09/11/2012 10:40 GMT | Updated 09/11/2012 10:48 GMT

Nike+ Kinect Training Review: Home Exercise Comes Of Age?


Nike has recently done a great job of producing genuinely useful training gadgets to sit alongside its traditional business model - namely selling running shoes, T-shirts and professional-grade PE kit.

Its Fuel Band, released earlier this year, was a handsome, if expensive, way to track your exercise throughout a day, and over time it won a place in our hearts through its genuine utility.

Added to that, Nike's growing line-up of watches, trainers and smartphone apps have matured pleasingly over the last twelve months to the point where it can genuinely claim to be a major player at the nexus of technology, health and sports.

That's smart, because as more and more screens, apps and computers enter our lives, many techies feel an equal desire to get outside and work out, in a frantic attempt to stay alive long enough to complete Angry Birds Star Wars.

With Nike+ Kinect Training, they're taking that to the next level by providing a new way to work out at home via the Xbox and its Kinect add-on camera.

In theory, this is fantastic. For as long as infomercials, rowing machines and dumbbells have existed, working out at home has seemed like a cheap and convenient way to get fit. Combined with Nike's expertise and Kinect's motion-tracking camera and intelligent depth perception, the ingredients are there to create a new and useful way to train from the comfort of your living room.

And, in general, most of it works. The Nike+ Training system includes a huge range of exercises, organised roughly into those covering strength, cardio and flexibility, and the game is gentle enough to teach you the basics at your own pace while recognising when you're ready to step it up. An exercise won't begin until you're in the correct position, and your avatar is always on screen like a mirror so you can get it right.

After an initial assessment you'll pick your trainer, build a program and start to work through the exercises. As you work towards your goal you can add new exercises into your routines, and try and push yourself to new heights. It's all very fluid, and balances the 'game' elements with genuinely exhausting physical activity well. It feels a little like Rocksmith, the real-guitar Guitar Hero, in that it's main aim is to get you moving, not staring at the screen.

Multiplayer is present, allowing you to work out with a friend and also compete for challenges and achievements - most reps in a short period of time, for instance, or most Fuel Points earned. Presentation quality is high, and its an attractive game in terms of graphics and menus. Integration with Nike's upcoming smartphone app is also good from what we've seen - though it's not as flexible as you'd hope. It's not possible to cancel a session and go for a run instead and still get credit in-game, for instance. Like a real trainer, the Nike+ Kinect Training game takes no excuses.

The mechanics of actually tracking this stuff is also better than you might expect. The Wii was the first system to introduce interactive workouts to mainstream gamers, but for the most part that relied either on balance or general wrist-waving nonsense and in our experience didn't hold most people's attention. The Kinect camera takes this much further, allowing full-body exercises as well as checking for imbalances in your movement and other frequent mistakes.

One big problem comes in the amount of space you'll need to work out. The Kinect needs at least six feet to pick up your image, and after that you'll need a good-sized room to get your body moving without also sending your furniture flying through the window.

It's also an open question how much you'll actually stick to the programme. The issue with working out from home is not only that its difficult to stay motivated, but that it's boring. For most people, it's being at the gym surrounded by the Beautiful People and working harder to catch up, or else being outside and tackling nature red in tooth and claw that makes exercise worthwhile.

Nike has done a good job here in finding a balance between those elements and making a decent home training product. And to be fair, this is pitched as a complement to your exercise regime, not a replacement. But whether it's enough to keep us interested in six months time we'll have to wait and see.