Active Life: Outdoor Challenge
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Release Date: 09/09/8
The first thing I thought when I saw Active Life sitting on the shelf was that some developer was trying to quickly cash in on the Wii Fit craze by releasing a similar game in order to fool people who couldn’t find Wii Fit into buying Active Life. Like when you ask your friends/wife/parents/whoever to buy you a video game as a gift for a birthday or holiday and send them looking for Rock Band but they end up buying you Battle of the Bands instead because they went looking for a band game and they figured that must be the one. I mean Active Life comes in a large box, emphasizes exercise and also comes with a peripheral. I can see someone shopping for Wii Fit and accidentally purchasing Active Life: Outdoor Challenge by mistake.
So is Active Life: Outdoor Challenge just another game attempting to cash in on the fitness video game fad, or is it a worthy addition to the Wii library? Read on.
First let’s break the review down into two separate parts since Active Life comes with a peripheral. The mat that is included with the game is similar in appearance to the mats that come with the DDR games, with some slight differences. The Active Life mat has two squares in the middle of the pad, one for your left foot and one for your right foot. There are two up arrows in front of these neutral squares and two down arrows behind them. There is also one arrow to the left of the left foot square and one arrow right of the right foot. At the top of the mat are the plus and minus symbols similar to what you see on the Wii-remote. The mat plugs into one of the Gamecube controller ports on the Wii instead of the USB port, which makes sense as the USB ports are located towards the back of the system while the Cube ports are towards the front.
The mat seems to be pretty good quality for this type of product. The mat itself is pretty thick and made of durable material, and appears to be very responsive. My biggest problem with the mat is not in the quality of the mat, but the fact that it seems to slide around quite a bit as you play the game. It would’ve been nice if there had been some sort of velcro on the bottom of the mat so that it wouldn’t slide around so much on a carpeted surface, or to have some sort of textured rubber surface on the bottom for wood/concrete surfaces. Even playing on a smooth surface the mat tends to slide around a lot, though you tend to adjust for the slipperiness over time and some of it might just be the fact that I’m clumsy and I tend to throw my scrawny frame around on the mat as hard as I can.
Alight, just so we’re clear, the mat is good quality though it slides around. Let’s continue.
There are a number of modes in Active Life: Outdoor Challenge. The main mode is Outdoor Adventure. Outdoor Adventure tasks the player with completing a series of mini-games in a row and then grading the player by how well they did. The type of mini-games and the amount of mini-games that you play depends on the difficulty level that you select. There are three difficulty levels; Easy, Intermediate, and Hard, as well as the ability to custom make your own series of challenges. By beating these modes you unlock in game trophies and unlock the ability to play additional mini-games in the free-play mode.
Other than the Outdoor Adventure there’s an Exercise Mode as well as a Free Play Mode. In Exercise mode the game has divided the mini-games up into different areas, like a Hard Work-Out, or Balance Training, or a Marathon mode. There are several different types of work-outs in the mode and it’s divided up pretty well.
Free Play works exactly like it sounds, you can play any mini-game without going through the Outdoor Adventure or Exercise modes. There are a few differences; such as some of the mini-games like jump rope have an endless variation, and you can get high scores on these modes to compare to other people in the house.
One thing that is constant throughout these modes is the Active Points system, or AP. No matter what you do in any mode you earn AP. The game keeps track of the amount of AP you earn each day and charts the AP points on a graph, sort of the same way that you can chart your progress in Wii Sports. While this provides less detailed feedback on how much weight you might’ve lost while playing the game over time, that system at least can show you how active you were with exercising on different days.
There is a decent amount of variety to the mini-games, though most of them will require you to either run or jump, or run and jump. There’s a mini-game where you run and jump over logs, and one where you stand still and jump over logs. There’s a jump rope mini-game and a trampoline mini-game. There’s a simple downhill boarding game, a roller blading mini-game, a teeter-totter mini-game that is mostly a test of reflexes, and my favorite: mole stomping. That mini-game is essentially whack-a-mole except you use your feet on the arrows.
Graphically, Active Life isn’t exactly pushing the system. Like several mini-game compilations for the Wii, the graphics are very simple. While they certainly get the job done, it’s not something you’re going to be bragging to your friends about. The only thing that makes this game an Outdoor Adventure is the style of the mini-games and the environments they’re done in. However many of the mini-games could’ve been set in indoor environments as well, like jumping rope, so the Outdoor aspect of the game is merely a theme unless you’re crazy and take the Wii system and TV outside to play. The outdoor theme at least provides an excuse to use plenty of different colors in the backgrounds.
One nice detail about the graphics is the fact that you can use your Mii avatar in the game. Not only can you use your Mii, when you start your Mii is given a slightly chunky body but over time the body will become slimmer. The other part of the overall presentation is sound, and as far as sound goes the background music is simple and forgettable.
There are a lot of Wii mini-game collections out there with multiple modes, and all except for a handful aren’t very good. So even though Active Life has a good selection of mini-games and modes, how fun is the actual game? It’s actually pretty good. The theme and the mini-games put a good spin on general exercises and because of the unique mat interface they’re interesting to play. The mat is very responsive, although there are a couple of the mini-games that don’t quite work as they’re supposed to. There is a stepping stone mini-game and in the instructions for the game it tells you to lift your foot completely off the at and set it back down again in order for the character onscreen to select the correct stepping stone to use next. The problem in this mini-game is the fact that often taking your foot off and putting it back down register as two actions instead of one so you might end up taking more steps in one direction than you wanted to. Only lifting your heel off the mat instead of your whole foot solves this. Of course, I’m not sure there’s much exercise value in doing that, which sort of defeats the purpose of the game.
The jump rope game occasionally senses you as not jumping when you have jumped,
Speaking of, if you are planning to buy this game for exercise…then you might want to really think about the decision. I can honestly say that this game will make you sweat, I kept doing jumping jacks to beat my previous high score and I nearly ended up giving myself a heart attack. Except that the game doesn’t really work the overall body and most of the exercise is of the running/jumping variety. Active Life does make for a great cardio workout, but if you are playing the game in an attempt to lose weight then Active Life might not be the best game for you.
Kayak Attack is another frustrating mini-game since you are required to gain speed by using the Wii-remote along with movements on the pad to steer the kayak. Except the game seems to have trouble sensing the remote motions well. Either it will say that you are swinging the remote too hard, or it barely senses the motion at all.
I haven’t had too many problems with the Jump Rope game, but occasionally it seems the timing is off and it will not register both of your feet of the mat when they are. This was only a problem for me when I was trying to beat a high score and isn’t game breaking, but it’s annoying.
Mine Cart challenges you to hold the Wii-remote sideways and pump it up and down, as if you were operating a mine cart, and lean around curves to avoid falling off the track. Or at least that how it starts out. As you continue playing and the difficulty gets harder you will have to jump gaps, and the timing of these seem off compared to the jumping parts of the other jumping mini-games. Eventually you will have to shoot at objects on the screen with the Wii-remote and switching from pumping the cart to aiming at the screen is just annoying. I also don’t really see the exercise in shooting at the screen either.
Other than playing single player you can also go through any of the modes in multiplayer. Some of the mini-games are more fun in multiplayer, such as the Mine Cart mini-game, while some of the others, like any that involve running in place, requires you to stand side by side and given the size of the mat this can be awkward. There’s some fun to be had here as well though, since you can be racing against the player next to you then completely hip check them off the mat and race to victory.
There are also three co-op modes within the multiplayer portion of the game. These are fun little diversions that also grade you on how well you worked together as a team.
While the visuals are pretty bad, Active Life: Outdoor Challenge is a great example of what Nintendo is trying to accomplish in the Wii system. The game is easily accessible by anyone and using an intuitive input device in the mat that makes even the most mundane of the mini-games seem interesting for awhile. My wife is not a hardcore gamer and she thinks it is a great way to make simple exercises interesting and has great Mii support. Personally as someone who plays a lot of video games I was disappointed in the visuals, but after about 5 minutes I barely noticed them since I was busier trying to stay on the mat while whacking moles. The game reminds me a lot of some of the fun I had playing track and field back in the NES days. What I can’t figure out is why the developers chose to go with the mat peripheral instead of trying to include Wii Fit support for this title, I don’t mind since way the pad is laid out allows multiplayer support, but it just seems odd that they didn’t take advantage of a Nintendo’s hot selling new peripheral.
Game Modes: Good
Control/Gameplay: Very Good
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal: Above Average
Final Score: Enjoyable Game
Short Attention Span Summary:
While I originally thought this was a game that was trying to capitalize on the Wii Fit fad, instead I found out that Active Life: Outdoor Challenge is a decent alternative or addition to Nintendo’s exercise game. While the amount of exercise you receive while playing Active Life is debatable, the game certainly makes you sweat and uses the mat in some interesting ways. If you’re looking for an exercise game and can’t find Wii Fit or just want something a little cheaper than that game, Active Life: Outdoor Challenge is a good alternative.