With childhood obesity rates on the rise, parents who are looking for ways to get their kids moving may find help in an unlikely format: a video game. "Active Life: Outdoor Challenge" takes the active gaming that has made the Wii so popular and ups the ante.
Think of "Active Life: Outdoor Challenge" as the new "Wii Fit" for kids. Not only do you use the Wii remote while swinging your arms, but this game gets your feet and body moving too. The game comes with a special Active Life Mat Controller, a pad which looks similar to the kind used to play "Dance Dance Revolution" (DDR) games. This pad has colored shapes onto which you place your feet. With the mat on the floor and the Wii remote in your hand, you will jump on a trampoline, slide down a slick pipe while avoiding obstacles, leap hurdles, sprint across a path of raised stones, speed skate through an obstacle course and much more. And all of these sweat-inducing activities take place from the comfort of your living room.
Unlike "Wii Fit," which is centered around the use of the somewhat delicate Balance Board that can't take the pounding of running and jumping, "Outdoor Challenge's" mat controller can handle anything a child can deliver. In fact, the game demands that kids run, jump, hop and even sit on the mat controller.
Not only does "Outdoor Challenge" encourage kids to be very physical, but it also does an excellent job of supporting social gaming, a preference noted in the newest Pew Internet study of U.S. teenagers who play video games.
"Outdoor Challenge" has 16 active games. Unlike other Wii compilations where only some of the games in the bundle are good, in this bundle, all 16 are exciting to explore. Kids will jump on the mat to make their avatar perform tricks in the air while trampolining in the middle of a lake. They will sit on the mat to simulate sliding on a boogie board inside a pipe where leaning from one side to another pushes you up the side of the wall to collect speed boosts and avoid obstacles. Other games are as simple as jumping a virtual rope, running a sprint challenge or jumping virtual hurdles, and yet they are all fun in this game's high-energy environment.
You can approach the games as either a single player or with a friend in multiplayer, and within each mode, there are three ways to enjoy the games.
If you are exploring the game alone, you can go on an outdoor adventure where you work your way through a sequence of three games, grouped by degree of difficulty. You can also choose the type of excersize training you want from a variety of possibilities including full body exercises, upper body training, and five-minute workouts. In this single-player mode, the game keeps track of your daily "Active Points" and charts them on a graph. You can also decide to simply explore the games in free play.
While the single-player mode is fun, "Outdoor Challenge" really shines when explored by two kids together. As in the single player mode, two friends can compete in an outdoor adventure which creates courses of three games each.
For more competition, kids can go head-to-head in the games of their choice in a mode called "Friend Battle." In most of those games, kids will stand side by side on the mat and see a split-screen for the game.
And for friends that would rather help each other instead of competing, there's a "Teamwork" mode. This mode has several games but one is unique. In it, two kids traverse a waterfall cliff face by having one stand on the mat to jump from one rock outcropping to another, while the other player uses the Wii remote turned horizontally to pull upwards in timing with the jumps. One person doing their part is not enough to succeed; this game relies on both kids working together. Count on many high fives passing between players when they finally succeed.
This is the first game in a series of Active Life games. Because this game is so good at creating exciting ways for kids and families to exercise together, let's hope that the next one comes along soon.
RATING 5 stars (out of 5) Best for ages 4 to 99 From Namco Bandai, www.playactivelife.com, $59.99, Wii.
Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for USA Today.com and Gannett News Service, and is also the editor of Computing with Kids Ezine.