Keeping motivated is one of the biggest problems with any plan to get in shape. Countless aspiring exercisers have bought gym memberships that went unused, or treadmills that wound up next to the washer and dryer, doing time as the world's most expensive clothesline. Providing couch potatoes with enough incentive to get up and get moving is even more difficult for console-based exercise games. You've got to provide something very interesting for gamers, because flopping onto the couch and vegging out with a gamepad in one hand and a calorie-crammed soda in the other is never more than a click away. So you have to hand it to EA Sports Active, a personal trainer program for the Nintendo Wii loaded with a ton of innovative exercises and sports challenges that keep you coming back for more. Pro athletes aren't going to turn to the game suddenly to keep them in shape during the off-season, but the average Joe looking for a heart-pumping home workout should be more than pleased with this gym in a box.
Actually, "gym in a box" might be an overstatement. EA Sports Active comes with just the game disc, a Wii Nunchuk-housing thigh band that tracks running, and a stretchy resistance band for lunging and weightlifting (and making your room smell strongly of peppermint). However, the use of these two rather unassuming items lets the game replicate a wide range of athletic activities. Add in the Wii Remote, which is used for throwing, punching, and doing curls, and from the comfort of your living room you can take on just about any exercise that you can do in a gym or on a track. The game also supports the Wii Balance Board for a number of activities, although it isn't a requirement.
Exercises are varied and numerous. A lack of the repetition that makes so many people skip out on the real gym is the only common value shared between them. You can freely choose among dozens of activities geared to get the blood flowing, all divided into separate categories for cardio, lower body, upper body, and sports. It's an impressive collection that includes running on a track, squats and lunges, bicep curls, boxing with targets and a heavy bag, inline skating complete with jumping tricks, aerobic dancing, hitting and throwing a baseball, swinging a tennis racquet, shooting a basketball, and so on. All you do is watch a workout leader in an onscreen box and follow her movements, which are mimicked by your in-game avatar. The great variety of activities keeps the game feeling fresh even many days into working out. It's tough to get bored when you're constantly switching between exercises that hit all muscle groups. Whenever you feel a little repetition creeping in, you can just move on to something completely different. Sick of running on the track? Head to the baseball diamond. Tired of bicep curls? Move over to the heavy bag for a bit.
The primary thrust of the activities is aerobic. Most of the activities tend to focus more on speed and flexibility, rather than strength. Much of the running is combined with high kicks. Boxing is more about fast punches of the heavy bag than dishing out blows with serious oomph. And the resistance bands are so stretchy that they don't pose much of a challenge for larger men. Nevertheless, don't think that this is some lightweight pushover. The easy exercise routines push you through a grueling 20 minutes of running, stretching, and lifting. Be warned: If you're not in reasonably good fitness, at least from a cardio standpoint, the very first introductory workout will beat the crap out of you and leave you soaked in sweat. Don't go in expecting a cakewalk, especially if you're the average couch-potato gamer coming off a winter in which the closest you came to exercise was watching the kid next door shoveling your driveway.
Everything is heavily structured to keep you on course and following a regimen. So though you can simply fire up the game and pick a single exercise to mess around with, the design focuses on choosing a predesigned workout plan with easy, medium, or hard difficulty; setting up a custom exercise program that incorporates up to nine exercises of your choice; or taking on the 30-Day Challenge administered by Oprah Winfrey's aerobics guru, Bob Greene. There is even an option to work out with a friend, which provides an extra little bit of motivation. You can make EA Sports Active be nearly whatever you want it to be. Want a pick-up-and-sweat program for occasional exercise? You got it. Want a "whole life" journal that pushes you on a daily basis, keeps you fixed to a workout calendar, tracks calorie losses over long periods, and even asks questions about what you had to eat yesterday? You've got that, too.
About the only thing you don't have here is first-rate production values. The visuals are cartoonish, and the audio effects are restricted to a pretty limited selection of generic workout music. At least the workout leader is well animated, which makes it easy to follow along, and she also calls out lots of encouragement and instructions to keep you motivated. There are also a few minor issues with controllers. The cord between the Wii Remote and Nunchuk is probably the most serious annoyance. It is a bit small for some of the curls, forcing you to stretch it to its limits to register the movement successfully, and on other exercises you can easily flip the cord right over your head when moving forward. The leg strap could also be a little bit bigger to accommodate larger thighs.
Although it remains debatable how effective EA Sports Active--or any other video game-based workout program--will be at getting the masses into serious shape, the game's combination of exercises and motivational programs is undeniably catchy. It will get your heart pumping, help you lose a few pounds, and is certainly a lot more healthy than indulging in the usual, more sedentary video game alternatives.