In the sudden wake of fitness oriented games, enabled by the sudden proliferation of motion controls for all available platforms (even the PC after a fashion,) it makes sense that an established fitness routine would calmly plant it’s feet in the arena. Zumba, neither noun nor verb, has done so. Zumba itself is merely dancing with a goal, aerobics intended to feel like a party. To that end, Zumba has released a video game, designed to take advantage of the various motion sensors available to effectively grade players based on their ability to either a) dance along with an animated instructor, or b) flail about like a mental patient suddenly confronted with proof of his mental malady. It should be said that, while Zumba Fitness: Join The Party is available on Kinect and the Playstation Move, this review concerns itself primarily with the Wii edition of the title, and thus may not adequately describe the experience for other platforms.
Visually, the title carries what the Zumba franchise seeks to convey. Everything is lighthearted, vibrant, and very obviously done on a tight budget. The graphics, while suitable, are very dated, with flat and lifeless textures adorning something that looks vaguely like an iPod advert made under the influence of a kaleidoscope. This isn’t terrible, as immersion is not strictly required, and the backdrops are merely a visual, designed to convey the ‘party’ atmosphere that Zumba prides themselves on. The visuals take a role in the necessary reward structure as well. During a routine, keeping up with the animated instructor causes the background to become more animated, adding extra silhouettes and effects in the background. Further, the ‘instructor’ changes colours to represent how well the player is doing. Green indicates well, yellow indicates close, and red indicates entirely off.
Audibly, the title relies on it’s own instructors to provide encouragement and direction, and utilize it’s existing music library to facilitate the Zumba experience. Drawing from salsa, reggae and the various styles of electronica, the soundtrack is actually quite enjoyable, though it can be a bit repetitive, as the same sets of songs occupy each routine.
Gameplay is where a lot of this title runs aground. With the actual game software is bundled a belt, where the motion controller is mounted. As a result, the only point of detection is at the player’s hip. Coupled with the Wii’s not-entirely-precise accelerometer, this causes a lot of false successes. In the ‘routine’ mode, where players actually follow a complex dance routine, this is less of an issue, but in ‘tutorial’ mode, where players are taught the basic steps in each routine, this causes the tutorial to advance two or three steps in rapid succession, skipping an entire section of the method and all but mandating several repeats of a step to learn it properly. The title also boots players back to the step menu after every ‘successful’ completion, making the learning process unwieldy at best.
Further, accessibility is an issue. Learning the steps involves following the on-screen instructor. Initially, it involves moving one’s feet in rhythm, but moves from a simple gesture to an array of movement difficult to learn for anyone not already involved in the Zumba program. A more robust learning routine, or even just a bit of scalability to a user’s actual skill level would have been a fine addition.
Overall, Zumba Fitness: Join The Party is a fine title for players already doing Zumba routines or familiar with any type of contemporary dance. For those who aren’t quite up to snuff on the dancefloor, give this title a pass. There are far more ‘gamer’ oriented ways to lose weight.