EA Sports Active

EA Sports Active takes motion-tracking a step further with the introduction of a leg band, which allows lower body movement to be tracked more accurately. But is this method really such a good way to measure leg movement in exercise games?

As well as a leg strap, this game comes with a resistance band and requires the use of both the nunchuck and the Wii remote. The Wii Balance Board is optional. Nevertheless, that's a lot of kit to co-ordinate. It's hard to avoid ending up in a tangle of wires and bands before you get the hang of things. Whenever you change from one activity to another it can mean altering the way the equipment is set up, so even without the Balance Board there's far too much faffing about.

But before you do any exercise, there's the inevitable profile to set up. You will need this for an accurate calorie count, for the 30 Day Challenge, and for tracking your progress in a journal. This involves entering some brief physical details (height, weight, age, gender) and spending a lot longer customising the look of your avatar. Once that's sorted out you'd expect to be able to dive straight in with a workout, but there are a few more things to deal with beforehand.

Workouts come in three basic flavours: the 30 Day Challenge, custom, and preset. The best way to get a feel for the game is to start with one of the preset workouts, which generally feature a well-balanced set of exercises. However, whenever you do an activity for the first time there's a tutorial video to watch. Although you can skip past these it's best not to, because they tell you which way to hold the controllers. Pointing the controllers in the wrong direction often messes up all the tracking and makes the moves very frustrating to complete. With all of the videos a 15 or 20-minute workout can take around an hour to finish the first time you attempt it. As a result EA Sports Active isn't the kind of game you can easily dip into for casual use. The good news is that this situation improves a good deal after working out for a week or two.

The exercises themselves are varied, and they feature a reasonable range of aerobic, resistance and sports moves. Some jumping and a fair amount of jogging is involved, so a good pair of trainers is essential to protect your joints. The moves target the upper and lower body, although there aren't many exercises aimed at strengthening your core muscles. Cool-down stretches are also entirely absent.

Basketball, tennis, volleyball and baseball are available. All of these are about practice rather than playing an actual game, though. In all of the ball games hitting and catching correctly are a matter of timing rather than the direction you move the controller. This makes them easy, yet satisfyingly physical. You don't need to make tiny, subtle twitches or split-second moves to place the ball precisely where you want it to go, as you would in Wii Sports. For boxing and dance the same principle applies: it's not accuracy that matters, so much as taking part.

The resistance band, which at first sight looks like a flimsy piece of elastic, turns out to be very versatile and user-friendly. It adds light resistance to a number of upper-body drills and it's actually sturdier than it appears to be. By contrast the leg strap is rubbish. It tends to slip off unless you wear skin-tight leggings (yuck!), pull it so tight your circulation suffers, and make no sudden movements. Sometimes it works well enough, but it's unreliable.

Where EA Sports Active excels is in giving the player choices. Choose from three levels of intensity, two trainers, an extensive jukebox (press 1 to access this during a workout), and custom workouts. You can choose to skip certain drills before a workout starts, or with the pause menu you can either skip them or repeat them if you're not happy with your performance. With a custom workout you have the opportunity to design your own training schedule. This allows you to completely bypass the trauma of loose leg-straps if you so wish.

The Journal is another good feature which allows you to mark your progress in several ways. Work your way towards trophies, set yourself goals, or complete the lifestyle survey. The survey tends to focus you mind on factors such as sleep, diet and stress, and can help you identify areas of your health that you need to improve. It may not be a physical challenge, it's still beneficial. It's touches like the surveys, as well as the amount of choice that this game offers, that make EA Sports Active a worthwhile fitness title in spite of its flaws.