“Active Life: Outdoor Challenge” Review

Let me just catch my breath. I’ll just sit here for a minute. Is the room spinning?

I’ve been playing Active Life: Outdoor Challenge, and I am exhausted. A game devoted to jumping, tilting your body, waving your hands and running around, Outdoor Challenge is the most exhausting video game I have ever played. I go out swing dancing most nights, dancing 3 hours without a break, but after half an hour of Outdoor Challenge I found myself sprawled on the couch trying to catch my breath.

Outdoor Challenge is a collection of mini-games emulating activities such as skateboarding, kayaking, jumping rope and running hurdles. The game’s main purpose seems to be to leave you panting on the floor.

Outdoor Challenge comes with a plastic mat controller similar to the ones used in Dance Dance Revolution games. The difference is this pad is designed so it can be used by either a single player or by two players competing or playing cooperatively.

There are a good many games in the single player mode. In Pipe Slider you sit on the mat and press buttons on each side of you to steer. In Mine Cart Adventure, in which you control speed by pumping the Wii remote up and down, you must tilt your body, lifting one foot off the mat, when the cart goes around a turn on its rickety track, and must jump whenever you reach a gap in that track. Skating in Speed Roller, you control speed by running on the mat and steer with the remote to skirt sections of the track that collapse in front of you.

Outdoor Challenge has three single player modes. Free Play lets you play any of the games. Exercise Training contains sets of mini-games designed to push your endurance or reflexes. Challenge Adventure requires the player to play three different games in a row, thus unlocking more difficult mini game triads.

Challenge Adventure Mode has not been thought through well. While in Free Play every mini-game begins with directions on how to play, in Challenge Adventure you have to memorize the controls for all three games before you begin. This wouldn’t be a problem if you’ve played the game enough, but if you’re not an Outdoor Challenge expert it is quite irksome.

Because you need to succeed at Challenge Adventure to unlock higher difficulty levels in Free Play, you will be forced to suffer through the more aggravating mini-games. At one point to get past a jump rope challenge that was giving me trouble and wearing me out I sat on the mat and used my hands to emulate jumping up and down.

Free Play mode could also be better. Many of the mini-games are quite short and feel like they should continue on in increasing levels of difficulty. When you a play a short game like Mole Stomper you feel that when you make it through the level you should shift into a more difficulty level and keep going; instead you are just given a score and the opportunity to replay.

Some games are much better than others. While Mine Cart Adventure and Speed Roller are a lot of fun, Jump Rope is nothing more than endless timed jumping, and is simply a lesser version of another mini-game, Log Leaper, in which you must jump over rolling logs.

Most of the mini games use the same basic mechanics of jumping, running and foot placement. Outdoor Challenge’s attempts to go beyond these basics aren’t always successful. The most notable failure is Kayak Attack, in which you stand on the mat and emulate rowing by swinging the remote from side to side. Unfortunately, I could rarely make the paddle match my movements. When I would swing my remote to the right the avatar might paddle to the right or the left, or might just sit there doing nothing. Fortunately, it is still possible to make it down river.

I invited a friend over to test out the multiplayer games. We noticed that it was a somewhat tight squeeze for us to both stand on the mat, perhaps because, judging by the picture on the game box of a young boy jumping, Outdoor Challenge is aimed more towards kids.

Multiplayer games are divided into cooperative and competitive games, most of which are simply two person versions of single player games. For example, in the two-player Mine Cart Adventure you must both tilt to the side when going around turns.

Perhaps the most unusual two-player game is Waterfall Climber. One player avatar is the climber, jumping from ledge to ledge, while the other avatar is at the top holding the climber by a rope. The climber player stands on the mat and jumps as the other player swings the remote to hoist him or her up.

For those looking for aerobic exercise, Outdoor Challenge is considerably more satisfying (and exhausting) than Wii Fit, and offers a nice variety of activities. For those of us who don’t look to game consoles for exercise, the game is still fun to play. Now that I’ve caught my breath, I’m going back for more.

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