Be prepared to run a lot and possibly trample friends in Namco Bandai's Power Pad-inspired fitness game.
In the aftermath of the success of Wii Fit, it’s not unreasonable to expect many sub-par knock-offs that use fitness as a selling point. I feared Namco Bandai's Active Life: Outdoor Challenge would be one of those games. Coming bundled with a Power Pad-esque mat, the first entry in the Active Life series is actually surprisingly fun and not quite a Wii Fit rip-off.
The first similarity to Wii Fit that players will encounter is Mii integration. While there is no internal customization, the Miis in Active Life bring about the same bravado they originally did in Wii Sports, and do so in a much more colorful environment. And of course there’s the special peripheral known as the Mat Controller, consisting of two differently-colored sets of four directional buttons lined up next to each other. In single-player mode, the different activities make use of all of these buttons along with the Wii Remote. There are 16 different activities, ranging from Jump Rope and Log Leaper to Sprint Challenge and Mine Cart Adventure. All are fun, but nearly half of them boil down to some form of running on the mat, and the aforementioned Jump Rope and Log Leaper are more or less identical activities. It is not that running is bad; it just seems that the mat could have been used in more interesting ways, a notion proven by almost every activity that doesn't include running.
The single-player game includes three different modes. The first one, Outdoor Adventure, takes players through different courses consisting of three to five different activities. Additionally, players can create their own courses. Outdoor Adventure is a fantastic way to get acclimated to the game, as it slowly brings you into more complicated activities as you progress through the increasing difficulties. The next mode is Exercise Training, which lets you pick an exercise routine, with themes ranging from jumping to running. Players can select a time limit between three to ten minutes and go for high scores; it also has a tracking system similar to Wii Fit that measures your progress over time. The final mode is Free Play, a mod that lets you pick and play any event you desire.
The multiplayer mode is one of the coolest parts of the game, since it allows you to play competitive and cooperative multiplayer on the same mat. The mat itself seems to be made for multiplayer, as it allows for two players to stand next to each other (though it can get a little cramped when you have two adults standing on the mat). While a majority of these multiplayer activities simply involve running in place as fast as you can, the ones that differ from this design are the ones that truly shine. From the competitive side, See Saw Battle stands apart as it involves two players testing their reflexes by swatting buttons with their hands on the mat. On the cooperative side, the multiplayer version of Mine Cart Adventure requires both players to lean into turns simultaneously as one of them keeps the speed up by shaking the Wii Remote. However, the multiplayer activities only cover roughly half of the total activities, with few unique modes. Multiplayer also includes all of the running activities, which further limits the variety.
All in all, Active Life: Outdoor Challenge separates itself from Wii Fit as its own game, and succeeds quite well at it. While the different activities have a dearth of variety, it is still a fun experience for all ages. If the back of the game box holds true and there are indeed "more Active Life games coming," Outdoor Challenge is a very promising start to a series and a great complement to Wii Fit.