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Active Life: Extreme Challenge (Wii) artwork

Active Life: Extreme Challenge (Wii) review


"Active Life: Extreme Challenge can be described as an exercise game that allows players—children mostly, like the ones featured on the cover—to pretend that they're engaged in fascinating activities such as base jumping, wind surfing, rock climbing and double dutch jump rope competitions. With the exception of that last one, the activities digitally represented here are the sort of thing that no sane parent would ever allow his or her offspring enjoy before heading into late adolescence."



Some parents are so determined to raise a well-rounded child that when birthday time comes, they forget to let their kid have any fun. While other youth receive an awesome bike or a box set of "The Sopranos" or whatever else ten-year-olds are into these days, there's always the unfortunate victim of overly zealous, well-intentioned parents who buy him a new set of long underwear--how thrilling!--or a set of workbooks so he can get a jump on his cursive handwriting next school year.

Playing Active Life: Extreme Challenge, I get the feeling that the game is designed to enable such gift giving to continue, but in a manner that will allow proud parents to say "I finally loosened up and am letting my kid have a little bit of fun like the fantastic, incredible parent that I am!" Because let's face it: this may be a video game, but it's not the exciting sort that earns a place on wish lists.

In general, Active Life: Extreme Challenge can be described as an exercise game that allows players--children mostly, like the ones featured on the cover--to pretend that they're engaged in fascinating activities such as base jumping, wind surfing, rock climbing and double dutch jump rope competitions. With the exception of that last one, the activities digitally represented here are the sort of thing that no sane parent would ever allow his or her offspring enjoy before heading into late adolescence. The benefits are obvious: with nary a broken bone in sight, parents get to trick their kids into exercising and the kids get some help fantasizing that they're extreme athletes.

Generally competent visual design helps with the fantasy. The artists took a cartoon-fueled approach that works quite nicely and should appeal to the target audience. Nothing you'll see here would likely strain a PlayStation 2, but the design is attractive and should remain visually stimulating for a long time to come. There's something to be said for that. While this restrained polish means that you won't see roaring crowds ready to witness your feats on a BMX bike, or have the chance to careen wildly through an army of cars and trucks (one or two is the most you'll ever see), the experience remains aesthetically pleasing just the same.

Unfortunately, gameplay doesn't always live up to the presentation. The adrenaline rush that comes from riding a luge down a paved trail can only last so long. The thrill of sailing through the air and twisting around like a candy wrapper tossed by an ocean breeze does wane. What's left is an occasionally monotonous series of 15 mini-games (with some offering only slight variations on the same theme) that feature unresponsive and demanding controls with no real payoff except for calories burnt and perhaps a higher score than a younger sibling. Plenty of games offer the latter without the unpleasant former, which is why I maintain that parents will find more to like than their kids will.

That leaves the obvious question: what makes the mini-games so disappointing? Mostly, the mat is to blame. It features around eight action buttons and takes up the same amount of space as a Dance Dance Revolution pad. That's nice if you have limited space, but Active Life: Extreme Challenge is best enjoyed by two players. If one or both gamers have had a few too many ice cream cones and that fact has manifested itself in the form of chubby thighs or root beer bellies, there's no way the close-quarters jostling can end well. Even a single adult of significant girth could have issues, depending on the challenge. For instance, one activity lets you sit on the mat and use your hands to press the left and right arrows in mimicry of a luge event. If your posterior is larger than it should be, you're in for a world of hurt. You'll wind up touching flab instead of arrows.

Assume for a moment, though, that you have more in common with Daisy Fuentes than Michael Moore. Good on you! Unfortunately, the pad still isn't always ideal. Several of the events require you to run in place or jump, which is a lot harder than it sounds because you have to memorize where the buttons are while watching the prompts on your television screen. If you start moving and get even a little bit off-base, that round is shot because you'll make a few wrong moves before realizing that you need to correct your positioning. There also are times where the mat works fine, but accompanying moves with your finicky Wii Remote or Nunchuck devices don't register properly. Really, there are just too many things can go wrong. It's hard to enjoy yourself when you're worried that a swing or a stomp won't register and will cost you the victory.

A final concern is the fact that moving from one mini-game to another can be a bit of a hassle because one event controls so differently from the next. Each new diversion comes with several pages of instructions, so it can be difficult to keep things straight in your head until you've played the games for awhile (or unless you're in "Free Play" mode and trying one challenge repeatedly). By the time you master the control intricacies, you've probably grown bored with the overall game because of its repetition. A challenge mode attempts to alleviate that by offering more challenging courses and criteria, but those work better as challenges to veterans than they do as enticement for the bored amateur to keep practicing.

Though I've spent a lot of time emphasizing the game's negative sides, I really should stress that Active Life: Extreme Challenge isn't a complete disaster. While you won't find me hopping around the mat a few months from now, the same might not be true of younger gamers with time to burn. Though repetitious, the game still has a good chance of entertaining children who are interested in self-improvement. If you have two or three young ones and you're looking for something to keep them locked in energetic competition, or if you're looking for another bit of family-friendly software to get your household gaming together, I can imagine this game filling that role quite naturally. Just don't try to disguise it as a thrilling gift. That's what long underwear is for.

Rating: 5/10

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 05, 2009)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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