16 May, 2008

Let's Pilates Review

DS Review | Joe'd be proud.
Without a doubt, there's a market out there for personal improvement programs. With Wii Fit just about walking off the shelves immediately after launch and Namco Bandai focusing on releasing their own 'Family Trainer', it's not surprising that everyone's trying to hop on the fitness bandwagon. Released in parallel with Let's Yoga, Let's Pilates is Konami's dual push into the mobile fitness market. And, apart from some rather unfortunate design decisions, it isn't a bad one. However, in what can only be described as a revolutionary approach to marketing a game and building buzz, Konami has decided to provide virtually no game assets to reviewers. So, at the time of this review, unfortunately no screenshots are available.

Let's Pilates plays yin to Let's Yoga's yang. Both focus on using structured exercises, breathing, and stretching to achieve mind and body balance, but where Yoga is based on ancient Indian philosophy and spirituality, Pilates is based on modern Western gymnastic and dance theory. By encouraging better posture, balance, and breathing, one can improve their health and condition the entire body, or so the theory goes.

There are many similarities between the two cartridges and, interestingly, some surprising differences. Like Let's Yoga, the 'game' provides the 'player' (terms used very loosely) with a collection of structured exercises. Unlike Let's Yoga, these aren't delivered by an instructor - instead, they're presented as lessons in the form of 'challenges', each of which provides a few screens of text followed by a practice session. If, on self-assessment, the player thinks they have the hang of it, they claim successful completion and move onto the next challenge.

You too could look like this at 82, assuming your DS survives that long.

You too could look like this at 82, assuming your DS survives that long.
Each successfully completed challenge gradually grows your 'Pilates tree', a literal tree and rather bizarre method of getting positive feedback. It's obviously pretty easy to cheat and just mark every challenge successfully completed without having actually tried the exercises, but as we all know, cheaters only cheat themselves. That and watching a blocky blue tree grow doesn't exactly garner the same feeling of self-value as unlocking some of the harder achievements on the 360, but we digress ...

As if the tree weren't enough weirdness for a single cartridge, 'Pilabockle', your fairy-like blocky blue companion also gets unlocked within the first few challenges. Should you feel like it, you can check on him periodically to see what he's up to in the wonderful world of tree-populated Pilates, his location on a small map handily shown on one screen with his activity of choice shown on the second. Unfortunately, all we ever managed to see him do was lie on his back staring at the sky, but maybe that's just what Pilabockles do with their lives. Yes, it's about as bizarre as it sounds.

But, all this Sgt. Pepper-esque randomness is really just filler around the core concept of exercising. Completing the core challenges unlocks further training sessions which gradually build towards more complex, multi-step exercises in addition to creating lots of pretty flowers on your Pilates tree. Unfortunately, while Let's Yoga had an astonishing amount of poses and short sets included on the cartridge, Let's Pilates falls somewhat short. With only 40 exercises, it ends up feeling a little sparse in comparison. And, where Let's Yoga had 110 different five-minute short set combinations of poses, Let's Pilates takes the more 'serious', if Spartan, approach with only 8 set programs, each ranging from between 13 to 19 minutes duration. Each also has a shorter 3 minute version for the time strapped, but it still feels comparatively lighter, if more intense.

Much of the attention seems to have been diverted away from developing the core exercise focus of the game into creating unlockables. Unlike in Let's Yoga, almost all of the model's clothes and mats are locked when you start. In addition, there are also a few text-based Pilates trivia items and a large collection of 'Pilates Anytime' non-interactive pictorial lessons designed to encourage you to practice relatively unobtrusively anywhere and everywhere. Unfortunately, these are all locked at start-up, rendering them rather useless until you've managed to play through quite a bit of time.

You may pick up some strange fetishes on the way though.

You may pick up some strange fetishes on the way though.
On balance, it's not a bad offer. The custom program building functionality is slightly improved from Let's Yoga, but the smaller number of routines is somewhat disappointing. And, the focus on creating unlockables, while creating a more 'gaming' feel, also misses the point somewhat by preventing exercisers from getting the full benefit of the cartridge on purchase. Unlike Wii Fit's attempt to prevent people from injuring themselves through overexertion, there doesn't seem to be any logic in preventing new users from accessing them immediately. And, while the whole strange flora / fauna approach to incentivising gamers is definitely creative, it doesn't really add much beyond a new-agey feel.

While Let's Pilates is definitely well designed, it just doesn't feel as tight as Let's Yoga. There's still definitely enough packed in here to get a good workout, and had we not just reviewed Let's Yoga, we probably would have been more impressed. However, between the two, Let's Yoga just feels that slight bit more polished, assuming the new-age mysticism isn't a direct turnoff. Still, it's good value for what it is, and if you're looking for a mobile training option, the decision should probably come down to personal preferences over the overall design. Both represent good value, and if these only represent the start of fitness offerings on consoles, we're in for a healthy, if rather breathless, ride.
The Score
Still excellent value, just not quite as good as Let's Yoga. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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