Sweat bands and your pride not included.
Not every game out there is built for the inactive, out-of-shape reviewer. Nothing drives this point home more than Namco Bandai’s latest Wii offering Active Life: Outdoor Challenge. This is a first in a series of games designed to cohesively exist alongside Nintendo’s new focus of making exercise fun, and serves as a nice complement to Wii Fit. Outdoor Challenge ships with customizable Mii support, a collection of sweat producing mini-games and a giant plastic mat reminiscent of Nintendo’s own fabled Power Pad from the days of yore. All of this combines to create an experience that made one thing perfectly clear to this reviewer: I am in desperate need of a workout regime.
You would probably think upon first examination that this game is a perfect candidate for the Wii Fit board. Instead of building something for Nintendo’s peripheral Namco Bandai has opted to include their own hardware in the box, which coincidentally will be compatible with upcoming entries in the Active Life series. This pad is made of a sturdy plastic material and sports two different colors on each side. When playing single-player the entire mat is at your disposal, but the two-tone design isn’t just for show. Outdoor Challenge can be played multi-player with one single mat by sharing each side in various games. Of course this is designed with much smaller individuals (read: children) in mind than your average game reviewer, so attempt this at your own risk.
Opting to go with their own hardware and bypass Nintendo’s was a bold move, but one that has worked out surprisingly in their favor. The mat is sturdy and works excellent in conjunction with the Wii remote. The biggest problems we ran into during our review were actually our own fault and not the mat itself. Sure there are times where you will accidentally select an option by stepping on the pad, but it does accomplish all it sets out to do without feeling cheap or gimmicky.
Of course what good is a plastic mat of the games themselves are not any fun to play? Outdoor Challenge contains a diverse selection of mini-games that will have you running, jumping and even sitting down and leaning on your new mat all in the name of becoming more active in your everyday life. These range from the simplest of activities such as jumping rope and running to more involved events such as rowing a canoe and water trampoline. The best thing about these events is the way they all make different use of the mat. For instance the mine cart event has you stepping on and off of different arrows to lean your cart, while you also use the Wii remote to pump up speed by moving it up and down in a rhythmic motion.
There are over a dozen different events and the most amazing thing is that they all feel diverse enough to keep the action fresh. The combination of using the Wii remote and pad in juxtaposition works as well as the balance board. It also helps that, unlike the balance board, you can play the game with another person simultaneously with only one mat. There are several co-op and competitive modes, but as we mentioned before the mat was not designed with larger individuals in mind. In fact in our review playing simultaneously was nearly impossible, which is again not the game’s fault, but worth noting nonetheless.
Outside of jumping and running on a plastic mat there are a few extras thrown into the game that are worth noting. For starters this is one of the first third-party Wii games that allows you to manipulate your Miis appearance in-game. As you progress your virtual avatar will change depending on your progress. Granted the change isn’t mind-boggling, but it is cool to see your action affect your in-game persona. There is also an exercise routine built into the game that will work various body parts with a series of activities. Honestly this section feels more tacked on and far removed from the core game, but it is nice for those that want to work out to more than just Whack-a-Mole.
The biggest hurdle that Outdoor Challenge faces is that the further you get into the game and the harder the challenges become, the game feels more and more like a balancing act as opposed to a fitness challenge. Events require you to multi-task several activities all at once, removing your focus on just one in particular. This certainly ups the difficulty, but it also changes the center of attention from exercise to frustration. For instance the mine cart game starts off engaging by only requiring you to focus on two actions, later difficulties have you also shooting objects out of the way and even jumping gaps, which quickly becomes more than the brain needs to handle while the body is focusing on physical activities.
On the presentation side Outdoor Challenge is about as bare-minimum as you can get. Visuals are reminiscent of Wii Sports while the sound effects and music are about as archetypal as most of the shovelware found on the system. Thankfully visual fidelity is not the selling point of this game and for what it does the arrangement suits the mood nicely. The addition of corruptible Miis certainly adds to the visual panache, but for a Wii title this still ranks at the bottom as far as interesting visuals go.
With the recent uproar about mixing fitness with gaming Namco Bandai has done an admirable job of making their mark on the genre. With a helping of these titles scheduled for release this series could quickly become very popular among the casual crowd. The games are fun, diverse and work surprisingly well in conjunction with the mat and Wii remote. The difficulty on higher levels could be a deterrent, but if you are looking for a game to get your kids off of the couch this is easily recommendable and tons of fun at parties. Active Life: Outdoor Challenge is a great stepping stone for the series and we look forward to seeing what inventive games will be available in the inevitable sequel.