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Review: Active Life Outdoor Challenge / Family Trainer – Fit Enough For Purpose

There used to be a time during the Wii era where you couldn't move for fitness games. The enormous success of Wii Fit led to a steady stream of imitators, from well-known established publishers all the way down to the shovelware merchants looking to cash in on the latest fad. One of the more unique offerings was Active Life Outdoor Challenge (known in Europe as Family Trainer)

Released by Bandai Namco in 2008, it opted not to use the Wii Remote or even Wii Fit’s Balance Board, and instead came with a giant floor mat. This was a nod to Bandai’s original 1986 Famicom game Family Trainer, which also used a mat (which would eventually be known in the West as the NES Power Pad).

A mere 13 years later, and probably inspired by the success of Ring Fit Adventure, Bandai Namco has decided to bring back Active Life Outdoor Challenge by porting it to the Switch. This time, however, the mat is nowhere to be seen. That's not to say it still doesn't have some sort of physical gimmick, mind you. Rather than using the mat, the player has to use a leg strap to strap a Joy-Con to their leg, using the other Joy-Con on its side like a controller.

We're going to assume that the majority of readers didn't own the original game, but for those who do, allow us to cut to the chase by saying that this Switch port doesn't offer a lot that’s new other than the revised control scheme. If you still have the Wii version and get it out every now and then for a family jog-off, then there's really no reason to upgrade to the Switch game unless you absolutely need an HD upgrade. For everyone else, though, let’s continue.

There are 16 minigames on offer here, all of which make use of the leg strap. In case you’re curious, there’s no option to replace the leg strap controls with something else, so if you have mobility difficulties that prevent you from running and jumping on the spot then this game is a non-starter for you. That’s not necessarily a criticism, just something you should be aware of it that’s a potential issue.

The strap is used mainly for three actions: running (by simply jogging on the spot), jumping (by physically jumping off the ground) and hurdling (by lifting your leg). Meanwhile, the other Joy-Con is used to position the player in most games, though it isn’t always used.

The 16 minigames on offer are varied to some extent, although it's slightly disappointing that some of them feel like carbon copies of each other, despite the relatively low number of events there are. Log Leaper, for example, has you standing on the spot and jumping every time a log passes underneath you, while Jump Rope is essentially the same game with a skipping rope instead. Meanwhile, Timber Trail involves running on the spot and lifting your leg to hurdle over logs as they roll towards you; Head-On Hurdler is pretty much the same thing with hurdles instead of logs.

There are some more involved games, such as Kayak Attack (in which you use one Joy-Con as an oar) or Speed Roller, a speed skating game where you tilt the Joy-Con to change direction while still jogging on the spot to keep up your speed. For the most part though, only a handful of events could be considered truly inventive, with most fitting into the typical running and jumping actions.

For the most part, the controls work well enough. The game registers fairly accurately and is good at telling the difference between a run, a jump and lifting a leg to hurdle. Not every game controls quite as well, however. Considering each of these minigames was originally designed with a mat in mind, some of them don't transfer over to a Joy-Con and leg strap quite as smoothly.

The kayaking game, for example, has you holding the Joy-Con sideways and tilting it left and right to emulate the rowing of the oars. While this motion is technically more realistic than the Wii version, which had you sitting down and using your hands to slap the mat, the responsiveness isn’t quite as satisfying.

The same goes for Stone Hopper, where players jump across a series of stone columns and tilt the Joy-Con to highlight the next stone you’re aiming for. We found jumps registering less effectively in this game, especially when trying to register numerous quick jumps in a row, and struggled to complete the stages in a reasonable time as a result. These are exceptions to the rule, however, and for the most part players will find that the game responds to their inputs accurately enough to make challenging their scores and best times a viable proposition.

The main mode for single players is Outdoor Island, which itself consists of three separate options: Free Play (where you can simply pick any minigame), Outdoor Adventure (where you take on three preset series of minigames) and Exercise Training (where you choose from a number of curated playlists of minigames designed to suit a specific exercise need).

As a way of keeping fit regularly, the Exercise Training option is perfectly fine. It's not going to replace any of your other fitness games and you probably shouldn’t cancel the gym membership just yet, but take on a high enough intensity Exercise Training course and you'll work up a sweat as long as you play it properly.

The main problem the game suffers from, however, is a general lack of depth. Once the three brief Outdoor Adventure courses are completed and the credits roll (which can take less than two hours) all that’s really left is to either incorporate the Exercise Training mode into a daily routine or take on the separate minigames in Free Play mode to try and beat your previous scores and times.

There’s also a Challenges section which is essentially an Achievements system where you can earn badges for performing certain tasks. This adds some extra replay value, but unless you’re a die-hard who’s intent on collecting all 100 or so of them, it's possible to see everything this game has to offer within a day or two.

There’s nothing massively offensive or terrible about what’s on offer here, it’s a perfectly competent and entertaining way of keeping fit. The only thing that holds it back is that there are better alternatives out there. Much like the Wii version was very much in the shadow of Wii Fit, it can’t be ignored that the Switch version is an apparent response to the success of Ring Fit Adventure, leg strap and all.

For that reason, the very fact that Ring Fit Adventure exists means that Active Life Outdoor Challenge is always going to be a runner-up at best. If you’ve fully exercised (pun always intended) everything Ring Fit has to offer and are looking for something else to mix up your fitness routine a bit, then this is a perfectly acceptable alternative. Just bear in mind that repetition will kick in fairly quickly, and unless you don't mind playing the same 16 minigames over and over, you’ll likely find yourself looking for another alternative before too long.

Conclusion

There's nothing inherently wrong with Active Life Outdoor Challenge. It's a charming enough game with controls that are responsive enough for the most part. Its main failing is a general lack of content, and the fact that the Joy-Con and leg strap combination isn't quite as fun as the original mat the Wii version came with. Ring Fit Adventure won't be sweating over the competition, then, but Family Trainer is still a pleasant enough diversion for fans of light CV.

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