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Can Microsoft Kinect with the Wii folks?

The big M has finally unveiled the Xbox 360 motion controller system that was hinted at last year.  It’s called Kinect, and consists of a camera and microphone that you plug into an Xbox 360 console.  The camera picks up your motions, eliminating the need for a handheld controller, and the microphone recognizes your voice so you can speak commands at the menu.  Here’s a demo video:

How Nintendo-ish can you get?  And if there’s any other doubt that Microsoft has set its marketing sights squarely on E-for-everyone gamers, look at the 15 launch titles announced (courtesy of Kotaku):

Out of those 15, 4 are established exergame or fitness brands (Zumba, Biggest Loser, EAS Active, Your Shape), 2 more are dance games (Dance Central, Dance Masters), 3 more have “sports” in the titles, and Kinetic Adventures looks like an Active Life knockoff.  Throw in a Game Party, a Petz type game, a Mario Kart-ish game and a Sonic game, and there you have it:  a collection aimed squarely at the E-for-Everyone/gaming-for-health market.  Wow, I couldn’t have done better if I’d kidnapped Bill Gates and put him under hypnosis!  (After asking for his bank account number, that is.)

I would place my order today – if only I had a few hundred spare dollars lying around.  MS is keeping pricing close to the vest for now, but if the rampant rumors are accurate, the Kinect add-on will be around $150.  If you don’t already have an Xbox 360, the just-introduced slim version is $300.  Microsoft now needs to figure out just how to pry open the wallets of Wii owners or wannabe-owners, and even minus the Great Recession, that’s no easy task.

The Wii has been around for nearly 4 years (in human years, it would be on Medicare), it’s sold about 28 million units, so by now, everyone either has one or knows someone who does.  Like the iPod, the Wii became a roaring success due to creating “I want” and “I need” in markets where there never was any want or need before.  Before 2006, what game console were senior centers or physical therapists dying to own?  Who, besides hardcore DDR fans, made videos of themselves playing video games?  Wii is more than just a console, it’s a culture.

And it’s a culture that Xbox for the most part has not been a part of.  Until now, “Xbox” has been synonymous with hardcore, violent, complex gamer-games appealing to the young males who’ve mostly scoffed at Wii and active games.  That name with its scary-sounding X has become shorthand for all that’s “wrong” with video games; Obama likes to scold young people with it.  (Meanwhile, his daughters love their Wii.)

Can Microsoft overcome the negative image, switch gaming gears and make the softer side of Xbox appealing enough to make it this year’s must-have holiday gift?  Well, when I started a thread about Kinect on a fitness forum, it got less than a hundred views in 2 days, while threads about Wii games get hundreds of views in that time.

Kinect’s got a long way to go from E3 to Mr. and Mrs. America’s den.  I wish them luck.

New Active Life game for Wii is announced, Active Life Explorer

A third installment in the Active Life series for Wii is coming!  It will be called Active Life Explorer, and will have a treasure-hunting theme.  GoNintendo has a description and screen shots, and there’s also a trailer for the European version, Family Trainer Treasure Adventure:

This game will allow one to eight players (either they take turns, or each person stands on one spot!) and will use the same Active Life mat as the other games.  I love the intensity of the games on Active Life Outdoor Challenge (I don’t have the follow-up, Extreme Challenge, which sounds like little more than a reskinning of much the same games) and I hope the “treasure hunting” theme means there will be a minigame similar to Walk It Out!

Another core workout for Wii: Active Life Outdoor Challenge

We are in the heart of the “snowmageddon” zone – 2 major blizzards in 4 days – so not only do we have to do our workouts indoors, but I need to strengthen up my muscles for shoveling 40-plus inches of snow.  I already spent several hours on Monday shoveling around my street, and my shoulders, butt, abs and arms are still aching.  So until I can get out and shovel again, once the high winds and whiteout conditions have died down, I’m working out my core with Wii.

This is one time I regret not having a balance board s0 I can enjoy wintery games like the We Ski or Shaun White series.  So instead I’m escaping to the tropical setting of Active Life Outdoor Challenge.  This is a superb exergame for the whole family, and some of its mat minigames are great for those shoveling muscles.

Three that stand out in that category are the kayak game, the mine cart game and the pipe slider game.  In the kayak game, you just stand on the mat and vigorously “paddle” with your remote down a raging river.  In mine cart, you pump the remote up and down to power your cart through a twisty mine, and whenever there’s a curve in the track, you have to lift one foot off the mat and balance on one leg while pumping.

Mine cart game (images from Gamespy)

But the biggest upper body workout of all is the pipe slider.  In what is maybe unique among mat games, you have to sit on the mat and bang on the arrows to push your sled forward through a pipe.  Think of pushing your sled down a not-so-steep hill.  Your shoulders and arms will burn!

Pipe slider game

Special honorable mention goes to the mountain boarding game, which requires you to not only stand on the mat and steer by stepping on the arrows, but also whenever a tunnel appears, you have to “duck” into the tunnel by leaning over and striking the mat with one hand.  This getting-down and getting-up is fantastic for the whole body.

Active Life Outdoor Challenge is nothing compared to the REAL outdoor challenge awaiting me outside my door, but it’s a fun way to get myself prepared for the real thing.  To everyone else in the blizzard zone, best wishes and stay safe!

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