If you could do me a favor and imagine “Eye of the Tiger” playing in the background of this article, that’d be swell.
There are often fads in the game journalism and game blogging community. Certain games hit and take the media by storm, with everyone covering the next big thing. Remember when every article on the internet was about Red Dead Redemption 2? Or when everyone was writing about nothing except Super Smash Bros Ultimate? These fads come and go and often if you have any modicum of will power you’re able to resist the temptation of getting in on the action. Recently, though, I saw a game making the rounds that caught my attention for reasons outside of fun gameplay or excellent storytelling. This game seemed to serve a more practical purpose, one that I’ve been looking to fill for a few months now. The game in question is Fitness Boxing, an exercise game about shadowboxing to music.
I read about it for the first time on MoeGamer but quickly saw other folks posting about the game as well. The attention combined with my need for a fitness tool led me to pick up the demo, and after playing the trial version for the allotted three days I decided to spend the $50 to pick up the full game. I intend to share my impressions of the game, but I also want to talk a little bit about why I wanted something like this in the first place. Everyone’s fitness story is different, and mine is one that I haven’t really shared with anyone except for the people who were directly involved in it coming about.
If you’re just here for the first impressions aspect of this post, you can skip down to the heading Enter Fitness Boxing. I also recommend skipping to that heading if reading content about anxiety would cause you distress. My fitness journey didn’t start as the result of a New Year’s Resolution or a casual doctor’s visit or even a health scare with a family member. It started on March 3rd, 2018 – the day I thought I would die.
If you would please imagine the music going “BUM BUM BUM” at this point, that’d be swell.
March 3rd, 2018 was intended to be an awesome day. My son was staying with family so that my wife and I could have the weekend to ourselves. On Saturday we had plans with our tabletop group to get together and play a session of City of Mist. We were diving into an exciting session of the game where the players would be facing a tough villain that I was quite excited about. The session was great – we had a fun time laughing and getting riled up over the dice rolls, eating chips and salsa, drinking soda, and having a day where no one had to think about work or kids or family drama. After the session, my wife and I went to the movies to see Black Panther. She’d gotten to see it already, but it was my first time going, so I was quite excited. We got our tickets, picked up some sodas at the concession stand, and then went in to watch the film.
Black Panther was a great movie, action packed with excellent writing and a fantastic cast. During the movie I could feel my heart pounding during the intense combat scenarios. I could also feel it pounding during the gripping dialogue as we learned deep emotional truths about the characters. And I could feel it pounding as I laughed at the jokes and banter between the characters. I was, during the length of most of the movie, hyper-aware of my heart and its constant beat, seemingly heavier than I had ever noticed it before. It was as if I’d just gone sprinting, but I was sitting still in a movie theater. I tried to chill out, steady myself with some breathing, but no matter how much I seemed to calm down I could still feel my heart slamming against my chest.
When we got home, my wife went right to bed – she was tired, we’d had a long day. Still aware of my heart, I wanted to try to relax myself. I listened to a podcast of folks discussing their thoughts on Black Panther. I tried to breathe and drank some water to calm my nerves. My heart was still pounding, though, and at this point I was scared. I wondered what was happening to me, if I needed to go to the emergency room, if maybe I was at the edge of a heart attack. I was anxious, though, that nothing was happening, that going to the doctor for no reason would result in a bill I couldn’t pay, over nothing except for me overreacting to a natural phenomenon.
That night when I laid down to go to sleep, heart still pounding in my chest, I was genuinely afraid that I might die. Too scared to go get it checked out, I tried to fall asleep while at the same time saying what I thought might be a final prayer over my wife and son. How I fell asleep in that panicked state, I have no idea, but it didn’t last. The next thing I remember, my wife had her hand on my shoulder. She was saying my name as if trying to wake me from a stupor. I could barely breathe and my heart was pounding even harder than it had been the entire night so far. She said that I’d jumped up suddenly from my sleep, gasping and totally unable to recognize her for a few moments.
I told her about my heart, how it kept pounding in my chest and wouldn’t stop. I told her how thinking about my heart beating too fast kept making my heart beat faster in a vicious cycle. She talked me through it, helped me calm down, and we decided to dismiss the possibility of a heart issue and instead attributed it to a night terror or something similar. Somehow after all that, I managed to fall asleep again, but when I woke up in the morning my heart was still beating unusually hard. So finally, out of concern that something might truly be wrong, my wife convinced me to go see a doctor, and I listened.
My worst fears were realized: it was nothing. Remember all those chips and salsa, and all the soda I drank? I’d had nothing but salt and caffeine on March 3rd, so of course my heart was a little off-kilter. The incident in the night was likely a panic attack as a result of my anxious thoughts about dying. The doctor told me I was fine, to go home and drink some water, and as a just-in-case scheduled an appointment with a cardiologist to double-check that my heart was in decent shape. The last thing he said before leaving me to the nurse was a piece of advice – my heart was fine now, but if I didn’t start taking it more seriously then it wouldn’t be stretch to guess that I really would have a heart attack in my 40’s.
That afternoon, my wife and I discussed everything that had happened. We agreed that even though in reality I was fine, it was time for both of us to start thinking more seriously about our long-term health. We have a son – I didn’t want him to lose his father as a teenager. That day when I got home I started doing research. My first step was to change my diet; I replaced my salty snacks with fruit, substituted poultry for beef in all of my recipes, and started using healthier alternatives for as many ingredients as I could when I prepared meals. When eating at restaurants I stopped ordering sodas and replaced them with water.
After a month of adjusting to my new diet, the exercise started. I got up fifteen minutes early each day to take brisk walks around my apartment complex, and once I got accustomed to that I would walk for thirty minutes. As the months went on, I did start to feel healthier. Family members started noticing and asking if I was trying to lose weight. People at work who only saw me occasionally would remark on how good I looked. It felt nice to be complimented but I didn’t start this for weight loss – my only concern was preventing my heart from collapsing before I was even old enough to retire.
I fell off the wagon as fall settled in. It was a convergence of complications. In August of 2017 I started a new position at my work which involved transferring to a new office in a city an hour away. For nearly a year, I was able to continue working from my previous office to avoid the commute while I looked for a new home. Unfortunately, the home never came, but the time to start commuting did. With an hour trip now part of my morning routine, it became significantly more difficult to get up early enough to go walking. When I did, the cold mornings made it harder to stay motivated. By the time winter set in, what had once been a five day a week routine had collapsed into something I did maybe once a week. This reduction in exercise combined with my body getting used to my diet caused me to hit a point where I didn’t feel I was progressing any more. I needed help, some kind of tool to assist me in getting better-quality exercise while maintaining a routine, something I could do indoors during the cold months where walking was no longer an option.
If you’ve stopped imagining “Eye of the Tiger,” now would be a good time to start up again.
ENTER FITNESS BOXING
Just when I needed something new, I started seeing the articles for Fitness Boxing. It seemed like the perfect solution. As a video game enthusiast, using one to help me along my exercise journey made a lot of sense. I could certainly play the game inside, and if I didn’t want to keep getting up at five AM it would be way easier to play this in the evenings than it was to try to walk around an apartment complex when everyone was actually awake. But how does the game itself hold up, and what tools does it have for helping you to legitimately exercise?
Fitness Boxing has two main modes: Daily Workout and Free Training. Daily Workout is a once-a-day series of shadowboxing exercises that are chosen based on a set of fitness goals you set for yourself. Free Training allows you to select the specific exercise routine you want to do, set it to whichever song and speed that you want, and to do so as many times as you like. When you play the demo of the game, you get three days worth of Daily Workouts and if I remember correctly ten uses of the Free Training mode. Of course, being a demo, there are some limitations to the game.
The most significant limitation is that you can’t set your own fitness goals. The demo version is locked to a ten minute, full-body workout focused on cardio, with no stretching before or after the routine. This to me is an odd choice because the game recommends that you incorporate stretching and that you exercise for 30-40 minutes. So the demo settings specifically go against the fitness recommendations of the game? Okay, sure. In my case, I supplemented the daily workouts with free training, which I suppose is the ultimate goal – wear out your daily workouts and your free training so that you get the full experience before buying the full version.
The gameplay of Fitness Boxing involves using the Joy-Cons to detect your punches. During a workout, you’ll see your trainer standing between two columns with a line and a series of dots. Symbols for the different types of moves move along these dots in rhythm. Towards the top of the column is a square surrounded by a glowing circle. When a symbol enters into the square and you punch in time with the rhythm, you get a Perfect hit. If your punch is a little off but still lands inside the glowing circle, you get an OK hit. If you don’t punch – or the Joy-Con fails to detect your punch – you get a Miss.
The Joy-Cons are definitely the most frustrating part of this set-up, as their motion sensitivity can be frustratingly capricious. Sometimes I’ll throw a punch that the Joy-Con simply doesn’t pick up at all, giving me a Miss and hurting my score. Other times it will pick up motions that are not a punch – such as the twist before throwing a hook or an uppercut – and cause me to “punch” early, giving me an OK when I was actually doing the twist that’s supposed to build into the follow-up punch. These moments are aggravating and happen somewhat frequently but they aren’t game-breaking because fitness boxing isn’t really “about” the score so much as the workout itself. What difference does it make if the game doesn’t detect a punch? I still threw it and worked those muscles, and isn’t that the real goal?
If the idea of the intangible goal of “exercise” being your only reward sounds unappealing to you, you’ll be happy to know that there are built-in rewards within the game. These come in the form of accessories and outfits for the game’s various trainers. Each trainer has their own shirt and pants options, while other accessories are divvied out by gender. You earn these rewards based on in-game stats like the number of punches you’ve thrown and the number of stars you’ve earned. The game’s songs are also unlockables, and as best as I can tell you unlock new songs when you play other songs for the first time. This means you can unlock all the music quicker in Free Training by specifically choosing songs you haven’t played yet, while you might be waiting longer if you only count on Daily Workouts.
As shown by the game’s reward structure, the instructors are a big part of the experience. Each one has a different voice actor/actress (though eerily the exact same lines) and their customizable outfits allow you to do quite a bit to alter their appearance. Adding glasses can do a lot to change someone’s aesthetic, for example, and of course changing outfits can give you a different impression as well. Weirdly, the customization options extend to eye color, hair color, and even skin color. Honestly, I think it would have been better to make a single customizable trainer for whom you could alter the body type, hair style, choose from a few different voice options, and put in whatever outfit you wanted. Being able to alter the race of the established trainers feels different than selecting the skin color of a blank-slate, player-created character. Maybe that’s just me.
Getting back to the gameplay – how do you get a full-body workout just from throwing punches? The music aspect of the game plays into your lower body workout, as it is intended that you bounce to the rhythm, moving forward and back as you punch. Moves like uppercuts and hooks work your core as you twist to set them up, and your hips should twist when you throw punches. The game has no way to hold you accountable for these movements in the way it does for the punches, but I can say from experience that if you commit to playing as intended, you can certainly work out other parts of your body. I actually had soreness in my back and shoulders for the first few days of playing, and I’m having to slowly increase the amount of time I spend working my legs versus resting them during workouts because I’m not in good enough shape yet to be in the proper form for the full 30 minute exercise routine.
That I think is the most important thing to point out about Fitness Boxing, and it’s a consensus I’ve seen from others I’ve seen discussing the game. You get out of this what you put into it. The game can only hold you accountable and score you for using the Joy-Cons to punch in rhythm. If you keep your legs still, don’t do the twist for certain moves, and put a minimum amount of effort into your punches, you can still get a perfect score in game terms – in fact, it’s probably easier to get a perfect score that way! If you don’t treat the game as a workout you won’t get a workout. If you take it seriously, put some effort in, and try to honestly engage with what the game is, then chances are you can work up a sweat and get your heart pumping.
For me, Fitness Boxing has been the answer to a lot of the exercise issues I was having. It’s giving me a more quality workout than what I was able to accomplish without any help, it allows me to work out inside and at a time that’s convenient for me, all while game-ifying the act of exercise to help me stay motivated. As I’ve only been playing for about a week at the time I’m writing this article (two weeks at the time it’ll be posted), it’s hard for me to say if the game is worthwhile as far as results. Am I burning as much as it says I am? Is my heart pumping the right amount to grow stronger and healthier over time? I’m not sure of those things just yet, but I think there’s a good chance it’ll help me. I’m not expecting a miracle, but in my case the level of exercise that Fitness Boxing offers is the logical next step in my fitness journey.
I used to dread my workouts when I went walking. Even if I listened to music or a podcast or something while I walked around, the time I spent working out was boring and in the moment it didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything. With Fitness Boxing, I’m engaged throughout the 30 minute exercise routine and at the end when I’m all sweaty and gross, I feel like I actually did something with my morning. It’s actually helping me be more enthusiastic at the beginning of the day – after exercise, meditation, and a shower, my body and mind feel good and I’ve got the focus I need for my day. That, I think, makes the game worthwhile.
Are any of you playing Fitness Boxing, adventurers? What is your experience with the game? Do you do any exercise or have a morning routine that helps you feel ready to tackle the day? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!