I am a half hour into Mojo!, a PlayStation 2 game that requires a player to guide a zooming ball to destroy as many multicolored blocks as possible. Normally the only part of my body getting any exercise playing a computer game would be my thumb on the joystick. This time, however, my whole upper body and legs are getting a workout as I lean into a four-foot-high steering stalk that offers a fair amount of resistance.
The folks at Powergrid Fitness, who make the Kilowatt exercise machine I am testing, and others in the consumer electronics business have devised some innovative ways to combine the entertainment of video games with a brisk isometric workout.
The Kilowatt, which resembles a Segway scooter minus the wheels, plugs into standard game consoles, such as Sony's (SNE) PlayStation 2 and Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox. You view the action on a TV screen and use the upright steering stalk to manipulate the game. At $799 for the sport model with 12 resistance levels and $1,199 for the sturdier professional version with 20 resistance points, the Kilowatt is priced like a serious piece of gym equipment. Both are available from powergridfitness.com; the pro model is featured in the FAO Schwarz Christmas catalog (fao.com; 800 426-8697).
Variations on the work-up-a-sweat-as-you-play theme include an updated dancercise program for the PS2 and the XaviX system that lets you simulate competition on the tennis court, baseball field, and bowling lane.
Sony's DDR (Dance Dance Revolution), which has been on the market for a few years, features a soft step-pad that is spread on the floor in front of the TV. Players must hit the right "keys" with their feet to stay in synch with patterns on the screen and the pulsating soundtrack. Two pads can be plugged in at the same time for side-by-side dancing -- a big hit with my daughters, age 12 and 9. The new DDR Extreme lets you project your image onto the screen via a digicam that plugs into a USB port. The game and pad cost $60; the digicam is $50.
From Japan's SSD Co. comes XaviX with its own console and sports gear that is magical to use. The tennis game, which I liked the best, employs two scaled-down racquets with sensors that enable you to "serve" and return a virtual ball against a video opponent or another live player. The baseball game is a little trickier: It's activated by a ball that's attached to your wrist with a tether. One person can pitch, another can bat.
The otherwise cutting-edge XaviX system does have a downside: low-resolution graphics. Still, the sounds and motion dynamics are top-notch, and in no time you're drawn into the competitive aspects of the games. The price: $79.99 for the console, $49.99 per game. XaviX is available from www.XaviX.com and retailers such as Best Buy (BBY) and RadioShack (RSH).
None of these computerized wonders will make me give up aerobics. But new-generation interactive devices are fun, draw your kids into activities, and definitely get your heart rate elevated as you huff and puff in your den.
By Maria E. Recio