I’m not sure where the time has gone, but it’s been more than six months now since FitXR launched on the Oculus Quest, as a free, and mandatory replacement for the much loved (among VR fitness enthusiasts at least), boxercise workout program BoxVR.

For anybody using virtual reality for exercise over the last few years, BoxVR was an absolute staple. The original VR workout app, it was the first game release to market itself specifically as a workout tool, with personally choreographed structured workout sessions that had you punching approaching orbs whilst ducking and sidestepping obstacles, usually to an electronic techno beat.

It was the game that got me into VR fitness in the first place, when I purchased it for my old Rift CV1 on Steam, way back in the summer of  2017.

FitXR, also the name of the development team behind the game, was conceived of as an evolution of BoxVR, where the structured boxercise sessions on which BoxVR made its name would be supplemented with dance classes and other workouts, the FitXR developers looking to build an entire fitness ecosystem in virtual reality.

However, no new release is perfect and complete from the get-go and FitXR certainly had its share of bugs, flaws, and content limitations when I reviewed it back in August 2020.

Now, several weeks into 2021 I thought the time was right to look back at the original launch review, consider some of the gripes that both I, and the wider BoxVR community had at the time, and chart FitXR’s development and progress since then. Let’s begin by looking at what I didn’t like about FitXR at launch.

FitXR Launch Woes

Whilst I gave FitXR a positive review overall, its fitness credentials are first-rate, at launch, there was much about the game that frustrated me. Like most, I was disappointed to see BoxVR’s three environments reduced to just one. Not only that, but the environment they did create, whilst perfectly nice, was blandly generic, black room, strobe lights, and lasers, I mean really, does every VR rhythm game have to go this route? There were problems with the ghost multiplayer mode, it basically broke after a couple of songs, and alarm amongst community members that offline play was not supported, although this turned out thankfully to be not the case.

Of far greater concern to me was the slightly spotty hit detection, always a BoxVR failing, and the, to my mind at least, inexplicable decision to require all orbs to be punched at a certain velocity in order to register as hits. This explosive streak mode required hard, fast, accurate punches every time, or else your hit would be classed as a miss, and your hit streak would reset to zero.

Now, if you’re great at boxing, physically fit, and highly competitive, this challenge might be great for you. The problem is that statistically, the majority of people of course are not in that demographic. Many of us are older, or overweight, have sedentary lifestyles, joint issues, and one or more health conditions. Not everyone is a trained endurance athlete or fighter. Therefore we can’t just punch harder and faster, at least not without quickly exhausting or injuring ourselves. It felt to me that FitXR had lost sight of its audience in forcing this mode on every user.

For people to stick to fitness, it has to be fun, and for something to be fun, you can’t be getting reminded you’re failing every few seconds. As fun as it is to watch Beat Saber experts like Otterworldy ace every song on Expert+, that game would not be nearly as popular if that was the only skill level available. In fact, I would argue Beat Saber’s biggest strength is that it can make everybody feel awesome no matter their skill level.

FitXR at launch was the opposite of this. I just couldn’t get into the flow of it because the game wouldn’t allow me to, constantly scoring my hits as misses and telling me I wasn’t good enough, eventually, I just stopped playing it altogether.

I recorded some footage at the time which you can see below, the game recording so many of my punches as misses and fails that it almost felt like the game, or I, was broken. Note the hit streak counter and how often it resets to zero…

Small Change But Huge Improvement

So after a few sessions like that, the game and I had to break up. It was mutual, I just wasn’t good enough, the game kept telling me so over and over, so eventually, I just stopped going back. Nonetheless, it was a reluctant parting, FitXR’s predecessor BoxVR had been the biggest influence on me getting into VR fitness in the first place, and if FitXR would only stop nagging me and just let me work out without berating me for my lack of speed and power our relationship could have been great again.

Well, I’m delighted to report that the FitXR devs finally listened to the shrill and reedy voices of those of us without 20-inch guns or a racehorse’s lungs and gave us a new game mode, the training mode.

This mode disables the explosive streak system and means all punches that land now register as hits, and hit streaks in the thousands are a thing once again. Furthermore, they added a new environment, and it’s great, an outdoor rooftop scene, that’s bright and colorful and for me at least, a lot more fun and vibrant to train in.

Below you can see me punching my way through a couple of songs from the latest Absolute Box DLC pack, which offers much harder workouts than the base game.

Notice now the unbroken hit streak and the perfect collision detection. The game is SO much better for this one simple change. I still had to stop playing after 20 minutes, but this time it wasn’t frustration that caused me to exit out but rather my jello legs after completing a quarter-hour of nonstop punches and squats. This was intense and in a good way.

Expanding Content – DLC Packs and Dance Mode

Over the past year, we’ve seen the rise of dedicated VR fitness subscription services, charging a monthly fee in exchange for regular new and updated content. Whilst I’m personally of the opinion that all three current subscription services, (Holofit, VZFit, and Supernatural VR) offer unique and compelling reasons to invest, and justify their value to the right consumer, it’s certainly true to say that the broader VR gamer market does not like subscription services, preferring a one-off game purchase, with optional DLC content being released separately.

FitXR has decided to expand its platform offerings via the DLC route, periodically releasing new, choreographed workouts designed by their own personal trainers. Typically these DLC packs add new music, and more physically demanding workouts than those that come with the base game.

They have started 2021 with two such packs, Absolute Box, and Absolute Dance which launched on January 28th priced $9.99 or £7.99

Absolute Box

This workout pack gives you four new boxing workouts, that are definitely on the intense side. The video I provided above was a sample of the Comma Get It workout in this pack, and it was tough! If you’re a regular FitXR user and want some new and more challenging boxing workouts this is definitely worth picking up.

The workouts featured are;

  • Lasers And Stuff – a cardio-based endurance challenge
  • Sweat On Me – work on your speed, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination
  • Comma Get It – lower body focused to help strengthen legs
  • Bad – combines lower body, speed, and complex combinations

Absolute Dance

FitXR’s Dance Mode was a new addition to the franchise when the developers released some sample songs back in November last year, which I covered here.  Now with Absolute Dance, they are bringing you a dedicated music dance pack, over an hour of content, and more challenging workouts, described by FitXR as follows;

  • Parachute – A complete body conditioning workout, great to pair with a box session
  • Wild – Dance cardio session with classic hip hop moves
  • Kokaracha – Body conditioning with lots of squats, lunges, and side steps
  • Stormy Weather – Aerobics and cardio-focused

FitXR well on the way towards being a total workout solution

By honoring their commitments to bringing us regular new content and in listening to the BoxVR/FitXR community and making changes accordingly, the FitXR developers have really started to build a promising ecosystem for total fitness with FitXR.

It’s a personal preference for sure but I cannot overstate how much better the game is to me now that a training mode is an option and I no longer have to worry about maintaining hit streaks and missing punches. Without constant reminders of punch failure, I can once again get lost in the flow of the workouts.

There’s a fair stack of content with the base game that will keep you going for a while, and the optional DLC packs let you pick and choose new content as and when you want it. In adding the all-new dance mode, and supporting it with fresh DLC content FitXR now has two completely different workout types, which makes it unique amongst all the other rhythm/fitness games, and adds value to the purchase.

As FitXR is an evolving product I felt this article update was worthwhile, as this is simply a better game than it was six months ago. If you were a Quest BoxVR owner who didn’t like the forced change to FitXR and stopped playing as a result, I’d recommend loading it back up and giving the training mode a go.

For newcomers to VR fitness, this game has so much great fitness-focused content, with a full-body focus that this is once again back on my top recommendation list.