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Family Trainer sees Namco Bandai joining the Wii-Fitness generation with a dance mat game that emulates Wii-Fit's Exergaming credentials. As you would hope, the game also stays true to the developer's novelty style, and (like their game Quickspot DS) avoids the slightly stuffy nature of the balance board activities.
Fitness games are only recently becoming a genre in their own right. Previously, rhythm action games would cover these titles. With the release of the Wii and related peripherals however, a new Exergaming genre is emerging.
Games that motivate you to exercise by making it entertaining, and tracking your progress, are usually intended to supplement existing exercise routines rather than replace them.
The main novelty with Family Trainer (Active Life Outdoor Challenge in the states) is the extra large two person dance mat controller. This can accommodate two people for multiplayer games (such as running, and hurdles) without the need to buy any more peripherals. Many activities pair the mat with additional input from the Wii-mote (rowing and pumping), while others place the player in the centre and task them with hitting particular zones in a limited time (stomp-a-mole).
The game is split into a multiplayer adventure mode that takes you through some preset activities, and single player events that focus more on exercise and times then direct competition. As you work your way through the adventure modes you unlock additional activities in the single player game.
Each event can be played at three difficulty settings that not only make things harder, but introduce additional gameplay elements. The hurdling, for example, benefits from tricky speed ramps on the harder levels.
The majority of the games involve jumping or running on the spot, and certainly get your heart rate and metabolism pumping - running, hurling, sprinting to name a few. Other games are more technical and focus on co-ordination rather than fitness - games like the foot stomping whack-a-mole or trick filled trampolining.
The only down side here is the difficulty to ensure you stay on the right spot when playing the game. It is easy to drift off and press the wrong buttons. A little practice though and most people will get used to working the same spot without straying.
Where Wii-Fit attracts those with a serious desire for fitness and exercise, and Wii-Sports suites more competitive types, Family Trainer provides a home for those looking for fun and exuberance. Playing or watching events like the trampolining are thoroughly entertaining. The combination of jumping in time with the on screen character then using both feet to punch in the tricks feels surprisingly like the real thing. Combine this with competitiveness of straight events like running or hurdling and you have an experience that matches Wii-Fit for exercise and easily out does it for fun.
You need to give Family Trainer a little time to begin with, especially if you're not used to the dance mat controller. Additionally, some games can seem a little simple at first, but repeated plays reveals a great degree of depth.
Once you are familiarised, a single player session can be completed in as little as ten minutes, although our Personal Trainer tells us that a good hour is really needed before any fitness benefits will be accrued.
Family Trainer is certainly more youngster friendly than Wii-Fit. The biggest challenge is keeping them on the spot though. Our youngest found it frustrating to have to run without going anywhere. Here at least Wii-Fit's jogging (that let's you run around the room with the Wii-mote in your back pocket) has the edge.
The fun factor will win out for most novice and intermediate players though. The sheer range of activities and inventive ways to use the mat (sitting, straddling, standing and jumping) create an experience that should connect with a range of players.p>Experts may balk at the kiddie graphics and novelty controller. But set them in front of it on the advanced setting and even they even experts will find a challenging experience here.
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