EA Sports Active Hands-On

We raise a sweat in our first exercise session with EA's upcoming Wii fitness program.

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Entering the fitness game domain in the wake of a market leader like Wii Fit is no easy task, but EA is giving it a good shot with Sports Active, a personal-trainer-in-a-box game that takes a different approach to Nintendo's game. We got some hands-on time with the game at a recent Sydney press launch, where we also got the chance to find out a bit more about its philosophy.

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It’s immediately obvious that EA Sports Active is trying to set itself apart from other fitness games on the market. The game was introduced to us as a "Western-style workout," compared to Wii Fit’s "oriental-style workout." Translation: no yoga, calisthenics, or balancing. Instead, what you’ll get is a range of different exercises designed to tone muscles, burn calories, and make you sweat--preferably a whole lot. The game’s workouts were designed by celebrity personal trainer (and Oprah’s number one fitness man) Bob Green, whose philosophy seems to be "no pain, no gain," judging by the 11-minute workout set out for us.

The game allows you to set up a profile, customise your character, and then input a number of different facts about you, including your height, weight, fitness goals, and sleeping patterns, how much junk food you eat, how much exercise you normally do, your TV-watching habits, how stressed you are, and so on. All this is used to create a personalised monthlong program which makes up the game’s main mode: the 30-Day Challenge. To succeed at this, you must follow the game’s training pattern of two days on, one day off. Each time you turn the game on, you will be allowed to choose the intensity of your workout (beginner, intermediate, or advanced), and this will determine the length of your daily routine and the exercises included. Workouts can last 20 to 40 minutes and are measured in both time and number of calories burned. Exercises range from lower-body workouts like squats, lunges, jumping, running, and walking, to upper-body workouts like bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, and boxing, as well as a range of sports minigames to break up the intense workouts, such as dancing, inline skating, basketball, tennis, and marathon running. At the end of each workout, you’ll be presented with a summary of your performance, which will include feedback on how to work out better, areas you need to improve on, and your progress in achieving your fitness goal.

In this game you will be required to use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, as well as two supplied accessories: a resistance belt and a leg strap. The leg strap holds the nunchuk in place on your right thigh, which is required for all lower-body exercises to measure your movements (that is, how long you hold a squat or how low you can lunge). All exercises use a combination of the remote, nunchuk, and resistance belt. The Wii Balance Board can also be used with the game but is not necessary; the game will ask if you’re using a balance board and will slightly alter some of the exercises accordingly.

Our 11-minute workout was precustomised by an EA rep to include a mix of muscle-toning exercises and sports minigames. We began with boxing, using the remote and nunchuk in each hand to hit the onscreen targets. This was just to get the muscles warmed up, but it quickly proved to be a challenge--you have to box the air pretty hard to actually hit the targets, followed by 40 reps of rapid hits on a virtual punching bag.

The next exercise in our routine was bicep curls, which use the resistance belt, the remote, and the nunchuk. It was only 16 or so reps, but again, it proved to be difficult, even on the lowest difficulty setting. Following this was a set of lunges where we got to try out the nunchuk leg strap. Onscreen, you will be able to see your character mirroring your moves, and your personal trainer will appear in the bottom right corner to show you how to do the exercises.

We moved on to two minigames: inline skating and tennis. With skating, the objective is to keep your knees bent low in order to gain onscreen momentum and then jump as you encounter hurdles (again, the nunchuk leg strap is used to measure your movements). The tennis game is slightly redundant--you use the remote to hit the onscreen balls at the targets, but it doesn’t appear to be working out any muscles, and if you’re lazy you can just use your wrist rather than your whole arm.

The next exercise was squats. The onscreen instructor asked us to squat and hold for six or so seconds, with something like 10 reps. The training session finished with a slow jog to cool down.

The resistance belt comes packaged with the game.
The resistance belt comes packaged with the game.

After you become accustomed to the 30-Day Challenge mode (and we think it may take some time) you can then customise your own workout from the many exercises on offer. The game will monitor what muscle groups you work on and will tell you how close you’re getting to your goal. Another feature is the split-screen mode, which allows you to work out with someone else at the same time, each person with his or her own customised workout.

We were definitely impressed with EA Sports Active, and we're looking forward to getting some decent workout time with it. EA Sports Active is slated to ship this May.

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