Fitness games are an awesome way to combine something I don’t like (exercise) with the one thing I do (video gaming). I’d originally played the first Zumba Fitness game when it appeared for Kinect, and although I enjoyed it, I found it a tad too difficult for a complete Zumba n00b. I was slightly wary, then, when I heard about the new game in the series, titled Zumba Fitness Rush, but I’m nothing if not a sucker for dance and rhythm games, so I took it for a whirl around the living room floor to check out its moves.
For those who aren’t aware, Zumba is aerobic dance inspired by Latin American music and dance moves. It’s also fairly intensive. The entire thing started off back in 1986 by a dance instructor who had forgotten his regular aerobics tapes, and improvised a dance routine from what he had in his backpack: Latin American music. Zumba’s dance moves are inspired by about a dozen different dance styles, including salsa, mambo, reggaetron, and even Bollywood and hip hop. In 2010, the popular dancercise was released as a video game for Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 with Kinect support. The game was popular enough that it sat at the top of the UK video game sales charts for over 10 weeks. One imagines that this kind of popularity would bring along a sequel, and you’re right, of course. The sequel to the Wii version, called Zumba Fitness 2, appeared in November 2011, and the Kinect version (which is what we’re going to be reading about!) followed shortly thereafter. Sorry, PS3 owners. No Zumba 2 for you.
When I played the original Zumba Fitness on the 360, I found the game much harder than expected, even from the level of tutorials, which started simple, but then increased speed and complexity at the same time and expected you to follow along. I’m pleased to say that the dance tutorials in Zumba Fitness Rush are not so punishing. The speed of the steps and movements are at your own control instead of at the whim of the game AI now, and complexity doesn’t increase when adding speed, so I felt far more able to keep up with the tutorials than before. What was nice as well was that the graphics didn’t feel like they’d been pulled off the Wii version. Upgrade indeed! The first game had these incredibly bland-looking backgrounds that weren’t terribly inspiring. In Rush, the dancing happens in these really extravagant-looking environments that range from a rooftop party all the way to a Bollywood-style movie studio.
Zumba Rush has a more more refined playlist than the first game. Rush has a wide list of genres represented, from Salsa, Samba, Reggaetron, and R&B all the way down to Axé, Mambo, and Bollywood. You might find that you only initially recognize one or two tunes (probably most notably “We No Speak Americano”), but the longer you play, the more you’ll get to know and enjoy the music. Most of them are eminently quite enjoyable on the first listen, but inevitably, there will be the odd one or two that takes a few goes before you start the enjoy the music. What’s interesting, though, is that there were no songs at all that I didn’t enjoy at all, as opposed to the few in the first game that I really didn’t find to my taste (and my taste in music is ridiculously wide).
Once you get through the tutorials (which are much more like suggestions on how to do some of the more basic moves), you can either launch into a single song, or a full workout session that can last up to around 60 minutes, depending on how many songs you want to dance to (bearing in mind that a full hour-long class will burn between 600 and 800 calories). The reason I said that the tutorials are more like suggestions is that once you actually get into a song, the dance moves deviate somewhat from the tutorial moves, so you have to go with the improvisations as they occur. Furthermore, the game also rates you more for your enthusiasm than for accuracy, so the core idea is that you have fun with it, unlike a game such as Dance Central, where getting the steps right is paramount. It also means, though, that when you do get the hang of it, you can start throwing in your own little improvisions, and this, more than anything else, gives that you that feeling of “I finally get this!” Once again, that’s not to say that the game isn’t enjoyable from the start. It is. Because it’s far more accessible than the first game, you’re more likely to continually give it a go. Despite that, the higher intensity songs are also enough of a challenge for you to attempt once you’ve mastered the easier songs.
One of the more interesting features I found in the game is that you can hunt down a live Zumba class near you. The search is refined enough that you can not only search by location, but also times and types of workout. The whole idea is that Zumba is meant to be as much a social phenomenon as a physical one. The game allows you to hone your skills, giving you the confidence to dance well before joining a class.
I noted a few problems with the game’s Kinect interface when I played it. The game is slow to track your hand’s movements, and in some cases it resolutely refused to recognize that I had hands at all until I waved at it like a lunatic, by which point I’d had a crazy workout just trying to get it to recognize me. The hand tracking becomes a problem when you’re trying to select a song, and often you’ll have gone through about three pages worth of songs before it’s recognized that you’ve jerked your hand in the opposite direction. Once you’re playing, however, the body tracking is far more on par, so it seems that fine movement is at issue. It’s difficult to tell whether this a programming issue, or a Kinect issue, though, so I’ll leave it there. The other problem I had was with the game recognizing vocal commands, but once again, difficult to tell if it was Kinect-related or the game itself.
To conclude, I’d say that if you were into Zumba, into fitness, or into dance-style games, you should definitely get this game. It’s great fun to play (and easier than the prior game!) In fact, with two people at once, it’s even better, and there’s something about two people moving in sync with each other that’s intensely satisfying. Even if you feel you have no sense of rhythm but want to dance to some awesome latin-style beats, this is definitely the game for you. It’s a great use of the Kinect unit, and it’s definitely more fun than other fitness-style games that focus strictly on the fitness end of things.
Final Score: 8.5 rhythmic, dancing prawns out of 10
Developer: Zoe Mode
Publisher: 505 Games
Distributor: Apex Interactive
Platform: Xbox 360 with Kinect
RRP: R499 (Xbox 360)
Age Rating: 3