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Zumba’s secret sauce: “Electrifying joy”

Zumba is one of those things, like yoga or “Game of Thrones”, that’s hard to explain to the uninitiated. But one thing’s for sure, it’s a Zumba world and we just live in it.

I first became aware of this when I posted way back in 2009 about the mere possibility of a Zumba video game coming to Wii. That lil’ post on my fledgling blog began getting hits by the hundreds, and is still my most popular post ever.

Then, shortly after I got the game, my first-grader came home and said her teacher wanted to borrow it. I thought maybe they were looking into Zumba for the PE program or something – no, she wanted to try it for herself. Then I started attending weekly classes, at the behest of another school mom, and discovered the “high” of a roomful of people gyrating to Pitbull and shouting “I Love Zumba!” It’s like a cross between a dance party and pep rally, with a little exercise thrown in.

A recent article in Advertising Age talks about how Zumba went from just another infomercial to every-freaking-where (even on my drive to the beach, along roads surrounded by cow pastures and corn fields, there are roadside popsicle signs advertising Zumba classes). The chief marketing officer for Zumba explains that basically, they’re selling the joy of movement rather than the no-pain-no-gain of traditional workouts. He’s also not above self-parody:

“We want to craft an archetype of a Zumba enthusiast. If a yoga enthusiast is a tofu-eating, patchouli-smelling person, the Zumba enthusiast might have the baggy cargo pants, drive a Jeep Wrangler and rip up her clothing,” he said. “We’re in the business of building a community.”

Well, I don’t have a Jeep and the only time I rip my clothing is if I fall down, but this middle-aged mom will take baggy cargo pants over tight yoga pants with no pockets for the pedometer and mp3.

The article says Zumba wants to increase their TV presence, and already they made an appearance on Biggest Loser. Here’s the Zumba clip from TBL:

That clip says a lot about Zumba’s mass appeal. Too many group fitness classes kinda want you to be already thin and fit before joining. With Zumba, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like; just get out there and free your mind and body. If your baggy pants get even baggier, that’s just a bonus.

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Big Lots has Biggest Loser, other Kinect games under $20

Wii and Kinect games in Big Lots ad

Big Lots (store locations), which recently stocked Tony Hawk Shred for $20, is now getting in some active games for Xbox 360 Kinect for only $18.88 apiece.  The above ad shows Biggest Loser Ultimate Workout, Sonic Free Riders and Kinectimals knockoff Fantastic Pets.

All three of those games have free, downloadable demo versions available at Xbox Live Marketplace.  The only one I’ve tried so far is Biggest Loser.  As I wrote earlier, it’s a decent workout game, probably best for people who are truly fans of the show (I’m not).

Jillian zaps the evil food/drug overlords in her latest Wii game

The third installment of the Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum franchise has been announced (hm, isn’t there supposed to be only one ultimatum?).  In JMFU 2011, there’s the usual boot-camp mode where digital Jillian gently guides you through a few hundred pushups, but now there is something new: a story mode.

Which side is she on, anyway?

According to the press release:

For the first time, Fitness Ultimatum 2011 features a story-based Adventure mode where Jillian and the player use their fitness skills and nutrition expertise in a series of missions to shut down Cureall, an evil food and drug corporation set upon world domination.

A while back, I opined that a story mode was one thing that fitness games did not need, and Kotaku seems to agree.  Well, since the release of Walk It Out, I’ll amend it to say that a story and characters CAN help keep an exergame interesting, as long as it is kept simple enough to be able to follow while your heart is racing and you have sweat in your eyes.  Simply pointing and shooting at trees, ok; piloting an F-15, no.  The fitness part should still be the “meat” of the game, although an exception can be made for something like Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver where the Pokewalker is an optional, supplementary thing.  (A lot of moms, like me, are collecting watts for their kids.)

But the Jillian storyline seems a little backward; with her fat burners and promotion of processed food on Biggest Loser, sounds like she’s already been assimilated by the Cureall.  If you can’t beat ’em…why not just have a storyline where you help Jillian dominate the world by selling all the DVDs, supplements and fake kettlebells you can?  Like an exergaming version of Monopoly.

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.

Pro athletes and trainers put five Wii workout games to the test

In an article in today’s Boston Globe, five Wii games – Your Shape, Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2010, Wii Fit Plus, The Biggest Loser and EA Sports Active – were tested by three trainers, a pro soccer player and a pro hockey player.

Your Shape, which has recently been discounted to $20 at Amazon (at that price, even I’m tempted) and Biggest Loser got fairly high marks for being effective and entertaining.  The ex-Army trainer who took Jillian for a spin thought she made his drill sergeant seem nice, and EAS Active kind of brought up the rear, due to – perhaps a little unfairly – being thought of as too easy.

This would be good reading for someone looking for a comparison of Wii workouts.  Plus, there’s a fun, ESPN-ish video accompanying the article:

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