New Year’s Resolutions
Shape Up
Review

By Jorge Figueiredo - January 7th, 2015

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‎Years ago, Ubisoft ushered in a videogame fitness revolution with their Your Shape series on the Nintendo Wii. It wasn’t a surprise when the Kinect came out for the Xbox 360 that Ubisoft was on top of the situation with a Your Shape game specific to that platform. Of course, other developers ended up populating the space with superior products. Ubisoft’s Your Shape series was decent on its own, but in comparison with other fitness games, it didn’t deliver enough benefits relative to its serious tone, and would become less engaging as time went on. Now, Ubisoft has changed gears, releasing Shape Up for the Xbox One. This Kinect-exclusive fitness title puts more of am emphasis on the “game” aspect in an attempt to get players to exercise more. Honestly, this game is a lot more fun than any other game in the Your Shape series, thanks to a great exercise list and hilarious presentation.

Given most peoples’ attention spans, it’s a sure bet that you’re going to get people to play your game if you make it fun – and Shape Up is definitely fun. The premise of the game is to get you off of your duff and onto your feet, performing exercise challenges to attain high scores. A few different modes of varying levels of commitment are available to help you get fit, granting you some flexibility. What makes the game endearing, though, is that the exercises are goofy, the actors have a great sense of humour, and the presentation is decidedly old-school with its 8-bit arcade game sensibilities and rockin’ soundtrack.

From the main menu, you are able to choose between Online Match, Quick Play, and Training Quest. Online Match is, of course, a way to play with friends in the never-ending battle to outdo each other. Quick Play is made up of short-burst 90-second fitness challenges and slightly longer exercise routines (which spend a little more time focusing on a particular aspect of fitness). Finally, Training Quest keeps the momentum going by stringing together quick-shot routines and exercises, and giving you an overall larger challenge to maintain – but you have to keep at it at least 3 days a week‎, 15 minutes a day.

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Some of these visuals are amazing.

Each of the modes are simply variants of each other, with the differences being primarily the presentation and duration – overall the formula is the same: perform crazy activities which target specific areas of the body (with bonus sections where players perform alternate activities extra points). Exercises can range from doing push-ups (with increasingly heavy objects being stacked on top of your on-screen representative) with an occasional freeze (like a plank), to a rhythm game where your feet play piano keys in time with the music (with the bonus activity being running like a maniac on the highlighted keys). Before the player(s) engage in the exercise (or set of exercises), an over-exuberant trainer breaks down what will be done. The tutorial lasts maybe around 20-30 seconds – then it’s off to the races.

I found that online play was kind of limited, as I could never get a session going (either my friends didn’t have it, or they weren’t playing when I was). Thankfully, there is local co-operative play in all of the non-online modes, so you can workout with a friend. I played the game with Smallest Thumbs (age 7) and we had a blast. When the round is over, your scores are compared and the winner’s avatar gets a crown placed over their head while the loser’s on-screen representative has a safe dropped on them (or some such similar thing). Nothing motivates people to play another round more than being digitally ridiculed (in good fun, of course).

Shape Up also employs rePLAY, which records your workouts so that you can play against yourself later. For each activity that Smallest Thumbs and I would do, there was a rePLAY segment at the end that would ask to record the winner’s victory dance. This short video plays when you end up playing against yourself in single-player modes. What blew my mind, though, was when I repeated one of the challenges: while the other avatar was me from a previous workout, it also recorded all of the audio associated with that rePLAY as well, so I could hear myself chatting with Smallest Thumbs the whole time. It was a pretty neat moment that demonstrated the attention to detail.

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Can you beat the Luchador?

Ubisoft’s “spoonful of sugar” philosophy has some merit. Playing the game, while demanding (if you choose to more than a single quick challenge), is a lot of fun – which makes the exercise far more bearable. The cheesiness of the instructors and the campy old-school arcade graphics overlays and environments add a lot of levity and lift the spirits. Sure, it’s not like some of the other, more serious exercise programs available for Kinect – but it’s probably more positive motivation for “normal” folks – plus it’s a great way to get into shape and have fun with your kids. Since the exercises aren’t overly complicated, the playing field is quite level, meaning that it’s anyone’s game. There are also enough different types of exercise to ‎keep you engaged, if you are not super-picky. On top of these aspects, Shape Up also tracks your calories burned and time played – if you believe these are accurate (which I wonder about, sometimes – in all exercise games, for the record).

It’s a little difficult to judge the graphics ‎of this game, due to the deliberate retro nature of the visuals. Everything is bright and colourful, with great animations for the environments and what appears to be intentional flicker. The Kinect grabs details well enough, but captured player models are far from “perfect”. Music and sound effects follow the visual aesthetic, mimicking arcade boxes of olden days, while the voice acting is over the top and awesomely entertaining (it’s like someone took a Facebook feed and created characters based on all of the best fitness stereotypes.

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This exercise is an ab killer. It’s great, but make sure you stretch afterwards!

Shape Up has a lot going for it – however, there are a few things to note. First of all, while the Kinect works well, I find that the game doesn’t process jumps as effectively as other Kinect titles for the Xbox One. I re-calibrated my Kinect a few times, which seemed to make a little bit of a difference – but overall, jumping seems to be difficult for it to detect (though, to be fair, practically everything else was easily picked up). Secondly, even though there is a fair bit of content, most of it resides in the Quick Play section. The Training Quest mode only has two real programs – with the rest being available online for a fee (in which case, buying the Season Pass is the best option – or buying the Gold Edition, which comes with the Season Pass included). Furthermore, there is a Shape Up Coach subscription service that costs about $10 per month, that allows you to essentially make use of a program customization feature and diet plan. I suppose it is cheaper than going to the gym and paying for a professional to help you out – but a pro will provide a lot more motivation and beneficial feedback; and frankly, I would have thought that putting together a customized program of exercises based on the game’s existing content would have been included with the game in the first place.

I think that Shape Up is one of Ubisoft’s better attempts at a fitness game for the Kinect. Because of it’s fun nature, it does a great job of softening the mental impact of exercise, and will hopefully get players to participate in their own fitness a little more. And sure, it’s not a substitute for a true workout at the gym or at a fitness class, but for around $60, you get a nice, basic package that can help you build a nice base and maintain a fairly healthy routine, if you can stick with it. Bundle in the social aspect of playing with friends online and locally, and you have a decent value for your dollar.

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