I confess, I vowed to try and keep active over winter but pretty much failed miserably. And now, with New Vegas and Sims 3 Late Night making some pretty regular appearances on my computer in the evenings, I needed a serious kick in the pants to get me off my chuff and moving again. Like a missive from my fairy godmother, the email to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing EA Sports Active 2 arrived at exactly the right time.
EA Sports Active 2 is another offering in the burgeoning Wii fitness market, and while I can’t claim to have played many of them at all, I did borrow a friend’s balance board and have a go at Wii Fit. My impressions are therefore those of someone who is pretty new to exercising while hooked up to my gaming console.
Research into the first version of Sports Active revealed images of players rigging themselves up to a contraption where the nunchuck would strap to one leg while they held the wiimote in the other. While people raved about the game itself, there were complaints about the length of the wiimote–nunchuck connection, as it could occasionally hinder a full range of movement.
I’m pleased to report Sports Active 2 puts all of that nonsense to rest and now provides us with two wireless monitors that you wear, one around your left arm below the elbow, the other on the thigh. They are easy to put on and set up, and they stay in place nicely. The resistance band appears again in the package and you may fiddle around a bit trying to get the knots in your green, minty plastic band to bite (so it won’t slip while you’re doing arm extensions). But this appears to be of reasonable quality as well – though of course it’s still early days. Those of you with balance boards lurking under the couch will also be pleased to know there’s support for that peripheral here as well, so dust those babies off.
While there are loads of different options (that I’ll get into shortly), most people are going to want to sign up for either a three-week, or nine-week program to really get things started. Always ambitious – at least initially – I went for the nine-week option, which is split into three, three-week phases. You choose the desired intensity level and then you pick out the days of the week you’ll exercise by marking them on a weekly schedule. You’ll wind up with four workout days and three rest days. You’ll also have to enter your age, height and weight – happily there are no judgemental comments about BMI and whatnot.
As you progress through your exercises, the wireless monitor on your arm captures your heart rate metrics, which are displayed on the screen - as well as the estimated number of calories you’ve burned. In my opinion, this is an excellent feature, well worth the price of admission alone. Now you can see whether you’re pushing yourself too hard – or not hard enough.
Before the sweating commences, you’re presented with a summary screen that shows the areas that the workout will focus on, as well as the estimated time to complete it - minus time taken to view the tutorials. Going with the default pre-programmed workouts, there’s usually a good combination of activities to build your strengths in cardio, upper-body, lower-body, and core. And like all good workouts, there’s a warm up and cool down to balance out all the sweating.
Oh believe you me, there will be sweating. What’s great about this title is the activities are really varied, so you’re not faced with countless repetitions of starjumps. OK, running in place and skipping without a skipping rope are still here, but so are the killer foot fires (moving your feet as fast as you can while maintaining a slight crouch), as well as sports-themed lunging and jumping. I particularly liked shooting hoops (lunging from side to side to catch the ball and then performing a sweet jump shot) and the mountain biking, where you’ll crouch to go fast on the downhills, then jump to hit jumps, and run in place to pedal up hills. The exercises that feel like games serve as a nice counterpoint to all those crunches.
The variation in activity also means you won’t be doing the same exercises every time, which has always been the kiss of death for my motivation levels. And while there are some incredibly nasty exercises (foot fires, I’m looking at you) that will cause you to puff like a billy goat, you’ll actually find yourself having a good time with the majority of the activities. These exercises are demanding, so those of you who have spent a little too long on the couch will be forgiven for going with the Easy setting.
So those are the basics, but I really think it’s in all the extras that this title really shines. Not only does Sports Active 2 give you a good range of exercises to work through, but the user interface also includes a diary where you can add details about other exercise you may have done during the day, as well as a survey to see how you are going with everything from your diet, to how much you enjoyed exercising last time. Weekly summaries show you if you’ve lost weight, or fallen behind your exercise goals. Unlockable achievements for milestones along the way really help with the motivation as well. I also appreciated the way the game didn’t nag me when I missed a workout, but instead gave me the option to play the missed workout and try to catch up to my week’s goals.
Once you’ve finished with your nine-week plan, that’s not the end of things either. There’s also the option to try out different tailored workouts, such as Basketball Bootcamp, Low Impact, or Crunch & Core. If those aren’t enough, just complete the Trainer-Generated Workout wizard and the game will generate a workout specific to your needs.
There were a few aspects I found frustrating. At the forefront was the issue where the position of the Wii in my TV cabinet caused the wireless USB at the back (that also comes with the game) to frequently lose contact with my leg monitor, usually while doing situps, which resulted in much cursing. My boyfriend, in the other room, also commented that the female personal trainer avatar sounded “smug”. I didn’t notice at the time (too busy sweating, I guess), but her constant references to giving it “one hundred and ten percent” did annoy. These are quite minor points, however, and when I found a better position on the floor I stopped getting disconnected from the game.
Ultimately, doing exercise is never going to be as much fun as playing New Vegas while stuffing your face with ginger kisses. But as far as exercise programs go, I’ve never seen anything as complete yet varied as Sports Active 2. There is a lot here to help you identify your health goals - whether they be to lose weight, or just get off the couch – and heaps more to help you stick to them. If you’ve got that post-winter gone-to-seed feeling at the moment, EA Sports Active 2 will absolutely help you get going again.