For: Xbox 360 (Kinect required)
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild suggestive themes, violent references)
That hissing sound you hear? That's your resolution to get in shape slowly seeping out of the room as the new year starts feeling familiar and the excitement of 2012's first week gets pushed out of the way by life as usual. Gym memberships are expensive, finding time to go to the gym is a hassle, making a plan is hard, sticking to it harder. Seeing progress requires saintly patience, and on top of all that, exercise for exercise's sake is often really boring.
Thank goodness for, of all things, video games - and particularly this one. After a year of good-but-not-great fitness games releasing for Microsoft's Kinect, "Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012" gets pretty much everything right en route to knocking every aforementioned excuse off the table.
The polish is immediately apparent, too. In addition to not being a complete pain to navigate using Kinect (voice control would have been nice, but it proves unnecessary), "Evolved's" main menu very cleanly lays out a staggering array of workout programs, games, virtual classes and other tools. Inside each of those menus lies a large array of programs organized by intensity and the goals they help fulfill. The offerings - targeted strength training, yoga and dance classes, training programs for specific sports and numerous others - are terrifically comprehensive, and "Evolved's" uncluttered and intuitive presentation of all these options is extraordinary.
"Evolved's" My Zone section allows the game to build workout plans for you based on your needs and availability, but they aren't binding: A game-wide stat tracker gauges your progress against your goals, and it does so regardless of which programs you engage or ignore. Additionally, most programs are on the short side, making it easy to jump around and diversify your workout as wildly and impulsively as you please.
Though "Evolved" can only do so much to make its straightforward workout programs fun, it at least does a good job of keeping hassles at bay. A trainer demonstrates each exercise as he or she calls them out, and while the game's grading of your form isn't always accurate, it's close enough to keep you minding your form without growing needlessly frustrated doing so. Kinect calibration happens quickly and automatically, and "Evolved" works well regardless of lighting and whether you have a surplus of room or just enough.
The ability to jump between programs is additionally welcome in light of "Evolved's" suite of games and special events, which provide a fun means of breaking up straight-faced workout routines. A block-punching game provides a physically intense way to unleash some aggression, while a rhythmic stepping game evokes the spirit of "DanceDanceRevolution" without the need for a dance mat. An amusing jogging game lets you run through VR recreations of storied cities, while a block-balancing game lets you employ your newfound yoga skills in pursuit of a high score.
"Evolved" provides multiple difficulty settings and a scoring system for each of these and its other games, but it offers the same courtesy to its traditional workouts as well. The periodic tendency to misread your form will dock your scores unfairly now and then, but past that inconvenience, the constant presence of scores to beat and other meters of progress - along with in-game badges and Xbox 360 achievements - allows "Evolved" to continually dangle and dish rewards beyond the simple promise of fitter days ahead.
Should you not wish to do it alone, "Evolved" also includes in-game tools - and a companion website, yourshapecenter.com - that let you stack your progress against that of your friends and the world at large. The games also support four-player multiplayer, though only offline.