Let’s be honest, most people look pretty stupid when they’re playing video games: hunched over a controller or keyboard while they stare slack-jawed at a glowing screen, a tendril of drool slowly falling from their mouth. It’s not a good look for anyone.
There’s really only one way to make yourself look even more ridiculous while playing video games, and that’s to try and be active while you do it. Suddenly, a lifetime of sloth-like living leaps up and bites you on the nose while you try (and fail) to balance yourself on whatever device came with the fitness bundle. And even if you manage to stay upright you still look like a stuffed turkey teetering on a surfboard too small for a bird, let alone an oversized human being.
That’s not to say that all fitness games are a lost cause. Dance Dance Revolution can famously trim those unwanted pounds by making you stamp and twist like a meth-head having a seizure and a coronary simultaneously. And the same thing goes for the likes of Just Dance and Dance Centra. It's worth remembering, however, that these are the except that proves the rule. By and large, if you want to get fit, video games are not the way to do it.
Here are 15 of the worst exercise games ever made.
15 Stadium Events
Famous for being one of the most expensive and rare Nintendo games of all time, it’s surprising to find out that Stadium Events is actually an awful fitness game. Played using the Nintendo Power Pad, the game was essentially an early precursor to Dance Dance Revolution. The player would stand on the pad, and then have to stomp on various buttons depending on the event.
At least, that was the intent. In reality, players found it far easier to just kneel down and slam the footpads with their hands to trick the sensors into thinking they were running extremely fast. You may never have gotten in shape with this game, but if you kept it in your garage, you might at least get rich.
14 Active Life: Explorer
Jump ahead a few decades and you’ll find one of Stadium Events many successors in Active Life: Explorers. Unlike most fitness games for the Wii that focused on the balance board and using the game’s controllers, Active Life: Explorers came with its own mat for players to dance on during the game.
Where the game falls flat is in the actual exercise department. The game never pushes the players (who are assumed to be rambunctious children in any case), and the exercises boil down to flailing your arms while occasionally jumping. Hardly a workout. What the developers of Active Life Explorers seem to completely misunderstand is that exercise requires you to get your heart rate UP.
13 Gamercize GZ Sport
Here we have a title that comes with something other than a playmat. Gamercize GZ Sport comes with its own tiny step machine to play their many mini games with, forcing the player to continuously move while gaming.
Sounds neat in theory, but totally collapses in practice. The stepper is so small that it could really only be used by elves to work off their winter weight. Being powered by batteries meant that the already chronically unmotivated will easily find the excuse to quit once the batteries die. And to top it off, despite its small size, the machine makes a racket enough to drive anyone up the wall after an hour’s use. Someone needed to playtest this thing before shipping it out to consumers.
12 Jackie Chan J-Mat Fitness
You may be confused to see Jackie Chan on this list. The famous Chinese actor typically only lends his likeness to animated characters, but for a brief moment he actually lent it out to a console. Which one? Why the XaviXPORT, of course.
Never heard of it? Me neither. Apparently, in 2005 it competed with the Wii for control of the middle-class' living room, obviously to incredible success. For those lucky enough to possess the console, you can get the J-Mat Fitness package and follow along as Jackie Chan sways from side to side on the proprietary balance board that looks in no way like a copy of the Wii balance board at all. It's almost surprising something with Jacki Chan's likeness never took off.
11 Dance On Broadway
Most of the dance games out there all feature pop songs or hip-hop or fast-paced EDM. But what if your groove harkens back to the days of show tunes? Dance on Broadway would be your game.
Except it’s awful. Each song presents the player with four different dancers to follow, but each of them has different moves, and the only way to learn them is to keep playing the same song over and over again. There’s no story mode, no DLC, and the motion-capture can be fooled easily by just holding out the controller at the angle represented on screen, and even for the era, the graphics were bad enough to make you want to gouge your eyes out with the Wiimote.
A lot of people tout the benefits from playing augmented reality mobile games, of which Ingress is but one. While I’ll certainly agree that there are benefits to getting off your butt and walking around in the great outdoors, excelling in these games often means doing the exact opposite.
When Ingress and Pokémon Go first came out, the best way to progress was to actually get in your car and drive around to various game locations. This not only isn’t exercise, it was also contributing to global warming - a double-whammy to gym bunnies and tree huggers alike. Niantic eventually instituted a speed limit of 35 mph, however, this often meant that players either hacked the game to spoof their location, or just drove slowly.
9 Jillian Michaels' Fitness Ultimatum 2009
Jillian Michaels was one of the personal trainers on The Biggest Loser who tried to turn her moment of fame into a successful fitness video game franchise. She released her Ultimatum in 2009 on the Wii, making use of the balance board and Wiimotes to keep track of your workout.
Except they didn’t work. Much like the rest of the games on this list, the game only tracked the angle of the controller, so could be easily spoofed. Not only that, the exercises in the game aren’t exactly hard: fake rowing, monkey bars, and tire trails are difficult to do in the real world, but without any weight behind the moves you’d hardly break a sweat. The game would often fail to record your movements, constantly rating your performance as poor. Which it was, but that was just because the game is so bad it’d be hard to do any better.
8 My Weight Loss Coach
Many of us need to make fitness a group activity or hire a personal trainer to maintain the motivation to work out. My Weight Loss Coach was a game for the DS that tried to replace the human element with a digital one, giving you a game to play instead.
Only there really wasn’t much game there. My Weight Loss Coach was mostly a glorified fitness journal that occasionally nudged you in the direction of a higher heart rate. There wasn’t any game to play at all, just a goal to exercise along with some screens to manually enter how well you did. You could easily just lie the whole time, and the game would be none the wiser.
7 Shape Up Xbox One
Shape Up? More like Ship Out, am I right? Guys? Guys?
Whatever. Shape Up is a game that uses the Kinect to determine whether the player is doing the exercise rather than using any sort of weight sensor. It’s a novel approach, and the colorful graphics and “fitness quests” give the game a sort of RPG like atmosphere. It starts to fall down on execution, however, often emphasizing speed over correct form. This also has the unfortunate side effect of encouraging injury by never actually tutoring the inexperienced on how to perform a squat properly. Combined with a limited number of exercises and no scaling difficulty for players, and you might as well do a few jumping jacks and skip the $60 price tag.
6 Target Toss Pro: Bags
Um. So I wasn’t aware of this until now, but apparently, there’s a sport called “cornholing.” My first thoughts on the matter are this sounds like a fantastic way to get some exercise. However, I was disappointed to learn that “cornholing” merely means to throw small bean bags through a punctured wooden board a short distance away.
The game uses the Wiimote to sense the distance a simulated bag would be thrown when the player mimics the motion, much like Wii Bowling. On the plus side, it’s sort of neat to see a little digital avatar throwing bags in a hole. On the downside, the cost of the game is actually more than the cost of real life cornholing sets. Either way, this isn’t much of a workout. Or much of anything besides a means of getting my hopes up.
5 Yoga for Wii
Yoga is tough enough without adding a game element, but then Yoga came out and decided the only way to ensure the player was actually playing the game was to force them to pose on the Wii balance board.
The only problem was there was nothing to force the player to actually perform the poses the game presented. Your choices were to either focus on balance and ignore the actual position of your arms and hands, or to try and mimic the on-screen instructor and fall flat on your face.
You were better off just buying a Yoga instructional DVD rather than trying to play this game.
4 Your Shape Featuring Jenny McCarthy
In response to the Kinect, and because most of their fitness games used the easily fooled Wiimotes, Nintendo felt they needed to up their Wii fitness game by releasing their own visual sensor that made sure players were posing just right.
Ubisoft had the bright idea of packaging a USB webcam along with a fitness game, and thus Your Shape was born.
Taking out the need for Wiimotes was a neat concept, but in practice the camera can’t really tell the difference between a bicep curl and a boxing jab from head-on, forcing the game to use only exercises that contort your limbs in unique ways. The game then boils down to aerobics that looks even more ridiculous than they normally do, and mostly fail to get your heart rate up.
3 Zumba Fitness: Join The Party
Zumba is another thing I had to look up for this article. Apparently, it’s a dance exercise developed in South America that combines fast-paced movement with dynamic aerobic exercising.
The short videos I saw on YouTube were intense enough to give me a sweat just watching them. The game will do the same, but mostly from frustration. The Kinect camera often fails to pick up the player’s movements, and when it does the move rarely matches up to what’s displayed on the screen. Making things worse, the poor detection makes navigating screens just as much exercise as the actual game in that it will force you to swipe a dozen times before the game finally notices.
2 Self-Defense Training Camp
Self-Defense Training Camp does not teach the important life skill of kicking someone in the crotch — and thus fails in its intent.
It’s also not a good exercise game. You’re supposed to mimic the punches and kicks presented on screen, but the Kinect can’t tell the difference between a perfectly executed side kick and just lifting your leg slowly at 90 degrees. Trying to mimic more advanced moves is simply made impossible by the poor detection. If anything, you're liable to pull something making yourself a bigger target. You're better off getting a gym membership and a bottle of mace.
Wanna simulate being on horseback? Or how about being a goalie in the World Cup? Or skiing down a mountainside at the Winter Olympics?
Then get up off your ass and go outside. MotionSports for the Xbox 360 certainly won’t help.
The Kinect, as usual, had trouble telling the difference between “gently leaning into a curve” versus “tumbling down a mountain ass over tea-kettle” during skiing. The same problem existed for horseback riding, which would just as often register the movement for “Woah, there” as it would “let’s ride off into the sunset.” The number of sports available certainly sets it apart from the competition, but it will do nothing to trim your waistline.