Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Family That Plays Together...

I confess I have a problem.  I am a Rock Band junkie now.  I didn't intend for it to happen, but it did.  Rock Band is a music/rhythm game for the Wii.  Ben got  The Beatles:  Rock Band and Lego:  Rock Band for Christmas.  It includes the drum kit, a microphone with stand and a Paul McCartney's Hofner violin bass controller.  Santa also brought Ben a John Lennon's Rickenbacker 325 guitar controller.

I was skeptical of the game.  Why would anyone want to pretend he or she can sing or play music?  I watched Ben, Natalie and Tim start to play the game.  Or should I say heard.  Our Wii console is in the basement.  The first few mornings after Ben got his present, he would wake up at the crack of dawn and go downstairs.  Mike and I could hear him belting out "The Final Countdown" or "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" at 6:30 a.m.

Mike began playing the guitar on some of the songs.  I tried the drums which is not easy for me.  Mike sang "Accidentally in Love" while I played drums and Ben played guitar.   That is Mike's favorite song on Lego: Rock Band.    In Lego:  Rock Band, the focus is to keep performing songs and collect Lego bricks.  The kids can build cool vehicles from the bricks and move onto hipper venues.  The Beatles:  Rock Band has a similar goal.  Band members play Beatles' songs to rack up points.  As your band becomes more competent, the game takes you to historic Beatles venues.  The band also can make landmark records like the Beatles did.

I attempted singing "Let's Dance" which was tough for me because of an upper respiratory infection.  The drums also weren't working out for me.  I am rhythmical but not coordinated for drums.  I decided to switch to bass.  Thankfully, Rock Band lets you play left-handed.  After I took a stab at the game, it became a breeze.  Of course, I had to do the tutorial a few times with Iggy Pop.

Since Lego: Rock Band and The Beatles: Rock Band didn't have all of the songs we liked, Mike ordered  Rock Band 2 for us to play.  We decided that we would "tour" after the kids went to bed.  Mike and I created the Treacherous Goons for our world tour.  He's the guitarist and I'm the bassist.  Granted we are missing a few other members but the game lets you play with just two players.

I was playing at the Easy level while Mike started on the Medium level.  Each guitar has a color coded fret board from green to orange.  There also is a strum bar which is this little white lever that you "strum" with your fingers.  Oh and there is a way cool, whammy bar that you can use to distort notes.  On the easy level, a guitarist has plenty of time to change fingers on the fret board.  The game only expects the easy level guitarist to play one or two colored notes at a time.  The medium level is obviously harder.  The guitarist is expected to play one, two or three notes at a time at a faster pace.

The game has your band start out poor and under-promoted.  As you play more increasingly difficult songs and reach greater than 70% proficiency, the game awards you fans and money.  As the band earns more cash, you can hire promoters, roadies and managers.  You also can change your musician's appearance.  The game lets you spend your cash for attire in various garbs from punk to rock.  Tattoos are an option along with diverse, almost freaky hair styles.  Oh and you can buy new instruments.

The bizare thing that Rock Band 2 does is let you create an online character.  The intention is to have you buy "merchandise" for your band.  The Rock Band website lets you create a "photo shoot" which transfers images to t-shirts, posters, stickers and keychains.  That seems a bit much to me.  I know some people are really into their online persona.  Come on!  It's just a game.

We started our tour in New York city and had to play songs like "De-Luxe" by Lush
or "Today" by the Smashing Pumpkins.  We then moved onto Chicago and got to play songs like "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads
and "Give It Away" by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.  We were cruising during most of our gigs with Mike and I scoring in the 90's for most of our songs.

I got more confident and decided I would move up onto the Medium level.  Oooh, that hurt!  With bass, the musician doesn't play two notes simultaneously very often.  I still had a hard time keeping up with the pace.  The one song that confounded me was "Let Be There Rock" by AC/DC.
The bass playing in that song is fast and relentless.  I started "practicing" in the afternoons while the kids were at school.  In the practice mode, a player can choose the speed of the song.  You can ratchet it down to 50 percent if you like.  I had to slow down the AC/DC song until I could master the notes.

After about a week of practice almost every afternoon, I got a handle on the Medium level.  Mike and I were able to move on to L.A. then London and finally Spain.  Rock Band 2 kept throwing harder and harder songs at us.  I felt sorry for Mike when he had to play "Master Exploder" by Tenacious D.  The guitar notes are wicked and the bass doesn't kick in until half way through the song.

The game continued to up the ante with various challenges like the Mystery Set List.  Rock Band 2 would throw at us three different songs usually with one simple and two difficult.  We can also made our own set list and earned more fans.  Right now we are "invited" to play a Rolling Stone Rock Immortal set list in Shanghai.  The first song was "Battery" by Metallica
and it was a doosey.  Both Mike and I failed out of it since we were below 70% of mastery.  Now our difficult task it to become proficient in the Metallica song.  Unfortunately, "Battery" is not available yet in our practice list.  I'm not sure how we are going to lick this song.

Needless to say, you will find me "practicing" in our basement the next week or two or three.  Yes, I'm a Rock Band devotee.  It's a fun winter pursuit that whole family can enjoy.  Rock on out !--Janis Joplin.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Time to Get Fit?

For Christmas, I put Wii Active:  More Workouts on my wish-list.  If you check my earlier post about Wii Active, you will know how much I love their fitness platform.  Santa brought me More Workouts and it is even better than its predecessor.

More Workouts is a perfect accompaniment to any person's workout routine.  I usually use exercise DVDs or outdoor walking to supplement my Wii training.  It's hard to believe that a video game platform could make me sweat.  Wii Active is the only video game that kicks my butt every time.

Why do I like More Workouts?  It still uses the resistant band training but has added new strength and aerobic exercises.  The game also added a warm up and cool down session to each workout.  Unfortunately, that is the game's weakest link.  I am not an exercise specialist but I would have liked more upper body stretches along with the hamstring extensions.

Kudos to EA Sports for needed changes within the game.  I can now select dominant hand preferences for the sport activities like squash.  The overall game requires right hand holding of the Wii remote but I won't quibble with that.  More Workouts in addition allows calendar changes for the six week challenge.  I failed the thirty day challenge with Wii Active because of an illness.  Now I won't have that with More Workouts.

Another feature that I love about More Workouts is the multiplayer function.  Ben, Natalie or Tim can now join me in water skiing or running an obstacle course.  I believe that companionship is beneficial to a successful fitness program.  Time seems to pass faster while exercising with another person.

I could go on further about More Workouts but I wanted to save space for Wii Fit Plus.  Ben got a copy for Christmas.  I was skeptical playing this fitness game because of the disappointing prior game.  This new game doesn't make me sweat as much but has some nice features.  Nintendo must have paid attention to complaints from users.

I like the fact that Fit Plus incorporates the Wii board in almost all of its exercises.  More Workouts only uses the board in select activities.  Fit Plus does a Body Test every session which use to be laborious in the earlier version.  Nintendo now gives the user the option of doing a quick test to gauge weight.  More Workouts also uses the Wii board to measure weight but only does it weekly.  I'm not sure which game does a better job with weight measurement.  I might side with Fit Plus because the game gives you the option of setting the weight of your clothes you are wearing.

Fit Plus has a chart that tracks the user's progress.  I was able to log in my waist size and the steps I took from my pedometer's measurement.  Since my weight is in the low 140's now, I have a BMI around 24.  Fit Plus suggested to a set a new goal with a BMI of 23 or 22.  Whether or not that is realistic is another story.  The CDC sets the normal healthy weight at a BMI from 18.5 up to less than 25.   Losing another ten pounds would be harder to do and  I'll have to let you know what happens.

Under the setting My Fit Plus, the game offers a calorie goal for the day.   The user selects a food item which lists the calories needed to burn for eating that treat.  The game keeps track of all the calories burned from your activities on Fit Plus.  Another function of My Fit Plus is customizing your workout.  Under Lifestyle, Youth, Health and Form, the games allows the user to choose his or her type of workout.  Separate workouts can be combined into one routine.  Nice feature, Nintendo!

The other advantage to Fit Plus is its multiplayer mode.  So far my kids favorite shared activity is snowball fights.  Fit Plus uses the Wii board and remote to simulating snowball fights.  The activity is done with each player taking his or her turn by hitting as many Miis with snowballs while evading theirs.  More Workouts is different because it has simultaneous activities that players can view side by side.  Fit Plus can't do that because of the one Wii board.

Overall I am pleased with both More Workouts and Fit Plus.  Both games have improved and added flexibility to their platforms.  I only hope this has inspired you to try them and get fit.