Support Luke, click to buy via us...
In six months I have lost two stone through eating less (what a radical idea) and exercise games: first Wii-Fit, then My Fitness Coach. However neither of these has been really satisfactory in the long term and I needed something to re-energise my workouts.
Most experts recommend that you need to be active, with a raised heart rate for 15-30 minutes before you get real benefit from exercise, something that is difficult with Wii-Fit because of its lack of routines and endless switching between mini-games.
My Fitness Coach Wii is an improvement, but lacks the feedback of Wii-Fit, and has limited variation. So I've been eager to give EA Sports Active a try ever since I first heard about it. It aims to provide the best of both worlds, cardiovascular and muscle workouts, interspersed with games, and lots of feedback.
EA describe it as a more "Western" style workout in contrast to Wii-Fit's "Eastern" concept of fitness. As someone who is trying to lose a lot of weight, doing yoga and having great balance is nice, but it's not really what I'm after right now. Active on the other hand is all about burning calories and getting your pulse up, which is just the ticket.
I started by creating a profile, entering my height and weight, and designing an on-screen character. Active has Balance Board support, so I was surprised that it offered no option to weigh me. It seemed like an odd omission. Having been ritually humiliated by my already rotund Mii ballooning in size every time Wii-Fit weighs me, designing my own more "aspirational" character, was a nice change, and was indicative of a less hectoring and more supportive tone.
The routines are very well structured, mixing cardio-vascular exercises with bursts of muscle work.
Next I got to grips with the equipment Active comes with, a leg strap and resistance band. The leg strap is secured around the right thigh, and has a pocket that you slip the Nunchuck controller into for some exercises, allowing Active to measure the movement of your leg.
It took a bit of getting used to, but I was surprised how little the strap moved, even for the most dynamic exercises. The resistance band is a strong strip of rubber with handles on each end, which you use to provide resistance when doing muscle exercises. It's a simple but effective tool that makes all the difference.
Active lets you build your own workout, or you can let it build you a 30-day challenge, a set of routines which get more intense over the course of a month with a different focus for each day. The suggested schedule was simple: two days training, followed by one day of rest, although there seems to be no way to change the rest days to suit my own schedule, which is an annoying omission.
The routines are very well structured, mixing cardio-vascular exercises with bursts of muscle work. The leg strap and resistance band allow an impressive range of exercises, from traditional moves like lunges, to target boxing and running, to inline skating (which is much harder than it sounds), and upper body muscle work like curls and shoulder presses. The Balance Board is used for some exercises but it isn't essential, and it's only used on some days, so no need to have it hanging around every day.
At first I was disappointed with how few exercises use the balance board, but not being tied to it all the time allows you to move with much more freedom, and when it is used it's done well. I especially like that you don't have to calibrate it before every exercise, once of my pet hates in Wii-Fit. If you find an exercise too hard (in my case side lunges), you can skip it, then exclude it from future routines.
The calorie burn was impressive, between 200 and 260 in half an hour in my first few sessions. That compares well with the 600 calories I would burn in an hour at the gym
While the short instruction videos for the exercises gave me brief breathers, I was constantly working throughout my 30 minute workouts, essential for any exercise aimed at losing weight. The constant variation, good feedback, and an ever-present display of calories burnt, really helps motivate.
The calorie burn was impressive, between 200 and 260 in half an hour in my first few sessions. That compares well with the 600 calories I would burn in an hour at the gym, but more fun and convenient (not to mention cheaper). To lose a pound a week you need to burn 500 calories a day more than you consume, so 200-260 in a short workout is a big boost to any weight-loss routine.
EA Sports active is a thoughtfully designed system, with excellent production values throughout, making it the best exercise game on the market if you want to burn off those pounds, rather than stand like a flamingo. While there are a few minor niggles, it gets all the important things right to deliver real workouts that will make a genuine difference to your fitness, while motivating, not boring you. My aching leg and shoulder muscles are a testament to that.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: