle app – software to tide you over while you’re on holiday and can’t get to your Body Combat class – and in that capacity, we have to say it works rather well.
Using a monkey-like grip on your two detached Joy-Con, your thumbs rest along the ‘L’ and ‘R’ buttons. Icons travel up two vertical lanes into target zones indicating when to throw a punch. Following a rather slow introduction, a variety of HD rumble-enhanced jabs, straights, hooks, uppercuts and ducks make things much more interesting. A handy timer lets you know how much time remains in each section. You score points for landing combos highlighted in pink and your total is totted up at the end giving you a maximum three-star rating.
With no bulky peripherals required, the motion data available to developer Imagineer is somewhat limited and it’s unclear exactly how much of your movement input is registered. Queensberry rules prohibit kicks, so there’s no need to stuff Joy-Con down your socks. Handily, this reduces the number of pop-up disclaimers, too – a real blessing after all those Wii Fit warning screens. (Does anybody actually bother with those straps?)
Each workout is done to the beat of a chart-topper. A lean 20-tracklist unlocks as you complete sessions and includes instrumental versions of winners like ‘Call Me Maybe’ and ‘Moves Like Jagger’. A few vintage hits rub shoulders with the likes of Bieber, Pitbull and Lady Gaga; perennial favourite ‘Funkytown’ puts in an appearance, although the absence of the Rocky theme can only be down to a massive clerical error. The fact that we knew all the songs probably says something, but they add pep to your workouts and confident players can increase the speed of each track in Free Training. The word ‘instrumental’ may raise eyebrows, but with your trainer constantly barking instructions and encouragement, you really don’t miss Cristina Aguilera’s three-octave acrobatics while you’re in the zone.
Mirroring the set-up of a Boxercise class, you’re instructed to get bouncing, shifting your weight like a real fighter – 1, 2, 1, 2, forward, back, forward, back. Performing our finest Street Fighter idle animation with fists by our face, we felt ready to take on all-comers. Sure, ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ kinda killed the mood, but you can build your own playlist and the game does a good job of motivating you to keep your whole body moving. After inputting height and weight data, you can target specific muscle groups and set daily workout goals with durations between 15-45 minutes. Your ‘Fitness Age’ is calculated via some hazy computation (one-third motion analysis to two-thirds 'Magic 8-ball', it seems) but it’s as fun as ever to see what number it conjures.
Fitness Boxing gives your personal coach a makeover; the featureless mannequin from the box art is a ruse and the comically anodyne Wii Fit Trainer has been replaced here by the lovely Lin. For all her natty gym wear and skin pigmentation, though, she’s only a minor upgrade in terms of personality. We suppose she’s a tad more enthusiastic when you nail a combo, but Smash Bros. has given us a peculiar affection for her predecessor and Lin certainly isn’t amiibo material.
Following the tutorial, you can exchange her for one of five other trainers – three female, two male – each with individual names and voices. Custom garments unlock as your total-punches, stars and daily stamps are counted, with future gifts stretching out on the calendar for months and years. The models are a mixed bag and the women seem a little more polished (Bernardo’s body seems to be an HD copy-and-paste of Carl’s from GTA San Andreas). The ability to alter their eye, hair and skin colour feels a little odd, as do the zooming camera controls that permit you to examine tight polygonal glutes and thigh gap to your heart’s content.
Two-player mode lets you train in tandem with a partner, working together to chain combos or competing in a dreary VS mode where punches fill a meter until one player triumphs; the latter mode highlights the wisdom of focusing on fitness over ‘games’ this time around. Stretching sessions before and after each workout can be turned off, although we recommend keeping them; over-zealous air-punches can lead to the sorts of mischiefs Wii Sports did us back in ’06. Far be it to suggest that we’re anything other than the finest physical specimens here at NL, but we did wake up for several mornings with sore muscles under the shoulder blades.
And – yes – if you don’t fancy floating like a butterfly, it’s entirely possible to ‘cheat’; we found you could get by just fine on the sofa. It’s certainly easier to time those punches with your whole body moving back-and-forth, but playing while seated is an option if you’re unable (or unwilling) to stand. The game doesn’t seem to discriminate between X or Y axis movement, so hooks and uppercuts received ‘Perfect’ ratings regardless of direction, so long as timing was accurate.
Overall, it feels comparable to Just Dance in terms of accuracy – reliable enough to feel fair but we wouldn’t put too much faith in those ‘calories burned’ estimates. Just as paying for gym membership won’t magically gift you Jennifer Lawrence legs or Chris Hemsworth hamstrings, you’ll get out of Fitness Boxing what you put in. Once Nintendo’s pocketed your £39.99, the onus is on you to get into the spirit and use the software to its full potential. Tabletop mode means you can’t use being away from home as an excuse, either; it functions perfectly on the smaller screen, with text and icons large enough to follow with the console perched on a hotel room desk.
Within its common-sense (and, thanks to Wii Fit, well-known) limitations, Fitness Boxing is a breezy, energetic success that gets your blood pumping. For the one-time price of a month’s gym membership, it delivers some light CV and takes pointers from Just Dance and various rhythm games to provide a convenient and engaging workout. It’s no substitute for hard hours at the gym, but there’s certainly potential to tone up those arms and shed a few of the mince pies you put away while watching Groundhog Day over the holidays. It would be a mistake to buy this thinking you’re getting a game or some magical antidote to your spare tyre. However, it kept us coming back and if you’re after a reason to justify cancelling that direct debit to Gold’s, this is as good as anything you’ll find on a console.