David is a proudly queer performing artist and software developer. He spends most of his downtime with a controller in his hands and a lazy beagle on his lap.
September 28, 2021
No fitness game can exist in a vacuum. There’s an established body of weight loss, strength training, and resistance-building software that resists traditional gaming industry trends and often the pull of linear time. Titles from the early 2000s share more than just surface-level elements with modern releases, continuing to sell decades after their release. It’s into this bizarre, pseudo-gaming genre that developers Marvelous Inc. have unleashed Knockout Home Fitness, a rhythmic martial arts title that promises a suite of full-body workouts to get your blood pumping.
While the Nintendo Switch is not without its fair share of exercise games (including the sprawling RPG Ring Fit Adventure and the Fitness Boxing series), Knockout Home Fitness sets itself apart with its selection of mixed martial arts, detailed progress reporting, and low threshold for time investment – you can get stuck into a workout within minutes. After spending a month with the title during lockdown, is my body ready for hot girl summer 2022? Well… not quite.
Knockout Home Fitness is a rhythm game, tasking you with completing actions to the beat of the music. The actions take their inspiration from a wide variety of martial arts, including boxing, Muay Thai, and karate. The default game mode is Personal Training, where the game will select a series of workout routines for you to complete. You can specify how long you want your training session to be, and which parts of your body you’d like to focus on. If you’ve completed your Personal Training for the day and want to keep pushing yourself, you can select individual routines in 3-Minute Fitness mode. All of your progress is recorded in My Report, which tracks which days you’ve played and how many calories you’ve burned.
Your trainer in Knockout Home Fitness guides you through each workout, and each one is fully voiced with distinct personalities. Satsuki is jolly and spritely, while Matilda (who you eventually unlock) comes across as “tough but fair”. While the trainers are obviously designed to look fit, they’re not a threatening presence, and since they’re flanked by two assistants in each workout, there’s no weird hint of intimacy that is occasionally present in other fitness titles. Trainers perform the actions onscreen with you, and you can toggle whether or not they mirror your movements. This turns out to be vital in following the workout routines, since you’re not really taught about the correct form for each movement and some of the workouts are FAST.
Despite the trainers helping out, the onscreen indicators for which action to perform turn out to be a bit of a mess. Rather than scrolling vertically up the screen, actions appear on the bottom of the screen and are to be enacted left-to-right on the beat. Actions with your left hand are surrounded by a blue semi-circle, and a red semi-circle indicates to use your right hand. The actions themselves are written in small, white text. None of this is customisable, by the way, so if (like me) your JoyCon colours don’t match the left-and-right indicators, then you just have to remember which is which – all while tiny text flies past that you’d better interpret into actions with your potato-sack body lightning-fast. Icons would have been a godsend here, or at least an option to change the colours of the UI.
Completing a workout routine earns you a score out of a hundred, with higher scores netting you “crowns”. Collecting crowns unlocks new trainers, new studios, and more advanced workout routines. This is good for motivation in the first week or so, but you’ll quickly unlock everything cosmetic – there are only four trainers and three studios to pick from, meaning you’ll mostly just be gaining new workouts. It would have been nice to have a few more studios or different gameplay modes to unlock for some variety, since there’s no real incentive to collect crowns other than completionism. New music could have been great here as well, since while the available tracks are plentiful and sufficiently upbeat, they’re also entirely forgettable.
Lying dusty and abandoned under piles of snapped fitness bands, Aerobics Oz Style DVDs, and a lone deflated Bosu Ball lies your Wii Fit Board, its battery long disintegrated and its once-pristine white plastic yellowed with age. It watches through the years, longingly, as you ritually purchase and discard other less durable peripherals: a Dance Dance Revolution mat, a Pokémon-themed pedometer, and a weird Ring controller come and go. Eventually, the deluge of peripherals slows. The lonesome Wii Fit Board instead watches you punch, kick, and squat like you used to with its old Wii Remote comrades, only this time the remotes are tiny and brightly coloured.
The Switch’s JoyCon controllers serve as the focal point for Knockout Home Fitness’ rhythm-based gameplay, reading your movements as you attempt to punch and kick to its high-octane soundtracks. I was intrigued with how the software would interpret the JoyCons with kicking movements, as the onscreen trainers do move their arms when they demonstrate Kick and Low Kick actions – however, it turns out that you automatically achieve an “Excellent!” rating for any action that doesn’t need the JoyCons, including Squats and Lunges. It’s a solution, but not a particular inspiring one. The JoyCons also struggle to pick up actions that aren’t directly punches. Performing an Elbow requires you to jerk your fist sharply for the software to register and the Knee action requires a forceful swing of the JoyCon, meaning you’re often focusing on ensuring the game detects your action rather than maintaining form. When the speed increases, quick repeated movements such as Body Blows also occasionally don’t register, which is incredibly frustrating when you’re gunning for a perfect score in a difficult workout.
Knockout Home Fitness is at its best when you select a more challenging 150 BPM workout. The music blares, your heart rate skyrockets, and you enter a super-sharp focus state making sure each Strike, Rising Block or Dodge elicits a colourful “Excellent!” popup. There’s no time to be frustrated at the UI or the occasional dodgy input when the actions are coming at you thick and fast. I would have loved an option to exclusively play faster workouts in my daily regime.
I played Knockout Home Fitness most days for just over a month, and while I wouldn’t say I’m fitter than when I started, it was definitely helpful psychologically. Completing a daily workout earns you a stamp for that day, and the dopamine hit of seeing your calendar slowly fill up is a decent motivation to play. The option for a 10-minute workout also removes most of the barriers to playing every day. There’s a suite of records that you can track over time as well, including your current weight and the calories you’re burning each day.
However, I never got fully comfortable with the unintuitive UI scheme during workouts, and the lack of customisation options or unlockable elements limit my long-term interest in the title. Folks needing a low-stress, quick daily workout might find the inspiration they need from Knockout Home Fitness – for anyone looking for something to sustain their fitness goals in the long term, there are better options with more content available at the same price point.
There’s nothing quite like wiping sweat off the floorboards in your living room after a thorough workout, and Knockout Home Fitness manages to deliver high-octane thrills with its intense exercise routines. However, an unintuitive user interface with no customisation options, a lack of substantial unlockable content, and imprecision in its motion controls hamper the experience for players seriously committed to getting fit. Time-poor fitness enthusiasts will appreciate the ability to jump into a quick workout, while those looking to replace their regular routines while gyms are closed might be better off elsewhere.