It's that time of the year when the line for an elliptical machine at your local gym stretches a bit longer thanks to freshly motivated folks who've resolved to start 2013 by shedding pounds and shaping up. Why wait to work out -- or even leave your living room -- when you can get your heart rate up at home with these recently released fitness games?
Nike+ Kinect Training (Microsoft, for Xbox 360, $49.99) is probably the closest you can get to a personal trainer coming over to your place without added expense or intimidation. Brought to you by the swooshy shoemaker, Nike+ Kinect Training is essentially a four-week exercise program centered on three goals: get lean, get strong, or get toned.
The camera-based Kinect system does an impressive job detecting motion in personalized cardio drills. The graphics and interface are slick, and the virtual trainers are actually helpful, though their repetitive prerecorded motivation will eventually become as tiresome as that grunting meathead at your gym's free weights. *** 1/2
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013 (Ubisoft, for Wii U, $49.99) is the only fitness title out for the Wii U since Nintendo has yet to unleash a Wii Fit for the new console. While this edition of Your Shape smartly utilizes the GamePad for navigation, it unfortunately requires a Wiimote to track movements, and there are no Wii Balance Board features.
The Zen-heavy routines in Your Shape feel less intense but more diverse than the Nike+ Kinect workouts, and the game awards currency for exercising, which can be used to buy stuff like new songs and virtual gear. It's clever inspiration. However, holding a remote while working out feels like a big lunge backward for the genre.***
Dance Central 3 (Microsoft, for Xbox 360, $49.99) isn't technically a fitness title -- and that's exactly why it just might be the best one out there. The third iteration of the popular Kinect choreography series features a revamped fitness mode that can stealthily track calories burned as players shake what their mama gave 'em to hit songs.
The new fitness feature also allows wannabe Ushers to set weekly goals and program playlists of varying styles and lengths. (I preferred getting funky with the "cardio groove" list.) Dance Central isn't as comprehensive as Nike+ Kinect Training or Your Shape, but it's a fun diversion when those games' virtual trainers boil your blood. ****
Zumba Fitness Core (Majesco, for Xbox 360 and Wii, $49.99) is the latest entry in the cha-cha-sweat empire's interactive catalog, combining several different dance styles into ab-busting workout classes set in ridiculously silly locales, like next to a waterfall or aboard a yacht. The Kinect version isn't as polished as Dance Central, although it's more extreme.
You'll feel the burn to the game's wild soundtrack. Unlike the expected hip-hop-and-pop flavor of Dance Central, the kooky tunes in Zumba Fitness Core range from Latin cheesiness (Enrique Iglesias' "Bailamos") to refreshingly eclectic (Grace Potter and The Nocturnals' "Paris"). It's a must-buy for fans of the gyrating franchise who own a Kinect. ***