The melding of fitness and video games has never been more natural than in the expanding realm of virtual reality.
I’ve been a fan of fitness games since the days of boxing with nunchucks in Wii Sports and the tethered play of All-In-One Sports VR for the Oculus Rift. Now, there’s a totally wireless boxing experience in Liteboxer VR, exclusively on the Meta (née Oculus) Quest 2.
Liteboxer is one of the newest VR games to put the gym and personal trainers right in front of you. It’s a boxing class experience that’s fun, engaging, and challenging, even for an intermediate-level boxer like me. The company is hoping to be the Peloton of boxing, but VR may not be the best place for its software, at least not yet. We took the pre-release version of Liteboxer VR for a spin to see how far we are from real gym experiences in the metaverse.
Virtual classes, virtual equipment, real sweat
Founded in 2017, Liteboxer is a relatively new fitness company that launched its first product in 2020. The eponymous exercise equipment uses a “reimagined” rubberized punching bag rigged up with LEDs to show you when and where to land your punches. Attached to this equipment is a space to rest a tablet or phone, which is where you access Liteboxer’s app for real-time (but not live) boxing instruction or mode selection. The equipment retails for $1,500 or $1,700, depending on if you want to mount it to your wall or use it as a free-standing platform, respectively. For that amount of money, I’d expect to see a screen built in instead of having to provide my own.
Liteboxer VR virtualizes the whole system by throwing it into the so-called “metaverse,” shrinking your equipment costs to that of a Meta Quest 2 ($300). You’ll still need to pay a $19 monthly membership fee for classes—that’s about $11 less than the subscription for physical Liteboxer equipment. If you already have the physical equipment with an active membership, though, access to VR classes is included in your $30 monthly fee. Unfortunately, Liteboxer doesn’t have a freestyle mode for non-subscribers to simply get in and hit the virtual gear.
The physical equipment subscription currently offers more than 800 classes, compared to around 500 classes with the VR membership. The reason for the shrunken size is the elimination of certain workouts that have less VR-friendly movements, like burpees or jumping jacks. That’s a good call; I tried some of those workouts, and doing burpees while wearing a VR headset is as miserable as it sounds.
Liteboxer plans to release new VR-specific content at launch, though, including a mode in which the trainer is right in front of you, allowing you to land punches in their virtual mitts rather than watching them do the routine and following along. This kind of (virtualized) physical interaction is where the VR experience shows its functional advantages over other at-home gym solutions.