Impressions: Zumba Fitness: Join the Party!

The first few rounds of Kinect games are packed full of exercise-oriented excursions – Dance Central, Dance Masters, and Your Shape: Fitness Evolved to name a few. The latest exercise craze has joined the ranks of Kinect as well: Zumba. You’ve probably heard about it in passing. It’s a fast, frenetic dance-oriented program usually experienced in large classes, much like Jazzercise or Tae Bo. While its also available for the PlayStation 3 (with Move support) and the Wii, Zumba Fitness: Join the Party for the Xbox 360’s motion-sensing Kinect attempts to offer a similarly enriching solo wellness endeavor, but ultimately doesn’t bring too much to the table in light of the myriad of other fitness options that are currently available.

After jumping right in, it’s immediately obvious that the loudness, energy, and vibrancy presented in Zumba Fitness are the heart and soul of the experience. It’s bursting with bold colors, movement, and energy, much like the fitness program itself, so just navigating the clean, easy-to-use menus got me pumped up for the session to come.

From the menus, you have several options: Zumba Class, Zumba Party, tutorials, or even some multiplayer via Xbox Live. If you’re new or even if you’re a seasoned Zumba vet, it might be in your best interest to tackle the tutorials and attempt to execute the moves the way your on-screen instructor demonstrates. Similar to the way Dance Central slows things down, your instructor slowly performs a move, and it’s your job to copy it. If you’re nailing each step, your instructor glows green – yellow if you’re almost there, and red if you’re somehow completely messing things up. Seeing your color-coded instructor is well and good, but unlike in other similarly themed games, your silhouette is not displayed onscreen. In the background you can spy pixilated colorful renditions of you displayed on large screens, but these simply aren’t clear enough to give you any real helpful reference if you need help.

Even if you ace the tutorials, still, you might run into trouble during actual sessions, as some “classes” simply move too fast for tutorials to adequately train any newcomers. Being new to Zumba myself I found it difficult to jump right into a workout since the tutorials didn’t properly prepare me for what was to come.

When you do feel comfortable starting up a workout, you can choose a full routine lasting up to 20 minutes or single routines that take only minutes to complete. Each full workout session does provide a warm-up before things get too intensive, though I got the impression full Zumba sessions were really meant for only vets of the program. I found it disappointing that you couldn’t chain together the quick hit Zumba moves to create a custom workout as that seems like a very standard feature to offer, especially since other fitness games feature more robust options.

The actual routines themselves are interesting and varied, though, offering dance style and tempo changes as well as a “scoring” system that brings in backup dancers when you fill an on-screen energy bar. It certainly causes you to work up an intense sweat as you try and keep up with the pros on-screen, but in the end this Kinect-powered program feels more like watching and parroting a Zumba DVD rather than interacting in real time.

Interestingly enough, Zumba Fitness does allow for Xbox Live multiplayer, so you can schedule online sessions with friends. Since the real world program places so much emphasis on exercising with friends and other participants, this is a welcome augment that you’ll find spurs you on quicker to keep coming back, more so than playing on your own.

Still, alone or with friends, Zumba Fitness: Join the Party isn’t exactly an optimal setup for those looking to put together regular intense workout sessions with their new Kinect sensor. It’s perfect for making the Zumba experience a more personalized one, but in terms of fitness options for Kinect, there’s nothing that really goes the extra mile. Iffy tutorials and a lack of real visual aid when it comes to perfecting movements keep me from truly being able to recommend this option over, say, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, or similar releases. It may appear energetic and voracious, but in reality it’s mediocre at best.

Comments are closed.