You may have thought that the fitness-through-gaming fad began and ended with the success of Wii Fit. You'd be wrong. Actually, out of interest, why would you think that? Whatever. Weirdo. The fad has only just begun, with a variety of titles (largely on the Wii) hitting store shelves aiming at improving your fitness and shedding those kilos. Seeing as we're not as sprightly as we might like, we've decided to take a look at EA's so-called 'personal trainer', EA Sports Active. And imagine our surprise in finding that it's not half bad at all.
While EA Sports Active is on the Wii, it doesn't require the use of the Balance Board (although it is supported for certain exercises). Instead, it comes with its own accessories. Included in the box is a leg strap and a rubber resistance band, both used for most of the exercises found in the game. We found them to be pretty sturdy products, and the resistance band has a great amount of stretch to it, so you should have no worries with using both of them throughout the game. The resistance band is used just like a normal resistance band, except you hold the Wii Remote in one hand and the Nunchuk in the other so that the game can track your movements. The leg strap also has more functionality than its name implies. During certain exercises, you'll be required to place your Nunchuk into it so it can track your leg's motion, and it actually does a pretty good job too.
When you start up the game, you'll be asked to create a profile and an avatar, as the game has no Mii support. Interestingly, unlike Wii Fit, the game doesn't keep a track of your weight, which means that it's not as concerned with weight loss, instead gearing itself more towards giving you a workout. Once all that's out of the way, you can participate in what EA have termed the '30 Day Challenge', which does what it says on the box, challenging you to use the game for thirty days (with rest days along the way) and see whether your fitness improves as a result. This may seem like a dodgy way to prevent you from returning the game within most stores' seven-day return policy, but it does turn out to be useful in scheduling your workouts.
You can choose from three different types of workouts, categorised by their intensity - low, medium and high. We found them all to last about half an hour, although obviously the low workout was easier to complete than the high one. What's interesting about EA Sports Active is that most of the exercises you'll be doing can be done outside of the game perfectly well. They range from standard upper body exercises like bicep curls and shoulder presses, to lower body workouts like squats and lunges. This is where we feel the major strength of the game lies. There's no need to pretend the Balance Board is a skateboard or a snowboard to exercise, the resistance band is... just a resistance band. You could replace it with a regular resistance band or some small weights and you'd be on your way to having a good exercise regime without the game. The important thing is that the game is teaching you the basics and how to do it all yourself, just like the personal trainer it advertises itself as.
Of course, that's not to say there aren't some exercises that are actually games as well. There are several, including boxing, tennis, skateboarding and dancing. These can all also be further 'enhanced' with the Balance Board, so in boxing you'll be kicking as well and with skateboarding you'll be avoiding obstacles by lifting your feet. While these mini-games are welcome, making for a good 'highlight' of your workout, they don't utilise the Balance Board as well as Wii Fit, nor could any of them really stand on their own as a full game. However, as said, they're a good break from standard exercises.
In addition to the exercises, there's an interesting array of other features. Every workout you're encouraged to fill out a 'Lifestyle & Nutrition' survey to see whether you're on the right track with your diet. If you've been pigging out a bit, the game doesn't seem to mind, it just means that your progress on the chart might not look so good. Because of this, as well as the fact you could just plain lie on the surveys, it's not the game that you're trying to impress, but rather a commitment that you have to make so you can get yourself on the path to a good diet. There are also achievements, in the form of trophies, which are awarded for various activities both in the game and outside it. For instance, you get a trophy for recording an activity you did like swimming or visiting the gym in your journal. Everyone likes achievements, so it's a sensible and welcome inclusion in a fitness game. There's also a two-player mode, although the purchase of an additional resistance band and leg strap is required.
EA Sports Active's presentation is certainly a leap ahead of Wii Fit. The graphics are more realistic, while still remaining clean and crisp. There's also a variety of music on-hand to choose from on the in-game jukebox. There's nothing famous, but a lot of it sounds like music that is, so that works too. There are also a tonne of in-game tutorial videos to teach you how to do the exercises, which use real people and are actually very helpful. You're also given constant explanations and direction, as the game seems to know when you're struggling with an exercise, and offers tips on how to complete it. As is good with any personal trainer, you'll also be on the receiving end of a slew of positive feedback. After a workout session with the game, it's not unusual for your ego to be inflated to the size of a small moon.
We were more surprised than anyone to find that EA Sports Active is not just another fitness cash-in. Well, maybe it is, but it's a very good one with its heart definitely set in the right place. By mixing the obligatory gimmicky-mini-games with genuine upper and lower body workouts, as well as actively encouraging you to continue on with your workouts outside of the game and look after your diet, it's probably better than Wii Fit by a nose. It's a great tool for anyone looking to learn some useful exercises, and have some fun while they're at it. Gaming and exercise? Maybe it's possible after all.