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The Active Life Series is Back
on October 21, 2010
Back in 2008, Namco Bandai released Active Life Outdoor Challenge. The game was a collection of 15 fun activities, and the game came with its own proprietary mat which had a clever layout of four buttons in blue and four buttons in orange, which could be used by one player or by two players standing next to each other. It was a well-designed and highly successful game.
In 2009, they followed it up with the less successful Active Life Extreme Challenge. This was not a great follow-up to the original. The graphics were subpar to the original, and the activities seemed uninspired.
So the question became: after a sophomore slump, would Namco return the series to its former glory with Active Life Explorer, its third installment?
The answer is a resounding YES.
Active Life Explorer is a game which captures the fun and whimsy of the original, while also introducing enough improvements and innovations to breathe fresh new life into the series.
The game has an "Indiana Jones" theme. All of the activities center around an adventurer as he goes around the world looking for treasure. What I like about this game is that the developers didn't just use this theme as a mere backdrop--they very thoughtfully designed each game so it captured all the drama and excitement of the adventure. Here are just a few examples:
Runaway Train: This is a load of fun. Your mission is to stop a train travelling at breakneck speeds towards a cliff. You start by running as fast as you can on top of the train (running in place on the mat) , ducking (bending down and putting your hands on the mat) as the train goes under obstacles, and jumping to get from car to car. When you get to the front car, you need to move your feet as fast as you can to pull the brake lever and shut the train down. There's real drama as the frantic music plays in the background and you see the speeding train on the tracks heading towards its doom!
Mummy's Tomb: This is one of the more clever games that incorporates both running and video game skill. Your mission is to run away from mummies while lugging all your treasure out of the tomb. After running a while you'll encounter some gates, which you'll need to close (by alternating your feet) and lock (by pressing the correct button sequence shown on the screen). While all this is going on, the mummies encroach. You then come to a locked gate, which you'll need to unlock by pressing the correct buttons in a spinning roulette.
Jungle Vine Ruins: Remember that old arcade game "Jungle Hunt" where your character would have to swing from vine to vine, like Tarzan? This is the same idea, except you're seeing things from the character's point of view! Run as fast as you can by alternating your feet, jump off a cliff to reach a vine, and then time it so that you jump to the next vine. This one is a blast.
I don't have the space here to review the other 21 games, but suffice it to say the vast majority of them provide both great fun and great exercise. You'll experience everything from trying to stay ahead of a collapsing bridge, leading a dog pack in the snow, and avoiding attacks in shark-infested waters.
Here are some of the things I liked most about this game:
1) There are 24 different games on the disc. On the Wii this is ordinarily a warning sign, as many Wii game publishers who do this end up pushing "shovelware" to the public. Not so with Active Life Explorer. What is impressive about this title is that every single one of the games seems well thought-out and well-designed. There is not a dud in the bunch.
2) The controls are all extremely intuitive from game to game. A clear tutorial is provided for you before you start each game, but in most cases you'll pick up on what you need to do quickly. This is critical for a game that kids will be playing.
3) Overall, I found the accuracy of the controls to be improved over Active Life Outdoor and Extreme Challenges. And get this--you can actually jump on the mat! (This is a pet peeve of mine with the Wii Balance Board).
4) This is a fantastic family game where multiple people can play together. Some of the games have "co-op" mode where two players have to work together to accomplish a goal. In other games, anywhere from 2 to 4 players can compete head-to-head (they each take a different side or corner of the mat).
5) It really is great exercise. After I played through all 24 games I was out of breath. I can only imagine when families and friends play together and the competition gets intense, that families will get exercise without even realizing it.
6) The graphics are beautiful. It's still a Wii, so the graphics are still cartoony. But the game developers did a great job of design, from the bright red molten metal in Mine Cart Mayhem to the beautiful colors of the coral reef you scuba dive through in Pirate's Treasure.
7) Most importantly, the activities are FUN. Clearly a lot of thought was put into designing these games. If you enjoyed the "Obstacle Course" in Wii Fit but found it much too short or too easy, you should find many of the activities in this game rival that.
8) There's a "Treasure Adventure" mode which combines all the various activities together in the form of a story. As you play through this you experience increasingly challenging activities and earn different "treasures". Makes for a fun and interesting exercise regimen.
I honestly don't have many negative things to say. The only things I would think to improve are:
1) The game only supports use of one mat. With four players sharing one mat it becomes pretty crowded. It would have been nice for them to support at least two mats.
2) Some of the activities are quite short. I would have liked to see some "extended" versions of the activities for those who want to have longer exercise time.
3) After each event you earn "Exercise Points". It's unclear to me what this means. I think a simple calorie count would have been best.
Overall, I am very impressed with Active Life Explorer. It is currently the king of the hill as far as fun and effective titles where the whole family can play together and maybe get a little exercise in the process.