On the surface, the Active Life game series looks like just about every minigame compilation that has graced the system since its inception. Its one big difference, though, is the use of a specialized mat in conjunction with a Wii Remote instead of utilizing Nintendo's Wii Balance Board. Despite that roadblock (or possibly because of it), the original games seem to have done well enough that we have a second sequel, Active Life Explorer. After spending some time with it, it's easy to see why the game has a strong fan base.
In Active Life Explorer, your character, a boy or a girl represented by either your Mii or one of the pre-made in-game characters, has decided to become a great adventurer. After putting you through a few trials, your fellow adventurers decide that it'll be up to you to find the world's rarest artifacts. From phoenix feathers to platinum compasses, it's your job to get through every challenge and obtain the treasures for yourself.
The game has at least four different modes that can be played with up to four people at a time. Treasure Adventure has you playing as a lone adventurer or as a group of rookie adventurers as you travel around the world seeking out some of those very rare treasures. Instead of presenting you with level after level of challenges, though, you're given a world map to traverse and specific challenges to pass before you can access new worlds and treasures. You'll also be given the opportunity to talk to the locals for hints about where to go next, and you'll unlock new items as you go through the mode, providing some depth to the usual minigame fare.
The minigames are both numerous and simple. Admittedly, a few of the minigames feel like modified versions from prior series entries, such as one where you're sliding down a tube-like structure. Since they were fun before, they remain just as fun now, only with a new coat of paint to it. Because a majority of them require running and jumping, there isn't much if a mechanical difference, but the various themes make them look a little different. From being chased by mummies and boulders to swinging over spikes with vines to running from collapsed bridges to running on top of trains, there's enough environmental variety to make you forget that running is the one thing you'll be doing for a majority of your playtime.
Free Play mode lets you take on any of the 24 minigames in any order. Unlike Treasure Adventure mode, this mode lets you configure the difficulty of each game you'll play — but only if you do well in a game and unlock the subsequent difficulty as a result. Since the minigames don't change, you're still restricted to the number of players allowed by the minigame. Because you have the ability to unlock other items, such as costumes, you'll find it worthwhile to go back and try to get better times once Treasure Adventure has been completed.
Party mode does the same thing as Free Play mode but adds in the twist of supporting eight players instead of four. In order to get eight players going, the minigame selection is pared down to those that already support up to four players, but it is done by having four mats together and having two players per mat. This presents two problems for the mode right from the outset. First, since the mats aren't sold separately, you'll need to be a fan of the series in order to get the mats from the previous games, and then you'll have to hope that you know someone who did the same. You're also going to have to hope that all eight players happen to be small children since the mats are quite small, roughly three-fourths the size of the standard dance mat in any of the Dance Dance Revolution games. With players sharing each half of the mat to make things work, older players and those of a larger stature will often bump into each other instead of playing the game injury-free.
The final mode in the game is Treasure Trials, which lets you complete a series of minigames in a specific order. Other than being a less-involving version of Treasure Adventure, it's not all that different from the rest of the modes in the game. However, since it also unlocks more items when a set is completed, completionists will find it worthwhile to go through at least once.
As stated before, it's the controls that make things interesting. As stated before, the mat is rather small, so playing multiplayer on one pad requires that both players be little kids. It is a rather responsive pad, though, with some nice leeway built into each area to ensure that steps and hand presses can be a little imprecise but still count in the game. It is worrisome, though, that the mat seems to be of the same quality as Konami's dance mats, and while the initial responsiveness of the pads is better than expected, time will tell if they'll eventually wear out due to use or have some areas stop responding altogether. Some minigames have you controlling with the mat in conjunction with the Wii Remote, and the remote-only approach also controls rather well. It's a good control scheme, and the level of responsiveness is good enough for almost all players to handle.
While it doesn't look amazing, Active Life Explorer still sports some good graphics. In a strange turn of events, the integration of the Miis was a smart move since their faces and reactions look better than the heads used for the in-game characters. Those look too simplistic and are much harder to read from a facial standpoint. The body models, though, look quite good, and the costumes end up being nice mock-ups of attire seen in other classic action movies. The environments are a tad plain, but they are colorful enough that you don't really mind the simplicity. The particle effects from things like smoke are also good enough to not be considered mediocre. It all moves at a good, solid frame rate, and for minigame fans, that's all that really matters.
For the most part, the sound is minimal. Voices are limited to the announcer simply telling you that you've completed a minigame or that you've accomplished a new record as a result of your efforts. He isn't a boring announcer, per se, but his delivery has more of a serious tone than one of elation. The music is generic adventure game fare. It's rousing material and fits the theme rather well, but it is ultimately forgettable and interchangeable with any other adventure game out there. The same goes for the effects, which all sound fine but don't come off as extraordinary in any way.
At the end of the day, Active Life Explorer is one of the better minigame compilations for the system and a good entry for the series. The minigames do a good job of not only being fun but also sticking with the overall theme promised in the story. Controls are responsive, and the game is decent enough from a technical standpoint. It goes without saying that those who despise any sort of physical activity aside from arm flailing will find little to no interest in this game, and the same goes for those who don't desire more peripherals cluttering their households. However, fans of the series and those seeking a more involving minigame compilation will find the title to be highly enjoyable.
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