Namco Bandai returns with another collection of sweat-inducing mini-games that support their plastic mat of good times. Active Life: Extreme Challenge is the second in a series of Wii exercise games that focus on getting the player to complete a host of challenges, while getting off the couch at the same time. When we reviewed the initial Active Life game I can remember being impressed by just how much fun the mini-games were, and how well the mat integrated into the experience. This time around the activities are a bit more inventive, but a severe lack of balance between controller inputs leaves you frustrated at times. The harder difficulties also continue to infuriate and hinder this title from feeling like anything less than an expansion pack.
The premise remains the same with Extreme Challenge, but instead the game focuses more on over-the-top activities than its predecessor. Events such as BMX riding, street luge, and rock climbing are just examples of what you would find here, and all of them feel a little more refined than the previous offering. The biggest problem I ran into with this follow-up was that only a handful of the games actually support the Wii remote.
This may sound like a nitpick, but imagine playing the game for extended periods of time without the controller, and being in the middle of a game and all of a sudden you are interrupted by a communications error. You can remedy this by keeping the remote in your hand and tapping a button every once in a while, but it would have been nice to just eliminate it, or integrate it into every game.
Extreme Challenge does a nice job of mimicking the movements required in the activities to the pad. There are several challenges that really get the blood flowing, and this is a good thing. Playing through on easy is a nice way to get warmed up, but when I upped the difficulty to hard I began to realize that there are some motions the pad has trouble recognizing in a flurry of movement. This almost eliminates the ability to play on the hardest setting as perfection is required, and I don’t know about you but when I am flailing all around trying to match the pace of certain actions, accuracy is not my biggest concern.
I had a lot of fun with some of the mini-games, but others just felt forced or otherwise unappealing. This is likely due to the fact that the series feels like it is running low on ideas for innovation, and perhaps is churning out more games just to justify the purchase of the pad. Events like base jumping and street luge are fun, while rock climbing was one of the more enjoyable outings, especially in multi-player where one player is tossing rocks at the other as he ascends. But others such as double dutch feel a little less “extreme” than the others. Not to mention that the aforementioned title is nothing more than a simple jumping exercise, something that was present in the original.
Like the previous game Namco Bandai has allowed you to include the use of your Miis within the game. This is becoming quite the norm on the console, and I for one and thrilled. Adding personalization to the game is always a bonus. It is also worth noting that none of the activities are locked at the onset of the game. You can participate in any event right out of the box, which is also something that is quickly becoming standard in these types of games. Extreme Challenge does a fantastic job of presenting everything to the player in a neat and clean fashion.
Visually I love the look of the new game. The cel-shaded motif is definitely reminiscent of titles such as Jet Set Radio, and it works. The characters look much more colorful than the original, and the environments are much flashier than before. The frame rate is also rock solid and the color palette is so diverse that no two areas look the same. The sound on the other hand does not fare as well. The generic tunes mix with stock sound effects to create a very boring composition. Nothing stands out in the audio department, so don’t expect to be blown away by the less-than-extreme soundtrack.
Active Life: Extreme Challenge is a nice addition to the series, albeit a predictable one. The control problems accentuate the biggest qualms I had with the game, and some of the mini-games just lack that certain appeal. I love the visuals and some of the multi-player modes, and if you really enjoyed the original, there is enough here to drag out your mat for another round of kinetic entertainment.