Inside Pulse 12

Review: My Weight Loss Coach (Nintendo DS)

My Weight Loss Coach (DS)
Genre: Edutainment
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: June 24, 2008

Think for a second about the typical gamer stereotype. Slovenly, zit-faced, Mountain Dew-swilling sloth. Oh, and fat. Very fat. Now, we all know this hardly an accurate description of every gamer out there. Still, there are some of us who feel we could stand to lose a few pounds. Thanks to Ubisoft, we can now do so by using a familiar friend – the Nintendo DS.

My Weight Loss Coach is exactly that – a guide that can be followed to help aid someone on their diet. It isn’t a miracle solution or anything, but it’s an easy-to-use tool that can help keep gamers on track in between marathon sessions of Pokemon and Final Fantasy. And, just like a diet, a player can only get out as much as he or she puts in.

So, how does it all work?

The key to My Weight Loss Coach is the pedometer that comes with the game and hooks up with the DS via the Game Boy Advance game slot. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a good thing because it illustrates how much walking people do in the course of their daily activities; in this way, it’s an inspiration to keep people going. The problem is, if you forget to take your pedometer with you, you’re missing out on a big part of the game. If you lose the thing, you’re even worse off, particularly if you lose it right away – you can’t even get past the intro until you walk 500 steps. Also, the pedometer can easily be rigged by moving it up and down. However, the pedometer is fairly resilient and doesn’t reset like you might think it would. And, in truth, once you take it with you for a few days, you’re that much more likely to remember to bring it with you all the time. The flip side to that is that if you forget to bring the pedometer once, not only might you forget it in subsequent days, you might not want to log into the game at all because one-fourth of your progress won’t be tracked. And if you don’t log in for a couple of days, you’re back to where you started. This is an example of how the game gives you the option to be really into it, but also of how sometimes it’s just not practical.

The game’s main menu consists of two options – Daily Session and Backpack. The Backpack features some supplementary functions such as advice, quizzes, and progress charts. The Daily Session is where you’ll spend most of your time, and it’s broken up into four parts. The first is the pedometer, which consists of you plugging in your pedometer and seeing how many miles you’ve walked. The second is a series of challenges, which range from one-minute challenges (for example, doing as many sit-ups as possible in a minute) to 24-hour challenges (not eating anything oily for an entire day). There’s no real punishment for not completing the challenges, but they do tend to stick with you; if you’re the sort that doesn’t like to break the promises you make to yourself, you’ll do your best to complete these. The third section tracks your daily activity. It’s vague as to whether or not you’re supposed to include your pedometer activity with this; however, the game presents this as an entirely different entity. The activity you enter ties into the fourth section, which is essentially your food tracker. Rather than use calories or points, My Weight Loss Coach uses units of energy which are worth roughly 50 calories each. It’s nice to see that calories aren’t the be-all and end-all, as the obsession with calories derails thousands of diets each day. The game lets you enter your nutritional info in either vague terms (i.e. a heavy lunch, a light snack) or specific foods such as pasta or veal. Either way works, but what you gain in the convenience of entering meals is lost when you see that it’s not exactly accurate to what you ate. The ultimate goal isn’t to have as few energy points as possible; instead, your goal is to achieve what the game calls “balance” between your diet and your activity. The problem is that it’s hard to get accurate readings from your food entry. There will be days where you actually have achieved perfect balance in real life, but the game doesn’t see it that way because it’s impossible to be completely specific when entering your foods.

The way the game measures your progress is in miles (as in, not pounds). Each challenge you complete adds an extra mile to the amount you’ve walked with your pedometer. Activity and food goals are rewarded similarly. When the game tells you that you’ve walked as far as Mount Everest is high, it’s hard not to feel good about it, even though it’s not exactly true. My Weight Loss Coach isn’t terribly concerned with weight, asking for it once and then sort of sweeping it under the rug. However, it does use the dreaded Body Mass Index for an overall picture of your health. It’s better than nothing, but a muscular player might find that he or she is being unfairly characterized as out of shape.

The game looks and sounds exactly as you’d expect, with cutesy graphics and sound effects to keep things lighthearted. That’s definitely the right approach to take here. The emphasis is on fun here, and the overall feel of the game doesn’t diminish that. You’ll probably chuckle to yourself a few times at the inherent cheesiness of some of the dialogue by the “host”, and that’s a good thing. This is supposed to be a game, not a death sentence. In terms of its use of DS functionality, My Weight Loss Coach uses the stylus pretty heavily, and its use isn’t nearly as gratuitous as some of the other games out there. You don’t get the impression that they felt like they had to find stuff to do with the touch screen, but a lot of the stylus’s functions could just as easily be executed by pressing the B button.

One gripe with this game is that you can only have one user profile. In other words, if you bring home My Weight Loss Coach and your spouse decides he or she wants to give it a try, he or she is stuck buying his or her own copy. There doesn’t seem to be a reason why Ubisoft couldn’t have made room for a couple of extra profiles; after all, weight loss is infinitely easier if one has a mate in the process. It’s an oversight, but it’s one that hurts the game. While most people will want to keep their files relatively confidential, they’ll also want to show their close friends and family what they’re doing. Without the option for additional profiles, that becomes much tougher.

My Weight Loss Coach keeps things easy and positive, which is nice, but not everybody is in the habit of using their DS on a daily basis. However, many people do use their computers daily, which is why an online food tracker might be more convenient for some. Personally, I use Weight Watchers Online, which costs more than My Weight Loss Coach, but is more familiar and in-depth, not to mention right at my fingertips wherever there’s a computer nearby. Like many people, I don’t bring a DS everywhere I go. And even though a Daily Session in My Weight Loss Coach can be completed in ten minutes, I still find it easier to go online and enter my information that way.

That’s not to say that this is a bad game. My Weight Loss Coach is better than many dieting tools out there, and those who use their DS more than their computer may find this game extremely beneficial. It’s certainly better than doing nothing, and could come in handy for those who want to change, but aren’t sure where to start. Maybe it’s not the solution, but My Weight Loss Coach will get you on your way if you let it. And that’s all it seeks to do.

THE SCORES
STORY/MODES: Above Average
GRAPHICS: Mediocre
SOUND: Mediocre
CONTROL/GAMEPLAY: Above Average
REPLAYABILITY: Mediocre
BALANCE: n/a
ORIGINALITY: Good
ADDICTIVENESS: Above Average
APPEAL: Above Average
MISCELLANEOUS: Poor

TOTAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

SHORT ATTENTION SPAN SUMMARY
All in all, My Weight Loss Coach does a good job of pushing you along your way, keeping you on track while simultaneously increasing the effort you put in. The pedometer is a great addition, but it can also indirectly drive players away as they find that they can’t remember to bring it everywhere. While it’s not a traditional “game”, it does provide the interactivity that many find necessary to diet effectively; however the lack of multiple user profiles makes it impossible for players to share their successes, which is so important. It’s not a perfect tool, but it’s a good one, and it’s better than much of what’s available.