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Wii Fit Launch Draws a Crowd

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Wii Fit, Nintendo's workout simulation game designed to get couch potatoes and casual gamers off their buns and into shape, launched a few hours ago, and we (me and the gf) were there to get our hands on it. As it turns out, so were a bunch of other people.

Not knowing what to expect, we called our local Wal-Mart to see if they were in fact going to wheel it out to the shelf at 12:01am on the nose, or just wait till morning. They confirmed it would be out tonight, and that a line had already started, but that if we came in soon and claimed a spot, we'd probably get a copy. Into the car we piled and off to the store we went at about 11:30pm.

Of the 16 people ahead of us and the three behind us, I saw an equal distribution of "normal" people and "gamer" types in the crowd, which wasn't much of a surprise given the broad appeal of both the Wii and this particular title. Everyone from moms to college kids to little tykes were there. No bedtime was going to keep them from scoring a balance board!

The cart wheeled out with little fanfare and was met with several sighs of relief and outstretched necks to see just how many units they were going to have available. Turned out to be about 25 or 30, which covered the 20 or so people in line and then some. Took a little time, but we finally got up to the counter, paid, were handed the box which has a little heft to it (and a handle) and made our way to the door, parting ways with the people we'd been chatting with for the last 20 minutes or so. At the door, we were asked to present our receipt for the game, and overall they seemed to be taking the release very seriously in terms of security and available staff, which was reassuring. When asked if they expected a busy night, one cashier commented, "Maybe a little, but June 12th is going to be crazy," alluding to the release of Metal Gear Solid 4 for the PS3.

It wasn't an immense turn out tonight, but the fact that people were there at that hour to snag a copy of a game focused on working out speaks to both the heightened awareness of the importance of fitness, and how hard it is to find a Wii (and soon this game as well, presumably) in many areas.

Sales of the game in Japan and Europe have been solid so far, so there's not much reason to think it will fare differently here in the U.S. Whether players here will use it as designed or figure out ways to beat the records without actually doing the exercises (i.e., waggling the remote to simulate running full speed while actually laying on the couch) remains to be seen, but I'm hopeful.

Important note: The game apparently requires a system update via the Internet before the game will play properly.  If you don't have your Wii online already, this may present a problem for you.

First impressions of the game are that it's fun and can give you a workout while entertaining at the same time. Of course, for the $95 and change that Wii Fit came to with tax, you could buy a hula hoop, free weights, and go running on your own and have money left over. But its ability to tell you when you're doing an excercise optimally, as well as track your weight and overall performance and keep you motivated give it value as both a statistician and a personal trainer as well. It's also great for people who can't or don't want to go outside for whatever reason. Can't make it to the gym before it closes? Your Wii is available any time you want it. Despite how well it does, I can't help but think it would have been an even bigger hit if released this past winter, when people were stuck inside scarfing holiday goodies, and getting ever more self-conscious about their weight. There's always this coming holiday season.

Will it become the must-have gaming item of 2008? Will it develop a one-to-one sell ratio with Wii systems? It's anyone's guess at this point, but very early indications are that the demand is roughly equal to the supply. Scalping has begun already on Amazon.com and Ebay.com, offering the game for a wide range of prices, up to several hundred dollars; fortunately, our retailer was limiting sales to one per customer to help prevent enabling scalpers. In any case, if you're interested in the game, you might want to get shopping.

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About Mark Buckingham