Nintendo set to launch Wii fit exercise game

01:43, Jan 31 2009

For years, video games have been blamed for turning kids into idle layabouts who only venture off the couch to fill up on potato chips and soda.

Nintendo Co Ltd now aims to shatter that image with a game that aims to get players off the couch and lead them to stretch, shake and sweat their way to a healthy life.

Wii Fit, which arrives on US store shelves on Monday, is expected to draw new customers to Nintendo's wildly popular Wii video game console.

It is forecast to be the industry's latest blockbuster game after last month's Grand Theft Auto 4, the criminal action title that racked up $US500 million ($NZ663 million) in global sales in one week.

"They'll sell everything they can manufacture," said Signal Hill analyst Todd Greenwald. "It extends the life cycle of the Wii a little bit and gets people to go out and buy another game from Nintendo."

The Wii has proven to be the runaway hit of the video game industry, thanks to its easy-to-learn motion-sensing controller, simple games and low price.

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US consumers bought 714,000 Wiis in April, nearly double the sales of Microsoft Corp's Xbox 360 and Sony Corp's PlayStation 3 combined.

At the other end of the spectrum from Grand Theft Auto 4, Wii Fit coaches players through more than 40 exercises that range from tightrope-walking to yoga stances to push-ups.

The $US90 game comes with a shoulder-width "balance board" that senses tiny shifts in a person's posture and is used to control a cartoonish character on the TV screen.

It is shaping up to be the latest in a string of hits for the Osaka, Japan-based company, which has tapped a rich vein of previously undiscovered mass-market interest in gaming with the Wii and titles like Wii Play.

Wii Fit has sold more than two million units in Japan since its launch late last year, and Nintendo says interest is "strong" in Europe, where it went on sale last month.

In its fourth fiscal quarter ended in March, Nintendo saw its profit jump 60 percent from a year earlier. The company is counting on Wii Fit to help drive growth this quarter.

Nintendo is banking that the United States, a country whose increasingly overweight population never met an exercise craze it didn't like, will be prime territory for Wii Fit.

"The preorders were very strong across the market, really showing the breadth of demand for the product," Cammie Dunaway, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Nintendo of America, told Reuters.

"We're finding people ranging from core gamers excited about this as new piece of innovation, to people who have never considered a video game," Dunaway said.

The interactive nature and possibility of new games and features down the road may help Wii Fit avoid the fate of the innumerable health fads whose appeal fades after a few months.

"It is a perfect intersection of entertainment with health and fitness and I don't think anyone's been able to pull that off," said Geoff Keighley, host of GameTrailers TV.

It is the latest idea to spring from the head of Shigeru Miyamoto, the legendary game creator behind Nintendo's most valuable franchises, including its Mario' and Zelda titles.

Often dubbed the Walt Disney of video games, Miyamoto has a knack for crafting mega-hit games out of mundane activities such as gardening (Pikmin) and dog ownership (Nintendogs).

The seeds for Wii Fit were planted four years ago, before the Wii had even been developed, when Miyamoto went on a diet and started graphing his daily weight. He began thinking about a game that would let people track their own body mass.

"We couldn't decide on what the next step would be and work came to a virtual standstill," Miyamoto said in an interview on Nintendo's Web site. "Until, that is, a staff member bought two scales, and found that it was pretty good fun to step on both of them at once and try to balance on them evenly."

"I don't think Wii Fit's purpose is to make you fit. What it's actually aiming to do is make you aware of your body."

Reuters