The original Fitness Boxing launched a couple of years ago, and while it certainly served its purpose, two years is a long time for anyone to be playing one game on a daily basis, as was its intention.
With that in mind, Fitness Boxing 2: Rhythm & Exercise is now with us, but a lot has changed in two years: after all, we now live in a world where Ring Fit Adventure is a thing and nothing else really comes close to it on the Switch. Does this sequel offer up enough new features to justify a second round, or should it have thrown in the towel and left fans to keep playing the original? The answer, which is nice and annoying, lies somewhere in the middle.
The general idea in Fitness Boxing 2 is the same as it was the first time around. The main menu gives the choice of a Daily Workout or Free Training: the latter of these lets you choose which workout to do, its intensity level, which music you want to accompany you, how fast you want the music to play and which background you’d like as you work out.
You then start the exercise itself, where you have to punch a series of icons to the beat. These icons represent different actions and while early on it’s fairly straightforward stuff like jabs, straights, hooks and uppercuts, eventually it throws in ducking, weaving, blocking, stepping and the like. After your workout is complete, you’re then scored on how accurate your punches were – and that’s more or less it, really.
As in the first game, the way Fitness Boxing 2 detects punches could be better, but motion controls of this type were never going to be entirely accurate. Jabs and straights are fine for the most part, but when you start introducing hooks and uppercuts to the mix, that’s when things can start to get a little messy – until you reverse-engineer the Joy-Con in your head and figure out exactly what gesture the Switch is looking for.
It’s not checking to see if you’ve done the uppercut properly, because it’s got no way of telling that. It’s simply checking its accelerometers for a quick burst of movement. This means simply doing the motion isn’t enough, you’ve got to properly ‘punch’ it at the end to make it register. It’s perhaps a tiny bit more forgiving than the first game was at registering some of these punches (especially the hooks, which we often had problems with), but given that these calculations are done in secret, it’s hard to tell whether it actually has improved the motion detection or if we’re just used to playing the first game so much.
There are also some performance issues from time to time. When a game mainly consists of following a set of large squares sliding up the screen, it becomes far more noticeable when those squares aren't moving perfectly – and they certainly chug along at times. We don't know if it's our imagination, but on some songs, it felt like we went completely off the beat, as while we were still getting Perfects on our punch timing, everything just sounded a bit off.
As before, you’re accompanied by a fitness instructor, and while there were six to choose from in the first game, there are now another three newcomers to try and warm to. Karen (whose name is rather unfortunate in 2020) is a friendly, quiet type and a harmless enough choice to be your trainer. Janice is the complete opposite and is often terrifyingly enthusiastic, while Hiro looks like he's been rejected from a Korean boyband and has a typically ‘cool’ set of clothing for you to choose from.
If you’re a Fitness Boxing veteran and you’re concerned by this new blood coming in, you don’t need to worry: all six instructors from the first game are still here, so you can continue to marvel at Bernardo’s comically large arms, or try to figure out why the impossibly posh-sounding Sophie is teaching you how to box when she clearly sounds like she could afford servants to burn calories on her behalf. Whoever was your choice in the first game, they’ve all stuck around for round two.
As before, each instructor has their own outfits to choose from, and you can unlock them over the course of the game. The unlocking process has been made far more straightforward, though, and much less time-consuming. In the first game, instructor outfits were unlocked when you hit certain milestones, but some of these were frankly ridiculous: throwing a total of 198,000 punches to unlock a new top felt ever so slightly disproportionate.
This time the game has a whole host of achievements for performing certain routines, hitting more manageable milestones and even things like customising your instructors or simply choosing them for the first time. Every time you perform one of these achievements, you’re rewarded with some orange tickets; these can then be traded for new clothing. While more new clothes are still unlocked over time, you at least get a generous enough helping of tickets at the start of the game and you’d really have to try hard to run out of them.
Slightly less generous is the selection of music available to you. The first Fitness Boxing had 20 songs, and the general theme was pop: you had the likes of Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Justin Bieber, Maroon 5 and co. This time, there are another 20 available (as well as three forgettable original tunes), and they seem to span a wider range of decades. While you’ve still got some relatively modern tracks (like Hot N Cold by Katy Perry and Alone by Marshmellow), there’s a hefty percentage of older ones here, too.
A bit of Girls Just Want to Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper, you say? Why, yes, it’s in there. Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind & Fire? Um… sure, why not. Sandstorm by Darude? Okay, someone’s clearly just added that one for the memes. The thing is, with only 20 songs to choose from, there isn’t a lot of scope to vary the track listing a bit, and the odd tracks that look like attempts to step out of the “cheesy pop” category just feel like they stand out awkwardly. It’s hard to think of anyone who’d be a big fan of What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction and Venus by Bananarama, but also be well into Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf and It’s My Life by Bon Jovi.
Above all else, though, the songs are still unlicensed, MIDI-quality cover instrumentals that wouldn’t sound out of place embedded on a website from the ‘90s. Choose YMCA by the Village People and close your eyes and, if you’re old enough, you can almost picture yourself signing the guestbook, looking at the ‘under construction’ signs and animated gifs of flames, then clicking on to the next site in that particular Geocities webring.
With that in mind, we’ve got no idea why it was decided to draw a line under it at 20, when they could have theoretically had a whole load in there. One potential shining light is that the main menu has an eShop option, which currently takes you to the eShop where you’re met with an error message that there’s nothing there. This suggests that there’s DLC to come, so with any luck that’ll mean more songs, and with even more luck they’ll be free because it would be a bit of a joke to charge us actual money for music that sounds like a 14-year-old learned it on their Yamaha.
Let us just throw in one suggestion if we may, though, and while such an undertaking is obviously far too late now for Fitness Boxing 2, maybe it might be an idea for the third game. Friends, let us not forget the JoySound library. The JoySound Karaoke app was one of the Wii U’s few successes in Japan, and it’s now currently on the Switch where it has no fewer than 180,000 songs, along with tempo control. If there was a way to somehow integrate that with Fitness Boxing and charge a membership fee to give the player access to a much larger library, that would make every day feel fresh rather than having you feel like you’ve heard everything after just three weeks.
That’s ultimately the main issue here. Nothing in Fitness Boxing is remarkably bad: the controls work as well as they could and, some performance issues aside, you can still get a half decent workout as long as you’re willing to put the effort in (and aren’t tempted to just sit on the couch and flick the Joy-Con once you realise that works just as well). The problem is simply that there isn’t enough variety here, and while there are a series of different workouts to unlock, they’re all the same sort of thing. This is no major flaw in itself – it’s called Fitness Boxing, so if they started throwing ballet moves in there you’d be annoyed – but this repetition would feel a lot less monotonous if there was more music to make each day feel different.
Fans of the original Fitness Boxing will feel at home with this sequel, if a little disappointed that it isn't quite the evolution it could have been. A few new instructors and an improved achievements system isn't quite enough to make up for the fact that this still suffers from many of its predecessor's issues, most notably its disappointingly small selection of music and the terrible unlicensed instrumental versions it provides.