Thursday, January 8, 2009

Nintendo games tap life improvement

Other than remembering to write 2009 instead of 2008, the hardest thing to do in the new year is to keep a resolution.

Promises to stop swearing don't get past the next sentence. Pledges to be nicer to siblings fall to the wayside. Vows to drive less may not make it when gas is relatively cheap.

If you're having trouble keeping your new year's resolution, help is available. And it comes from the most unlikely place — video games. A recent spate of titles for the Nintendo DS and Wii offer consumers a new way to fulfill that promise of eating healthy or stopping smoking.

Along with Nintendo, Ubisoft has been making headway in this area of gaming. With its My Coach series, the company has targeted a casual audience that appreciates this trend toward self-help titles.

"We're turning them into educational titles, but in fun ways," said Negar Baharlou, senior brand manager for the series. "They tackle some difficult issues. It takes a big challenge and breaks it down to smaller doses."

It's a formula that could work for gamers looking to better themselves in the new year.

For those who want to lose weight: If you were lucky enough to receive "Wii Fit" this Christmas, the game and its Balance Board peripheral can help keep you in shape as long as you eat a sensible diet and play it every day. The title features yoga, strength exercises and minigames to help you get off your feet and break a sweat.

  • The game can get engrossing as you see the small but constant improvement in your waistline and balance.

    If you don't have a Wii, then "My Weight Loss Coach" for the Nintendo DS is a good alternative. Think of this as a portable personal trainer. The game comes with a pedometer that tracks how many steps you take. It also features a simple way to keep track of your diet.

    If you fall off the wagon, the game offers helpful tips. It never scolds you like that sixth-grade gym teacher. This is also one of those titles that you will have to play daily.

  • For those who want to quit smoking: "My Stop Smoking Coach with Allen Carr" isn't a magic bullet to your smoking problems. It's not like Nicorette gum or the patch, but this game may be able to teach users a few cessation techniques and concepts through simple minigames.

    Hey, if it's worked for celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Anthony Hopkins, it could work for regular folks, too.

    Baharlou says the game is a great companion with Carr's book "The Easy Way to Stop Smoking."

    "It's a proven method," she said. "They sold 8 million copies of their book and have a success rate."

    Like "My Weight Loss Coach," the game is portable so perhaps when you're jonesing for a fix, you can turn on the game and find a way to put off lighting up.

  • For those who want to eat out less: Last year, Nintendo launched its Personal Trainer series and the first game focused on the kitchen. With "Personal Trainer: Cooking," users can stop eating fast-food and save some money cooking for themselves.

    The game helps you find recipes based on what you have at home, keywords or region. It's also programmed with videos to show some of the finer cooking concepts like filleting a fish. It even has voice recognition so that you can move on to the next step if you have your hands full.

    Although the recipes come from the Tsuji Cooking Academy, the recipes are adequately balanced with European and Asian fare. Overall, there are 245 recipes in this relatively simple-to-use game.

  • For those who want to get better grades: If you want to improve your brain skills, Nintendo's "Brain Age" series isn't a bad way to go. But the younger set may want something a little more their speed, and that's where Electronic Arts' "Brain Quest" titles come in. Based on the best-selling educational products, the game comes in two versions directed toward third- and fourth-graders and fifth- and sixth-graders.

    The questions span subjects that include math, science and history, and the game lets them do more than just answer multiple choice question. "Brain Quest" puts the touch-screen to good use, offering logic puzzles such as Sudoku and multiplayer games as well.


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