Review – Les Mills Bodycombat

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised an issue I had rarely given thought beforehand: how can I take care of my body while not being able to go to a gym as often as I used to? I started paying more attention to games that used my body as the controller in ways I could eventually burn calories with, such as Just Dance, Beat Saber, Creed: Rise to Glory, and Gorn. But those games were just that, they were games. They just so happened to demand more from my body. What about a game that was created with fitness in mind? A game meant to make me burn calories and have fun while doing so? That’s why I wanted to give Les Mills Bodycombat a shot.

Les Mills Bodycombat Instructor

No, this is not a punching dummy, this is your instructor.

Les Mills Bodycombat is basically a gamefied version of the Les Mills workout method, a patented fitness program that uses combat techniques as a functional workout exercise. In theory, it’s a great idea for a VR game: turning a workout method into something fun, rewarding and, most importantly, replayable. Plus letting you forget that you are basically just strapping a visor onto your face and flailing your arms around like a lunatic. I applaud the developers at Odders Lab for their achievement, but not everything in this game is necessarily worthy of praise. Now, technically speaking, there’s very little to complain about in here, but the origin of the method, as well as some questionable design choices, did hinder the overall experience.

The overall game loop revolves around selecting a workout method and completing it, all while calculating your caloric expenditure and score. Most exercises begin with a live action instructor teaching you punching methods and feet positioning, giving you some tips regarding your posture. You’re then told to warm up a bit by punching incoming targets, until the game part of the workout (a.k.a., the fun part) begins. Then the game shifts to a rhythm-based aesthetic, where you’re supposed to punch and dodge specific targets according to the beat of whichever song was picked. Essentially, it’s Beat Saber meets the workout sessions found in Creed: Rise to Glory. And it works.

Les Mills Bodycombat Dodge

Dodge these orange walls.

Since you’re using your body as the controller, as well as the Oculus Quest 2’s excellent motion-based technology, the responsiveness is excellent. I loved what the developers did with the overall feel of punching a target: the harder (or faster) you punch a target, the more the controller will rumble, and the more particle effects will fly onscreen. The game is basically rewarding you with visual and tacticle stimulation. It’s beyond simplistic in concept, but it works really well in the game, all thanks to VR’s strongest advantage over any kind of gaming system: immersiveness.

So why did I mention that some design choices hindered the overall product, if I haven’t stopped praising it so far? Well, here’s the catch: while Les Mills Bodycombat works wonders at hiding the fact it is a workout method in rhythm game’s clothing, it doesn’t feature arcadey, “pick-up-and-play” levels for you to choose. Essentially, while its gameplay does a lot to hide its workout aesthetics, its menus don’t. You don’t pick levels, you pick workout exercises. Really long workout exercises at that. They can last up to half an hour, and not only because of their intensity, but because you’re almost always forced to undergo an unskippable learning session with a live action instructor before the level actually begins.

Not being able to properly jump into a rhythm-based section or even going back to the main menu with ease are Les Mills Bodycombat‘s biggest flaws. The moments when the game fails to feel like a game are the moments I wanted to stop playing it. That bummed me out a bit because the core gameplay loop is excellent, and I would always finish a playing session sweating like a pig near a bonfire. The game was making me have fun while burning calories, especially when I wasn’t being reminded I was basically interacting with a workout method first, video game second.

Les Mills Bodycombat

Be careful not to punch someone, or accidentally punch your own visor with an uppercut. Speaking from experience…

There’s a lot to praise in Les Mills Bodycombat. When it hides the fact it’s a workout method, when it lets you believe you’re just playing a game that uses your body as the controller, it’s a blast. I adored its rhythm-based gameplay loop, its soundtrack, and the simplistic yet effective ways it rewarded my actions with visual stimulation. I just didn’t like how it occasionally failed to hide its more corporate, methodical learning sessions, not allowing me to skip directly to the fun bits. With that being said, Les Mills and Odders Lab succeeded at creating a game that allowed me to have a lot of fun punching the air all while burning lots of calories in the process.

Graphics: 7.0

It is a visually simplistic game. The backgrounds are stale, the icons you’re supposed to punch or dodge look decent enough, and the live action instructors look off-putting onscreen, but I’d rather have them presented this way than in a cringy polygonal shape.

Gameplay: 10

Imagine the overall gameplay loop from Beat Saber, but instead of slashing targets, you’re told you punch them with muay thai-esque punching techniques. It feels cathartic as hell.

Sound: 9.0

The instructors speak clearly and in a concise manner, without ever trying to sound unnecessarily hip or monotonous. The soundtrack is mostly comprised of electronic tunes, and they fit perfectly with the game’s workout-based rhythm sections.

Fun Factor: 7.5

It’s a fun workout exercise disguised as a game. It works well when you’re not remembering that fact. Sadly, its design choices hinder the arcade-like potential this game could have had.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Les Mills Bodycombat is available now on Oculus Quest 2.

Reviewed on Oculus Quest 2.

A copy of Les Mills Bodycombat was provided by the publisher.