Active Life Explorer
Reviewed by Nutwiisystem on October 27, 2010.
Summary: Active Life Explorer is, quite simply, the best family fitness game for the Wii out there.
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 very well-designed game which made my Top 10 Best Wii Fitness Games list, and has remained on there ever since.
In 2009, they followed it up with the forgettable Active Life Extreme Challenge. This was not a great follow-up. 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 its third installment Active Life Explorer?
The answer is a resounding YES. So much so that it is now near the top of the Top 10 list.
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. In the last few months, we’ve seen a wasteland of games purporting to be “family fitness” titles. There was the mediocre Jumpstart Get Moving Family Fitness and the absolutely horrible Family Party: Fitness Fun. Parents would buy these titles simply because it had the word “family fitness” in it, only to be disappointed that the games were barely playable. I’m happy to say that Namco Bandai got it right. For now, this is the single best choice for families looking for a fitness game to play together (or for individuals who want to add a ton of fun into their daily workouts).
The game has an “Indiana Jones” theme about it. All of the activites center around an adventurer as he goes around the world looking for treasure. And the theme of “adventurer” isn’t just a gimmick–the game developers put a ton of thought into tying each of the games into this theme.
Here are some of the things I like most about this game:
- 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 poorly conceived “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. Even with games where the actual controls are the same (such as running on the mat), the on-screen action is so unique and fun that it feels like a completely different game. There is not a dud in the bunch.
- 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.
- Overall, I found the accuracy of the controls to be improved over previous editions of Active Life. And when it says “jump”, you can really jump on the mat! (This is a pet peeve of mine with the Wii Balance Board, where jumping means just bending your legs).
- 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).
- 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 great exercise without even realizing it. Of course, going biking or walking outside with the family is the best kind of exercise, but on a rainy or snowy day, this is a great way to get the kids moving as opposed to slouched in front of a TV.
- 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.
- 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 the fun of that game. There’s not only running and jumping, but also challenges that make it fun and competitive.
- There’s a “Treasure Adventure” feature which combines all the various activities together in the form of a story. As you play through this game you experience increasingly challenging activities and earn different “treasures”. It makes for a great workout regimen for individuals who want to use this as part of their daily exercise. Once you master the adventure, you can try “treasure trials” which let you compete to get the highest scores and unlock new challenges.
All activities start with the “easy” and “normal” modes unlocked. You need to play through the games to unlock the “hard” modes. You can also collect different outfits as you complete the activities.
Here’s a complete list of the activities:
- Falling Bridge: This is a simple game where you run in place on the mat. On the screen, a bridge is collapsing behind you, and you need to run as fast as you can to stay in front of it. You’d be shocked at how great a motivator running in front of a collapsing bridge is! You can compete against three other people. Fun 5 of 5, Exercise 5 of 5.
- Canyon Leaper: In the game, you run as fast as you can and leap off a cliff. To run, you move your feet as fast as you can. To jump, you can actually jump (unlike those annoying Wii Balance Board games that don’t let you jump). While you’re flying thorugh the air you can fly further by moving your feet even more. Four players can compete against each other on one mat. Fun 5 of 5, Exercise 5 of 5.
- Gem Catcher: A monkey throws gold and jewels off a cliff, and you navigate the mat with your feet to move left and right to catch them in a bucket while avoiding the occasionally thrown boulder. This one is a little hard to navigate at first, but once you get used to how where to place your feet on the mat it gets more fun. Supports up to two players in co-op mode. Fun 3 of 5, Exercise 4 of 5.
- Shark Attack: You’re hanging by a rope over shark-infested waters, andcircling sharks periodically jump out of the water to attack you. You need to jump off the mat in time to avoid the shark. Sounds simple, but it becomes challenging with sharks coming from all directions and “decoy” sharks throwing you off. It’s a lot of fun, and a blast to compete against up to three other players. Fun 5 of 5, Exercise 3 of 5.
- Crocodile Stomper: This one is like a game of whack-a-mole, except you’re stomping on crocs. Controls are accurate and up to two players can play (each sharing half of the Active life mat). Fun 5 of 5, Exercise 4 of 5.
- Kraken Battle: A Kraken is evidently a giant octopus. In this game, you need to move your feet to match the same color and shape buttons that appear on the screen. If you miss the button, the Kracken will attack you, in which case you’ll need to run as fast as you can. During “Panic Mode” the buttons come flying at rapid pace. Up to two players can play in co-op mode. Fun 5 of 5. Exercise 5 of 5.
- 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 now 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. You can play up to two players in versus mode. Fun 5 of 5, Exercise 5 of 5.
- Cycle Glider: Even though the controls are pretty much the same motions as the running game in #1, it feels like a completely different game because of the excellent graphics an execution. Instead of running to escape a falling bridge, you’re running to try to keep a bicycle-powered glider up in the air as much as possible. As you see the glider falling, you can’t help but run at breakneck speed to try to keep it up. Fun 5 of 5. Exercise 5 of 5.
- Rapid Rappelling: This one is another jumping game, but you need to time your jumps to control your character rappelling (making his way down a cliff on a rope by timing jumps against the cliff surface). Fun 3 of 5. Exercise 3 of 5.
- Door Smasher: This is another running game, but again, it feels different than #1 and #8 because the objective here is to run through rooms, accelerating as fast as you can into a series of doors to break them down. Another great one to play against others, as the race involves not just speed but strategy and timing as well. Fun 5 of 5. Exercise 5 of 5.
- Ice Cave Slider: This game is played kneeling in back of the mat and putting your hands on the buttons. You accelerate by pressing both buttons together firmly, and press and hold the left or right button to steer. There are giant ice blocks to avoid, and you can do “half pipe jumps”. It’s a lot like “Pipe Slider” in the original Active Life Outdoor Challenge. It’s a little tricky to see the screen while you’re kneeling and staring down at the mat, but if you put the mat far away enough from the TV it’s not too bad. Fun 3 of 5. Exercise 3 of 5.
- Runaway Train: This one is a load of fun. Your mission is to stop a runaway train. 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. It gets pretty intence as the frantic music plays in the background and you almost feel the wind of the speeding train on the tracks heading towards its doom!
- Mummy’s Tomb: This is one of the more intricate 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. I made the mistake of getting it wrong three times, at which I had to run to escape a giant rolling boulder! This game can be played solo or in co-op mode.
- Balloon Landing: This game is sort of like the old game “Lunar Lander” (now I’m really dating myself). You alternate your left and right feet to light a hot air balloon. The goal is to land it as quickly as possible, but if the balloon lands too fast, it’ll be destroyed. Again, a great game to play against up to three other people, as it relies not just on physical movement but on strategy as well. Fun 5 of 5. Exercise 3 of 5.
- Horseback Chase: This is a game where you hop up and down on the mat to make your horse gallop. The goal is to catch a runaway bandit. But hop too fast, and your horse will get too tired (as you’ll see by the exhausted cartoon horse icon in the corner). Play solo or against someone else to see who can catch the bandit first without tiring their horse out. Fun 4 of 5, Exercise 5 of 5.
- Deep-Sea Diving: This game uses both the exercise mat and the Wii remote. You jump to dive off your boat, alternatively step on both buttons to move your flippers and swim down. When you reach a hatch, you have to spin the Wii remote to open it and get to your treasure. All this needs to be done before your air gauge is empty. You can play solo or co-op with up to three other players. Fun 5 of 5, Exercise 4 of 5.
- Dungeon Escape: In this game, you need to press a series of three buttons simultaneously (meaning you have to use two feet and a hand) to try to open a dungeon door. Once the door is open, you need to jump to escape before the walls close around you. It’s sort of like a one-person game of twister! Fun 5 of 5, Exercise 5 of 5.
- Mine Cart Mayhem: Mine Cart Adventure was one of the highlights of the original Active Life Outdoor Challenge. This one captures the fun of that game and takes it a step further. The controls are the same–pump the Wii remote up and down to accelerate, lift your left or right legs to navigate turns, and jump to avoid breaks in the track. The graphics are nothing short of beautiful as you go through the mine, the controls are much improved over the first version, and there’s a nice surprise ending. Play solo or in co-op mode. Fun 5 of 5. Exercise 4 of 5.
- Pirate’s Treasure: This is another impressive game where you’re scuba diving through beautiful coral reef. You move your feet to swim, and you steer using your Wii remote to avoid stinging jellyfish and other obstacles. Fun 4 of 5, Exercise 4 of 5.
- Dog Sled Ride: Another game which uses the Wii remote, in this game you swing the Wii remote like cracking a whip to accelerate your dog sled team. You need to pace your swings to avoid your dogs getting too tired, and you steer by lifting your leg (no dog jokes, please). Fun 4 of 5, Exercise 4 of 5.
- Stop and Go: This is a fun game where you’re running through a dark corridor and have to “freeze” when the corridor lights up or you encounter search lights. Make a move and you’ll get a shock. Sort of like a game of “red light green light”. Again, it’s lots of fun against up to four players. Fun 5 of 5. Exercise 4 of 5.
- Fire Frenzy: In this game, you’re jumping over giant flame throwers as they roll under your feet. It gets challenging as the flame throwers start to form criss-cross patterns. It’s pretty much the same as “Log Jumper” of the first version. Fun 5 of 5. Exercise 4 of 5.
- Airplane Panic: This is another game where you have to move your feet to press buttons to match the on-screen symbols in order to save a runaway plane. Fun 5 of 5. Exercise 4 of 5.
- Three-Legged Run: This is a game for two players where they need to stand next to each other on the mat and run as if their legs were tied together (step on opposing buttons simultaneously). If one person’s timing is off, the players will stumble, leaving them susceptible to the pursuers (if the pursuers get close, both have to run as fast as they can). Once the players reach a river, they have to jump together onto a raft to escape. A great co-op game.
I honestly don’t have many negative things to say. The only things I would think to improve are:
- 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.
- Some of the activities are quite short. This is perfect for competing against each other, but I would also have liked to see some “extended” versions of the activities to prolong the aerobic benefit.
- After each event you earn “Exercise Points”. It might have been better just to communicate calories burned.
- It would be nice to have an online mode which lets you play against friends or others around the world, or to compare high scores.
Overall, I am very impressed with Active Life Explorer. As far as fun and active games which a family can play together, this is hands down the best title out there. And if you’re a grown up who uses the Wii to exercise, it’s a great way to break up the routine by having a ton of fun. Overall, this is a winner.