Editor's Note: This article is Part IV of a multi-part series on the kiloWatt exercise and gaming device from PowerGrid Fitness.
Be sure to start at the begining:
Part I: Introduction
Part II: E3 Hands-on
Part III: First Impressions
Part IV: Final Review (you're here) To start with...
Come here. Have a seat. I want to have a conversation, you and I, because I have something to tell you. It's a little secret. There's not a joke in the next few paragraphs, no funny banter. Later on yeah, but for six paragraphs I want you to take me seriously, to read carefully, slowly, because what I have to say is important.
I have never reviewed what I considered to be a five star product. Think about what five stars means. 100%. A perfect 10. If you were competing in something and got that score, they could just cancel the rest of the games. You could walk away. It is an unbeatable score. Tied, maybe, but you will never be bested, not ever. I used to think that there were two ways a product could be a five star game. The first is a game without flaw. I've never seen such a game. Not Metroid Prime, not Halo, and certainly not Grand Theft Auto. As far as I know, this first category of five stars is an impossible ideal. The second path to a five star rating is if a game has flaws, but has some element that is so good, that provides such an extraordinary experience, that all the other flaws simply don't matter.
Hours of your life can go into games with programming flaws, technical glitches, obvious bugs, and bad graphics as long as it captures the gotcha. This is where the classics fall. Gotcha games are rare. There just aren't that many out there. But here's where you need to pay attention; here's the secret. With the KiloWatt Pro, I've discovered that there are actually three criteria, three doors, and the third one is probably the most substantial of all. Five stars also goes to something that is life changing. If you play a game that changes where you are going, that represents a turning point in some respect because its experience is so profound, that is life changing. In reviewing the Kilowatt, there are a lot of questions to be asked.
Does it work as a game controller? Yes, in some cases extraordinarily well. Can you play any game on it? Yes, though some easier than others. What games work best? What genres? Am I going to win playing with it online in Halo 2? Does it really work your muscles? Can I lose weight with it? Does it have flaws?
But take a breath. Pause. These are good questions, but they're the wrong ones. They're relevant, but not key. The five key questions are these: After a month of review, am I the Greek God I'd like to be? No. Four weeks is too short a time for that. But am I closer? Yes. Do I believe that I'll get there if I continue to consistently use the Kilowatt? Will I continue to consistently use the Kilowatt? Yes and yes. And the most important question of all; is the Kilowatt life changing?
Why? Because weight and physical appearance are not just important in our society, but one of the most influential aspects of social interaction. Because study after study shows that people who meet the right physical specifications make more money, are more likely to get jobs, climb the social ladder faster, are better respected, and are taken more seriously. Because health problems due to weight compete with health problems due to smoking as the number one cause of preventable deaths in the United States.* Because my weight was creeping in the wrong direction, because I wasn't exercising, and now I am, and will be again tomorrow. Because the Kilowatt is the only exercise machine I've ever owned that I honestly believe I will keep using for a long time to come, and as such represents the primary barrier between me and the progressive slide toward a potential weight problem that could affect me later down the road, much as it affects many Americans.
Ask anyone who's lost a lot of weight if it feels like a life changing event, if they noticed differences in self-confidence and social interaction, fundamental changes in quality of life, and you'll understand why it is I believe every gamer should be aware that the Kilowatt exists. There are few things that have the potential to be as life changing as a significant turn in your health, either for better or worse, and the Kilowatt offers a chance to make such a beneficial change. Because like it or not, games are not the only thing that get rated. Like it or not, people are rated too. The Review:
Below is every comment I can think to make about the Kilowatt Pro. I've tried to provide an answer to every question I had about the system six months ago, before I had a review unit to push around with my greedy little weakling hands. I've broken this review down into sections that I feel cover the main elements of the Kilowatt, mainly questions about how it performs as an exercise machine, and, separately, how it does as a gaming controller. If there are things that I have missed, questions that you might have that I'm simply not bright enough to come up with on my own, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll see what I can do to answer them. The System:
The Kilowatt Pro - designed with gyms in mind - is large. With a footprint of 37.5" by 53", you can expect the Kilowatt Pro to claim as much space in your workout area as a treadmill or exercise bike, only without the convenient folding feature of a treadmill. When deciding between the Pro and the Sport (the smaller, home model), it's my personal opinion that it's the availability of storage space, more than price or adjustability, that impact which system you take home. Don't expect to casually place the Pro in a corner to diminutively take up space while not in use unless you have a fairly large room; the larger system doesn't fade into the background well. The Sport, on the other hand, is substantially smaller and for the most part offers an experience that is equal to the Pro, with 12 difficulty settings instead of 20, and a slightly lower max resistance pressure, which, honestly, isn't going to effect those of us looking for ways to lose a few pounds anyway. In the month I've been using the system, I've only occasionally strayed above the halfway mark in terms of difficulty settings, and don't expect that to change for some time.
The Pro adjusts well for pretty much any height and size. The two vertical pieces slide forward and back to adjust how far you have to reach when using the Kilowatt, and both bars also adjust vertically. It took me 45 minutes to assemble the unit from the box, and while there were no major problems, there were a few things to keep in mind. For one, the two metal support bars that run along the bottom of the unit have to be rotated the right direction in order for the adjustments to work smoothly. If you don't, the pieces that are supposed to slide forward and back simply don't, and while the fix is readily available on PowerGrid's website, including a note in the documentation about this would have saved some time and frustration. The documentation I received, though, was pre-release, and came before the company's final printing runs were completed. It's possible that these sorts of issues will be addressed in additional documentation included with future units.
The head of the unit, the control pad that you use to actually control the games, is really very well designed. A display at the top allows you to adjust resistance settings, making a player apply more force to get results from a game, and shows information about time and poundage applied over the course of the workout. There is also a Macro button that allows the user to program key combinations, one of the features that I wish were mentioned a bit more thoroughly in the documentation that I have. How well the Kilowatt works as a controller is covered in more detail in a later section of this review, specifically the one titled The Controller. Before we get to that, though, we should address a question that is fundamentally relevant to why people like you and I are interested; does it work? Well, let's find out. The Workout:
The ancient Greeks, for all of their brilliance, forgot to invent clothing. You can tell from their sculptures. The closest they ever came, as far as I can tell, was when Zeus got really smashed one night and gave birth to the Toga Party by draping a bed sheet over his head. The reason the Greeks never invented clothing, I figure, is because they were all buff. All of them. When I set out to turn myself into the physical equivalent of a Greek hero, it was before a quick review of ancient art revealed that even their women packed around more testosterone per ounce than I did. My second thought, that a Romance Novel Hero would be even better than a Greek God, fell through when I realized that not only am I missing the prerequisite long and wavy hair, but that my physical presence has been described as rather Gollum-ish in nature, and that achievement of my goal was at least partially dependent on the ability to replace my head with a wax look-alike of someone famous.
In short, we do the best we can with what we have. In bodybuilding and weight lifting this is an incredibly important concept. Some people have naturally good bodies. Their heads are proportionally the right size, their legs are the right lengths, they have the right number of toes and fingers, and they build muscle easily and with a minimal amount of work. Most of us aren't that lucky. I've been using the Kilowatt for roughly 40 days at the time of this review, 40 days of tracking my statistics by measuring things like waist size, muscle size, and weight. I've done my best to record how often I work out, usually two sessions of roughly 30 minutes each, as well as which games I play, and why. But before we go on to the results, including graphs and *shudder* before and after pictures, it's important to establish realistic expectations.
Statistically speaking, the most successful long-term weight loss plans are the ones that produce an average decrease of roughly 1.8 pounds per week, a number that completely throws out the weakling to Hercules in just three weeks image they try to sell you in the supplement ads in Men's Health Magazine. Many of the articles I've read on the subject say that you shouldn't expect significant physical changes in your body due to weight lifting in less than 30 days. Forget the fast night and day differences; successful weight-loss takes time and persistent exercise. Technical Details:
I am male and 23 years old. When I initially started writing these articles seven months ago, I weighed 205 lbs, which made me legitimately 31 lbs overweight. Independent of the Kilowatt, I've lost most of that 31 lbs in the space between seeing the Kilowatt for the first time at E3 2004 and the time the Kilowatt actually arrived at my doorstep over a month ago. This causes a bit of a problem for me, since I've gone from vocalizing a legitimate concern about being overweight to complaining about a borderline healthy weight for my height at 174 lbs. Suddenly, I'm just trying to trim myself into a more picturesque form, which is about vanity. That's not the problem.
The problem is, how do I separate the effects of the Kilowatt from whatever I've been doing in the last few months to lose those 31 pounds? For one, my weight leveled off about a month before the Kilowatt arrived; I stopped losing weight. Still, for the course of this review, the Kilowatt has become my only source of consistent exercise; the dance class that helped me lose those early pounds is now over and done with. I did my best to maintain a consistent diet, consistent with previous months at least, which meant I was working on a restricted calorie intake of between 1500 to 2000 calories per day. The calories I ate were not particularly nutritionally balanced; in the first embarrassing admission in this review, my diet consists mainly of Jack in the Box, frozen dinners, Top Roman, frozen burritos, and pancakes. It was my goal to play at least twice per day in 30-minute sessions. That seems like a lot, until you realize that games are what I do; if I weren't playing on the Kilowatt, I'd probably be playing on the couch anyway. Because this diet contains very little protein, which your body needs to repair and build muscle, I drank a protein supplement after each workout.
Getting adequate protein for muscle building is very important, not only from a success perspective, but also from a comfort one; having sufficient protein in your diet drastically reduces muscle soreness. I used 100% Whey Protein purchased from BodyBuilding.com for $28.99, which buys a one to two month supply. For all technical information about how and what to measure, as well as general information on what to expect in terms of physical changes, I referenced BodyBuilding.com, which contains a massive and reliable wealth of information on physical fitness for all styles of exercise and health. If you have any questions about working out, you'll be able to find the answer there. Results:
In every Before and After picture, the Before is on the left. I received extensive education on how to smile in a Before and After picture - one is never supposed to look happy in a Before picture - and then decided I'd do my best to ignore all that information. What you'll find here are pictures that I feel best represent any change in my exterior; I tried not to flex in one and not the other, smile too big in the second and look vaguely depressed about the state of the world in the first, or any of the other tricks that make Before and After pictures typically so unreliable. In the picture taken from the side, I didn't push out my stomach, or pull it in. Instead, it's just there, about as it would be if I were standing in a checkout line at the store without being aware of it at all. I tried to be consistent in posture, facial expression, and even hairstyles. Even if the pictures don't show it well, the graphs do; during the 1 month of usage, I've dropped more than a percentage point in body fat, which means I've been adding muscle. I've lost more than two inches off my waistline, while losing a relatively mild 5 pounds, probably due to the fact that I've added muscle, which is heavier, at the same time as shedding fat. And so, with a fair bit of hesitation... ummm... here's me... Editors Note (09/27/05): Due to changing over to a new server, these images are now shown at the bottom of this article instead of here in the center. Just scroll down to find them.The Controller:
The truth is, the Kilowatt does work. But when you come right down to it, so do most of those exercise machines you see on late night TV. Simply running works, too, or walking around the block. So does swimming, or riding a bike, playing hacky-sack, fidgeting, and if you're really, really dedicated and annoying, enthusiastically chewing bubblegum 24-hours a day. There are dozens of activities that have always been available in terms of exercise; what was lacking was motivation. Despite the embarrassment I felt when I first noticed my old shirts no longer fit, there was a gap between exercising and seeing a result. Call me fickle, but when getting more exercise is the only goal you have while actually exercising, it's hard to keep going that last five minutes. Immediate gratification makes a huge motivational difference, and try as you might, there's nothing that's going to change you overnight.
At least for a while at the beginning, traditional motivation for exercise comes from your imagination, the familiar, Wouldn't it be nice. Wouldn't it be nice to have muscles?
Yeah, sure would.
Wouldn't it be nice to be confident? To finally, finally be able to hang out at the beach without a shirt on and not feel obligated, for everyone else's sake, to spend the time submerged to my neck in the water?
Yeah. Yeah, that too.
But how can I keep my motivation high when every morning I wake up thinking that maybe, just maybe, some miracle has turned me into a muscle-bound Olympian during the night, only to find... well... me... staring back from the bathroom mirror? By combining games and exercise, the Kilowatt makes exercising more than just trying to look better, and playing games more than just trying to have a good time. In order for the concept to work, the enjoyment the average gamer gets from a console has to overcome the normal aversion we have to voluntary movement. And for that to happen, the Kilowatt has to be transparent in terms of control.
For the most part, it is. The Kilowatt not only has the ability to adjust which analog stick the force bar controls, either the left or the right, but it allows you to adjust the system depending on the axis. For example, you can set it to look up and down in Halo 2 on the Y-axis (right analog stick), but to strafe side to side on the X-axis (left analog stick). What this means is that you're able to make the Kilowattt control in the manner you want nearly regardless of the game. This doesn't mean that it controls all games equally well. Flight simulators like Crimson Skies, for example, play about as close to perfection as any game can get; using your full body on what amounts to a giant joystick lends the experience an arcade feel, and it's hard to resist an urge to line up quarters in order to claim your spot in line. Games that use predominantly one of the two analog sticks for control, on any system, tend to be more comfortable from the start.
X-Men Legends is a good example of this, as is Baulder's Gate, Soul Calibur II, Zelda, and pretty much any game on the GameCube. All of the above require very little adjustment in terms of getting used to the controller. Five minutes on the right difficulty setting will have pretty much anyone running through the games in virtually an identical manner to using the controller, more so as you build the muscles needed to accommodate the motion.
It's very possible to forget you're playing on a specialized system at all. Games that make extensive simultaneous use of both analog sticks are more difficult. These tend to be first person shooters such as Halo 2 and TimeSplitters 2, though not Metroid Prime, which uses mainly one analog stick due to the GameCube's controller design. While these games require a bit more practice before you become really proficient at them, they too eventually fall into line. While you'll probably never be as good on the Kilowatt in Halo 2 as you are on a traditional controller, it doesn't detract from your overall game experience in general, and honestly, if you're like me you get your butt whooped on LIVE regardless, normally by twelve-year-olds with potty mouths. Take comfort in the fact that because of your humiliation, you're probably going to have a better score on HotorNot.com two months from now. Even the Kilowatt can't make this a completely painless experience. The Games:
But what games work best? Well, for starters, think of every game that you enjoy. Pretty much any of those are playable, worth your time if they get you exercising. Then, from those, pick the ones that require a lot of movement in one analog stick. From those, pick the ones that force you to push and pull in a large number of different directions. Racing games like Mad Dash Racing are some of the most intensive workouts available on the system, and the arcade feel of the Kilowatt actually makes the game more fun than it is on its own. However, Mad Dash and its like never, ever ask you to pull back on the joystick; why would you want to stop going forward in the middle of the race? Lots and lots of left-right movement, constant and exhausting forward movement, but back? Nah, pretty much never.
These games are great fun, and leave you worn out after a pretty quick jaunt, but need to be combined with others to offer a more diverse workout. Games I find work well for general work-outs are top down games like Baulder's Gate II, X-Men Legends, The Bard's Tale, and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, especially when you lay off the map rotation so that you find yourself running up, down, left, and right all in about equal measure.
Also, shooters like Panzer Dragoon Orta tend to have a high action level, which helps take your mind off the exercise experience.
But the best games I've found for the really intense workouts aren't GameCube, Xbox, PS2, or PC games at all; instead, they're good old-fashioned arcade and SuperNES games. While the Kilowatt doesn't have the ability to plug into any of the older systems (with the exception of the Playstation), you can find arcade games on a number of classic collections for the Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube - or you can attach the Kilowatt to the PC as a joystick and use any number of emulation software to run almost any system available, from Dreamcast back. This last option really makes for a diverse exercise machine, since you'll have access to some of the best exercise games available: StarFox on the SuperNES, 1943 on the NES, Galaxy 5000 on the NES, Total Carnage on the SuperNES, Gauntlet on a variety of systems.
The list goes on and on, and with the breadth of games available, there are literally hundreds that work well. These games tend to force you to push in all directions, are without exception designed to run off a single analog stick (directional pad), and are intense. Most of them are fast paced, action-oriented games that don't let up, and force you to move in order to stay alive. If you don't have access to a PC and an emulator, you can pick up a collections pack for under $20.
Offhand, I'd recommend Midway Arcade Treasures II. It's available across system and contains both Gauntlet II and Total Carnage, both top-notch exercise games, along with others that work to varying degree. With these, you'll find yourself putting more pounds into the Kilowatt in the shortest time and with the least effort than almost anything else available. The Only Reservation:
There's a lot of force being put into what amounts to an electronic system on a metal body. Being a new company releasing a new product, only time will tell how well the Kilowatts stand up to the abuse of being pushed, pulled, and yanked on by active gamers. In the course of my review, there were a number of irregularities that I'd attribute to growing pains, all of which were quickly addressed by the PowerGrid crew. If there were an Achilles heel, though, I'd expect to find it in the durability of the system. Both the Kilowatt Pro and the Sport come with warranties for both the body and the electronics, but at this early in the game, it's still to be proven that the Kilowatts themselves are sturdy enough to last through year after year of the screaming, yelling, and pounding you might expect someone to put into the system in the throws of a good game. For that reason, I have plans for a six-month follow-up article, just to fill the missing gap. The Final Word:
Six months ago, GamesFirst!, along with the rest of the gaming industry, was preparing for 2004's Electronic Entertainment Expo. The yearly trip to L.A., a city perpetually concerned with the glitz and glamour of the physical, always puts you square in the middle of an event filled to the brim with beautiful women paid to pretend they find nerds at least mildly attractive. In such a circumstance, you can't help but be at least partially aware of how far in the red or green your own hotness needle is pointing. Shallow, perhaps, yes, but insignificant? Not a chance. We all worry about how we look from time to time, and L.A. is a city that brings it out in you. The Kilowatt offered a chance for me to combine something I loved, games, with something I didn't love but needed, exercise. I was impressed with the concept, and at the same time amazed by the amount of negative feedback coming from outside the gaming community. The discussion boards were rife with non-gamers, none of who had so much as laid a hand on the system, who absolutely hated the idea of a gaming exercise machine.
Apparently exercise was considered to be generally good, but exercising on something that was fun, well, that was just silly. And gamers that exercised? Well, that was just sillier still. If you wanted to be fit, the consensus seemed to be, your gaming habit had to go first.
The negative reaction from outside the gaming community truly amazed me. Did I have to give up my gaming or be doomed to a life without muscle, strength, or girlfriend? When I went into this, the Kilowatt was a last gasp effort for me; if I couldn't get myself up and going on this, I might as well surrender to forces of ice cream, cookies, and Swedish fish, which I've loved since childhood. Even if I didn't like sweets, Italian food is pretty much a straight shot to the gut as far as I'm concerned, and I wasn't going to give that up for good. I might have lost weight in the few months before the Kilowatt arrived, but I believe that, without the Kilowatt to keep my interest peaked, I'd find myself slipping back into my old ways, until two or three years from now I'd be no different than when I started.
In my opinion, there's no better exercise combination than the Kilowatt and a game system, with the possible exception of the Kilowatt, a game system, and a Dance Dance Revolutions pad for a supplementary cardiovascular workout. There might be exercise machines that work you harder, or work more muscles, but they're also the same machines that we never use a month after purchase. The Kilowatt makes gaming into something that has no reason to apologize; into something a parent can turn their child towards for their health instead of just for fun. The seeds for these articles began with the words, The only problem I have with gaming, said by a teacher while expressing his worry about the number of children in his class that were overweight. A recent survey showed that weight-related health issues in the elderly might well be enough to jeopardize programs like Medicare in the future, since the average medical cost for someone in the Medicare system passed the overweight limit runs between 1 and 6 thousand dollars more than those considered healthy weight.
Obviously, weight issues affect both young and old. Our current fitness industry isn't doing the job in terms of keeping the U.S. interested and active in exercise - for all the negative comments on the discussion boards from those boasting about the wonders of gym memberships over something you might plug into a game console, we're still one of the heaviest nations in the world, and climbing. So here's my thought; maybe it's time we let the gaming industry give it a go. It might save lives.
*(Update: 1/19/05) Following the publication of this review, the CDC released an updated report on the effects of smoking which show their earlier claim that weight issues will compete with smoking was slightly exaggerated due to computer error. After releasing the updated report, Donna Stroup, acting director of the CDC's coordinating center for health promotion, went on record as saying, "Regardless of the controversy, it's clear to people [diet, physical inactivity, and tobacco] are the three underlying causes of death most important to the country."