Nike+ Kinect Training is a different beast to other Kinect-centric gym-simulators (gymulators?) such as the Your Shape franchise. If anything it comes closest to another clothing-branded title, MiCoach by Adidas. Where Nike+ has the advantage lies with its cross-platform statistics (available both through Xbox, PC and mobile apps), tracking your progress no matter where or when you feel like popping off a press-up or two. Even before the main menu appears there’s work to be done, an example of Nike’s approach to fitness in a deep, professional manner. Two Nike trainers (not that kind of trainer) appear, seemingly direct from the uncanny valley, to assess your overall fitness. It’s a daunting prospect for those uninitiated in strenuous physical effort, but rest assured that the test isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s actually one point that puts Nike+ one step ahead of the competition - estimating not only your athleticism but also stamina, strength and balance right down to specific limbs. This data are then used to generate your very own training programme, depending on your goals.
You are able to choose the type of regimen you’d like to pursue, with aims such as toning and improved strength among the choices. Nike+ does an excellent job of creating a truly personal plan, designed with your experience and ability fully in mind. It helps to be able to select the trainer as well - male or female depending on your preference. It doesn’t come close to a real person standing in the room but, as that can sometimes be off-putting for the more reserved, this might be seen as a benefit. Once you’ve completed the basic tests you’ll be given a score, disguised as something called Fuel Print. This gauges your fitness and athleticism - rather below average if you happen to be exercise-phobic like yours truly. This will then develop through repeated exercising, hopefully going up otherwise you’re doing it wrong. The score - because it is a score, same as a K/D ratio in Call of Duty - can be compared to others both locally and on worldwide leaderboards, much to your delight/shame. It’s another example of the gamification of everyday tasks, putting you in subliminal competition with the world while working towards a better quality of life.
Once through the gauntlet of tests you’ll have access to your own personal training programme alongside quick sessions and minigames to break up your standard workout. There are plenty of exercises to tackle, chosen for the game by seasoned fitness veterans. One thing that’s very noticeable is that Nike+ can be a pretty tough workout if you want it to be. Whereas Your Shape presented exercise regimes in a friendly, thumbs-up atmosphere, Nike+ isn’t afraid to throw press-ups or ambitious jumps at you and tell you areas where you are struggling. It’s the first exercise title that really feels like a gym workout, not trying to glamourise simple yet effective workouts. That’s not to say there aren’t the standard tricks pulled from the Kinect’s bag of cleverness. Digital hurdles approach a degree of augmented reality, especially when it’s your blurry avatar on screen stepping over a virtual object, evoking thrills of Kinect’s potential. However, it’s your avatar in particular that undermines the future-tech feel of Kinect - it’s really just a muddled outline, with the Kinect frequently including nearby objects within your silhouette.
Therein lies the problem with Nike+ Kinect Training; a slew of niggles stemming from Kinect’s problems as a device. Firstly, it’ll take a lot more than shunting the sofa against the wall to make space for some of the more energetic routines. Some exercises are floor-centric and require room for almost twice your body length running parallel to the television. Others encourage explosively high jumping, immediately ruling this game out for low-ceilinged fitness fanatics and those living in flats. The problem is compounded given the position of the Kinect is so sensitive in relation to its visibility - a mere matter of inches can make all the difference between remaining ‘in frame’ and stepping too close/too far/too low. The aforementioned floor-based exercises (press-ups, leg lifts and so on) suffer the most here, given the Kinect’s problematic skills in mapping anything below knee-height. Disappearing from the Kinect’s field of view is a regular occurrence and one that could cost you those all important points. Many routines also involve looking away from the screen and entrusting your movement skill to Kinect, often resulting in wrongly performed moves and more lost points. One nice touch though, if a little emasculating, is the ability to halt exercises by shouting ‘I’m done!’ at the game. You can almost feel the Kinect sneering at your pathetic attempt at fitness, as you languish in a pool of sweat, rolling in pain.
It’s worth reiterating that this is a game unafraid of pain and subsequent gain. These are actual exercises and none of the Tai-Chi frippery of Your Shape. Doing well really does impact your Fuel Print, bestowing bragging rights and bodacious abs as fairly-earned reward. It’s just a shame that the visual style of Nike+ leaves a lot to be desired. Menu navigation is slick (and borrowed from Dance Central’s fantastic swipe-centric design) but the workout locations revolve around a sparse studio and a field. Athlete models do the job well enough but still lack the spark of personality, despite being fitness experts in real life. It’s hard to make a fitness game truly enthralling without turning it into a dance title or minigame collection but this title feels especially cold. Nike+ has a presentation that couldn’t be described as bad, just rather mediocre and almost clinical. While this carries an air of professionalism it is also fairly dissuading for fitness beginners looking to ease workouts into their daily action plan.
So, Nike+ is a game made for fitness enthusiasts - the same type of person who might already attend a gym already. It comes across as a cheaper alternative to a gym subscription, albeit without the need to use it to warrant the price. It’s probably the best fitness game available, simply because it really does change your body for the best. The multi-platform nature of the brand is also a real boon, especially the NikeFuel that can be accrued en masse on the Nike website. It’s just potentially too hardcore for the curious, despite the multitude of pick-and-mix routines and athletics tests masquerading as minigames. It includes a lot to commit you to getting fit but it really comes down to each person’s resolve and patience with Kinect’s inadequacies. There’s no better fitness game, but Nike+ Kinect Training is still no match for the adrenaline rush of a good run or the mild social competitiveness of your local gym.