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Review of EA Sports Active for Wii

For the latest version, see the updated Review of EA Sports Active 2 for the Wii.

Well, this is the week a lot of us Wii fitness folks have been waiting for: the release of EA Sports Active. I’ve been a fan of EA Sports titles for years, having enjoyed games like John Madden Football, Tiger Woods Golf, and NBA Live for years on the PC and consoles like the Playstation. The question, of course, is whether EA Sports can take their great talents and skills in developing couch potato sports games and parlay it into a great game for working out to rival the Wii Fit and other games in that genre. The answer is a resouding yes.

The box came impeccably packaged, as they always seem to from Amazon. Inside shrinkwrapped plastic….

amazon box …was a beautiful pristine new box. The size of the box was a little smaller than I thought it’d be, having been spoiled by the Wii Fit box.

ea sports active box Opening the contents of the box, I was a little taken aback. Again, I had been spoiled by the Wii Fit, where opening the box was like Christmas morning, with the space-age balance board and all the accessories that come with it. This was a little more subdued, with two bags and a game case.

ea sports accessories in bags Opening all the pieces in the bag, at first I wasn’t too impressed. There were two straps, a piece of velcro, what looked and smelled like a gigantic rubber band, and what turned out to be a leg strap.

ea sports active accessories unwrapped But I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to the good folks at EA, so I followed the instructions to construct the giant rubber band. The instructions in the booklet aren’t the clearest, and the pictures are certainly not large enough to be of much use to anyone, so I figure I’ll walk you through the process here.

The first step, like it says in the book, is to lay one end of the giant rubber band over the black strap. The big loop should be facing you (unlike the picture in the instruction manual).

preparing to tie the giant rubber band The next step is pretty simple. Take the big loop and thread it into the little loop, making sure you trap 2-3 inches of the red rubber band inside the knot you’re making. Tighten it and you’ll come out with this:

tying the giant rubber band Voila, you have what’s called a “resistance band”. No, it’s not some folk rock group or an armed militia of any kind. It’s literally a giant rubber band that you’ll be using in exercises. Here’s a view of what it looks like (pardon my ugly feet)

using the giant rubber band The rubber was so thin I thought for sure it would snap at the first use. But to my shock, it didn’t. In fact, as cheap as the materials seemed at first, believe it or not it provided a surprisingly good workout (see the “Upper Body Exercise” section below for details).

The next step was trying on the knee strap. Here’s what it looks like from your vantage point after putting it on (pardon my ugly thigh). It’s literally a strap that you put on your thigh which carries the nunchuk for certain exercises, such as running. Much more effective than the Wii Fit, where they tell you to “hold the Wiimote or put it in your pocket”. Again, more details below on how you use this in actual exercise.

nunchuck holder on leg
Okay, so now we’re ready for the game itself.

The creators of EA Sports Active said that they want this game to be to Western styles of exercise as Wii Fit is to Eastern styles of exercise. In other words, while Wii Fit focuses on things like balance and yoga, EA Sports Active would focus on things like strength training, coordination, and motor skills.

When you start the game, it’s a lot like other exercise games. You choose a character (it doesn’t look like you can use your Mii–instead, you’re constrained to looking like a cool fit dude or dudette), you configure your height and weight, you choose your music options, and you choose whether you want a male or female trainer. Like the other exercise games, there’s also a calendar you can use to track your progress (one thing I wish a game company would come up with is a consolidated calendar that tracks across games. All of these calendars are useless for those of us who like to mix up different exercise games).

This is where things start to look different. You have the ability to choose from scores and scores of exercises, ranging from cardio exercises, to upper body workouts, to lower body workouts, to sports simulations that help you with coordination and specific skills. You can choose the exercises a la carte (one thing I love is that you can play any exercise immediately, instead of the annoying and overused “play more to unlock” features of Wii Fit and games like that). Or, you can have the Wii pick a ready-made workout regimen for you to target specific goals. There’s even a “30 day workout” mode which does all the setup work for you–you just take 20 minutes a day to go through their program.

Here’s a sample of some of the games. I’ll go through the exercise types.

Cardio

This is one shortcoming of the Wii Fit. Their cardio exercises are limited to running in place or hula hooping, and believe you me, there’s only a certain amount of hula hooping a 39 year old guy can do.

As you can see, your workout always starts with a projection of how many calories you’ll burn. Certain games use the Wii Balance Board (but it’s by no means required to get the most out of the game). Then, there’s a video introduction which shows you exactly how to play the exercise.

The boxing game above was the first I played on EA Sports Active, and as you can see, after a shaky start I really got the hang of it. It used the Nunchuk and Wii-mote for the boxing maneuvers, and the Balance Board to register kicks. Not much cheating here–the system is smart enough to know when you really kick and when you just lift your leg. All in all, a fun and great workout. The controls were surprisingly responsive–I say surprisingly because other games such as Samba Di Amigo and Gold’s Gym Cardio didn’t register arm movements and punches nearly as accurately. But it looks like the engineers at EA Sports figured it out.

Similarly, the dance game (which are basically step exercises) seemed more responsive than the same game on the Wii Fit. I’m not sure what’s goofier, a bunch of Miis dancing or a bunch of cartoonish EA Sports Athletes doing it. Bottom line, all you have to do is not be afraid of looking as goofy as them, and you’ll get an exercise that rivals any step class at the gym. I found you can skip the beginning and intermediate exercises and go straight to the expert.

The running game is a lot like the Wii Fit too, only this time you’re going around a track. I prefer the Wii Fit’s scenery, of course, but the graphics in this one are interesting too. This is a game where you use the knee strap to put the nunchuk by your thigh. It seems to register movements pretty well. The one minor annoyance, if you can call it that, is the overly exuberant coach giving you a bit too much positive reinforcement. I want to hear my coach yelling at me if I fall on my face!

Upper Body
The next series of exercises are for upper body strength, and they use the giant rubber band.

Again, I wasn’t expecting too much. I have a weight set at home which I use for most of my upper body workout. Still, I figure I’d give it a shot.

The exercises are a series of curls, shoulder presses, and lifts all using the resistance band. By holding the Wii-mote and Nunchunk in your hand, along with the straps for the resistance band, your virtual trainer can monitor your progress and shout encouragement.

I have to admit, this was much more effective than I thought it’d be. First of all, the rubber band never broke–that’s one strong piece of rubber. Secondly, the instructions in the videos were extremely useful in targeting specific muscle groups. After doing a series of exercises I did feel the burn in a muscles I wasn’t expecting. I won’t say this is a huge tool for massive muscle growth, but it’d definitely great for muscle toning and overall fitness.

Lower Body Exercises
These exercises consist of lunges, squats, and jumps to help your lower body. They use the Nunchuk knee/thigh strap at keep tabs on whether you’re doing them properly. The one annoyance with using the Nunchuk was that the cord was always getting tangled up, but that was easily fixed by holding more of the cord in my hands so that too much wasn’t dangling.

I found these very effective as well. Very similar to the types of exercises you’ll find in a game like My Fitness Coach, but far more effective because of the virtual coach keeping tabs on your progress through the movements of the nunchuk with your thigh. Again, the responsiveness seemed spot-on.

Sports
Okay, this is the part I know a lot of you have been waiting for. Yes, EA Sports Active does have a lot of sports games on it.

It’s important to set your expectations for these sports games as to what they are and what they aren’t. These aren’t replacements for console sports games or simulations. If you want to play simulated games, you’re still better off with Wii Sports or an upcoming game like EA SPORTS Grand Slam Tennis, especially using the new Wii MotionPlus controller add-on which will greatly improve the performance of your Wii controller (available June 8). Wii Sports Resort also looks like it’s going to be a great game (available July 26).

More accurately, these should be considered exercise routines that happen to use sports visuals to make exercising more fun and engaging. As long as you go in with the expectation that it’s more of an exercise game than a sports game, you’ll be very pleased. Here’s a sample of sports:

BasketballThis series of exercises helps you with balance and coordination. With the basketball game, you basically have to take a ball off a cart and then pass or shoot it. The game is more about timing and strength then about accuracy; for example, to shoot the ball you just have to thrust up with enough force and the ball will go in. You can choose to use or not use the Wii Balance Board. Whatever the exercise lacks in fitness value, it makes up for it because it’s so fun you’ll do it over and over.

Inline SkatingThe inline skating game reminds me of the Wii Fit Skiing game, in that the more you crouch, the faster you go. A nice game for balance control, although again, I’m not sure of the fitness value. What I do know is it shouldn’t be long before some troublemaker on YouTube posts a viral video dubbing in flatulence noises every time the virtual trainer raises his leg.

Baseball
Again, not the most accurate simulation of the sport (to catch a ball, for example, you have to lunge with your arm using the right timing), and there’s nothing like the “game simulation” you’d find in Wii Sports, but it’s certainly a lot of fun and provides great calesthenics and upper body workout.

Throwing and catching are basically done using upper body arm movements–the repetitive movement is what gets your heart pumping and your arms moving. The picthing game is a load of fun–you basically try to knock down a stack of cans.

Tennis
Your tennis game is certainly not going to improve with this, but again, these exercises are a great way to get your blood circulating and your upper body moving. You use tennis-like movement to simulate serves, volleys, and smashes. The controls are remarkably accurate, more so than Wii Sports.

Volleyball
Last but not least, there’s volleyball. Again, you don’t simulate an actual game, but you get a pretty good workout by serving, setting, and bumping. The game controls are very impressive with this one. If you don’t time a bump correctly, for example, the ball may end up flying behind you instead of over the net. Similarly, if you don’t bump with the right force or at the right angle, you may not make it over the net. It’s as realistic as a video game can come to the real thing.

Conclusion

So, my conclusion?

If you were disappointed by the types and amounts of exercise with Wii Fit, Ea Sports Active is going to fill the gap for you. It’s still not a substitution for an actual trip to the gym or real sports exercises, but for those rainy days or those days when you’re too tired to go out of the house, it’s a great and fun way to stay active. As with all fitness games and regiments, you get out of it what you put into it. If you follow the 30-day workout routine strictly, chances are you’ll be having fun and getting in shape without even realizing it.

 

Workout Intensity: * * * * * Fun: * * * * *

Wii Sports Active is available at Amazon.

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