If there is one thing the Wii is good for, it's reminding me how I need to be in better shape. Look at the lineup of titles that dropped this year, and a major slice of the titles are fitness titles. In fact, you likely remember the older brother of this series, Active Life: Outdoor Challenge. Active Life: Extreme Challenge gets added to the mix, and it's actually pretty fun. The old and busted included balancing on logs and hang gliding, whereas the new hotness is all about "extreme" challenges, hence the title. See what they did there?
Extreme Challenge includes a DDR-style activity mat as part of the bundle and allows you to participate in games like mine-cart racing, wakeboarding, skateboarding and jump roping. I don't know how extreme the latter one can really be considered, but since Hollywood has already done cheerleading and dance competition movies to death, one can only guess that maybe jump roping is due for a comeback, and Active Life: Extreme Challenge will be there at the forefront. Who just got served? You did, sucka! Double Dutch to the max!
The graphics are a stylized heavy-lined cartoon style, similar to Jet Grind Radio. Background graphics have a pixelated-on-purpose look, while your character and supporting characters in the foreground have a 3-D pop look. Some may hate it, but in the land of the Wii, where everything has to be candy-coated and Mii-driven, this was a nice change of pace. You do actually import your Mii into the game, but it gets Extreme-ified to reflect the game's graphics. Ordinarily, I hate games that don't give you a detailed character creator, and I think Active Life could've benefited from having one for guest players, but it's not as glaring an omission as it would be in other games. I actually enjoyed the graphics, when I could remember to look up from mashing my feet on the dance mat.
You don't use the dance mat exclusively, which is both good and bad. As I've said before, any accessory-using game, or any title in the Wii arsenal that specifically uses unique controls or motions is often rife with problems. Active Life: Extreme Challenge is no different. The Extreme Kite Surfing, for example, works great. You use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to control the position of the kite to maximize your air, and when you catch a jump, you use the dance board to perform tricks. Other games, however, like the BMX Flatland, were so quirky with the response in shifting to the Wii Remote that I stopped playing it in favor of the other challenges. One thing you never want in a multiplayer party-style title is to have a game that performs so poorly that you never want to play it again.
As far as the audio goes, the background music is light and energetic, with fairly amusing sound effects. You're not going to get a John Williams score, but at least the music fits the game environments. More than anything, I found myself interested in moving around the dance mat and the responding graphics on-screen. The sound is almost secondary, which tends to be the case with most Wii games.
I'd almost be curious to see how a game like Active Life: Extreme Challenge would've reacted using Nintendo's golden standard of the Wii Fit Balance Board. Other franchises, such as the Raving Rabbids, have shown a successful game model using a standard peripheral. Would the dance mat really be as necessary? I guess I've reached my peak of accessories, between microphone, drums and guitars for both Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the Balance Board, and now a dance mat. It's just getting excessive.
Another drawback on this game is the inherent limitation of multiplayer support. Don't get me wrong because it's there, but with only one mat, you'll find yourself trading off controls or both attempting to utilize the mat, which is just awkward. That puts Active Life: Extreme Challenge in a unique spot in terms of defining its core audience and real use. On one hand, if it's a party game, it falls short because of the lack of group activities and controls. On the other hand, if it's a single-player fitness game, it falls short because you're going to get a better workout with the standard Wii Fitness software.
Yet another drawback is in the difficulty levels of each game mode. Some of the games when played on easy, like Rock Climbing, are just flat-out boring. Yet, when you ramp up the game to the maximum difficulty, they become downright impossible to play. BMX Flatland on the hard difficulty enraged me so much that I swore to never play it again. Well, OK, I swore at it in general. It became a game of "How Quick Are Your Reflexes?" rather than challenging you with varied terrain or some other task that would have been challenging instead of maddening. You may be a glutton for punishment and relish the hard BMX levels. Me, I'd prefer to go to one of the 14 other mini-games, thank you very much.
I'm really conflicted with Active Life: Extreme Challenge. I love the graphics, and the fact that the game comes bundled with the dance mat and uses both it and the Wii Remotes for certain modes makes it a great deal. I guarantee almost everyone will love the Kite Surfing game. I even enjoyed the audio, which I normally don't pay attention to in most games. However, the limiting nature of the mat, rather than using the standard Balance Board peripheral, and the lack of solid competition multiplayer boards really limits its potential. If I had to place an age range on the game, I'd say it would be excellent for the 4- to 12-year-old demographic. The game is eye-catching and will certainly get you moving around (even if you cheat and use your hands instead of your feet for some game controls), but the lack of longevity and the general wearing of the novelty will make this game very short-lived for anyone else.
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