My wife had the first of the Zumba games, and Fitness Rush. She reliably tells me that, while they were good, they were hard and she tended to give up on them all too easily. Having played this new version, I can see why. I have to point out in my defence right from the outset that I have no rhythm. I dance like Bambi on Babycham.
So, the experienced Zumba gamers among you will notice that there isn’t that much different in this version than the last. You start off in the lobby, where you’ll notice that this is treated more like a fitness game than an actual campaign based game. This adds some seriousness to the proceedings and puts you in the right frame of mind to treat this as exercise rather than a jolly romp through some virtual locations.
I kicked off my journey into Zumba by trying the tutorial. Hey, for a guy who has no rhythm, it was the most logical place to begin. I was looking forward to how accurate the Kinect was going to be in picking up the movement and how much laughing my wife was going to be doing at my attempts at dancing. The timing for the movement pick-up is fairly accurate, the premise is, follow the basic, slow-speed movement on the screen for long enough to light the “Zumba” bar on the left a certain number of times and the game will gently invite you to try the steps at normal speed. This is all well and good, and there is an expected jerk as the speed cranks up. Then the steps seem to change in a way subtle enough to look like the steps you’ve just been doing, but at a speed which makes them feel completely different. I was lucky enough for my Kinect to think I consistently hit some of the faster moves and the game invites you to try a different step. There are several styles of step you can practice, each with four distinct steps to master. This is important for later on in the game.
As with the previous versions of Zumba you attend classes. These consist of either 20, 40 or 60 minute sessions. These start off slow, build up to an energetic crescendo and then slowly wind you down, ending with a warmdown song. You can also play a single song, to practice or just for fun. The aim when you’re playing the classes or single songs is to light all five stars at the bottom of the screen. You do this by means of lighting the Zumba lights in the bottom left and the medium of dance. It’s not really explained well enough as to how these lights work or in what sequence they light the stars, all I know is, that it happens. I got to 3 stars from 5, which for a guy who’s been described as the male Edwina Currie of dancing, wasn’t too bad. This is also not a bad result considering that you’re dropped straight in. There isn’t a gentle introduction to the action, it’s fast and it’s intense.
The graphics are really quite good, which is surprising as they don’t need to be as impressive as they are in case they slow the gameplay down, which fortunately, they don’t. The backgrounds are well animated and drawn well and the characters look like who they are supposed to be modelled on, even if they do move in a slightly wooden fashion. The limbs of the tutor will glow red if you miss any of the moves or if you’re shown as out of time. As you can imagine, this happened to me quite a lot.
The music is an integral part of the game. For the most part it’s pounding Salsa, Samba, Reggaetron and Bollywood, but there are also some slower tracks in there. I was surprised to find some Marley, classified as a warmdown song. The instructors don’t really talk to you, they simply dance, with a handy square on the screen that shows you what move is coming up next. This usually gives you the first of the move’s sequence and it’s usually guesswork from then on in. But wait, what about the moves you practised to begin with? Well, they didn’t relate to any of the moves that appeared in the songs, but this wasn’t too much of a problem.
Game navigation is achieved two ways. You can use the Kinect to gesture your way through the menus. This works quite well, but the sensor detection in the menus isn’t too responsive, but the second method, voice control, is by far the most frustrating. There’s nothing more frustrating, or amusing, than breathlessly screaming at the TV to continue or go back. I ended up trying several accents and different volumes to try to get it to recognise, before wearily lifting an arm to move on through gesture.
Now, it goes without saying that you need plenty of room, even for the one player mode, but this seems to take more room than other games. It’s not a bad thing, but you have to watch your footing in more confined areas and low ceilings and light fittings are best avoided.
Overall, Zumba Fitness Core is a good addition to the range, with this being more abs focused. You wouldn’t notice this however, as the advice to tense your core as you go is very rarely given. Yes, there are some annoying glitches and the music will not be to everyone’s taste, but honestly, if you weren’t interested in the genre, you wouldn’t buy it. While this is unlikely to convert me to become a hardcore Salsa dancer or an avid Zumba addict it is a good introduction to this style of fitness. Personally, it’s not likely to have me cracking the Kinect out every other night, but my wife asked me to leave it out for her, which is a sure sign I’ll be coming home from work and catching her dancing her abs off.