The vast majority of upper-body exercises require the bundled, pilates-style resistance band, which is used for bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, shoulder raises, rows and the like, with the nunchuk and Wiimote measuring range of movement. I've never used a resistance band before, but I found the packaged one to be fairly useless - and no one could ever accuse me of being muscle-bound. It's even more pronounced during high-intensity workouts, where the leg exercises leave me wincing with exhaustion, while some of the extra-long arm routines end up more like lengthy stretching sessions.
You can, however, pick up stronger ones fairly cheaply, and it's something blokes in particular should consider if they really want to work it like Wolverine. The tutorial videos themselves are straightforward and easy to follow, and if you're mucking up a workout, you can skip out and check the video again with a single button press.
During exercises, Active also does a generally impressive job of monitoring your performance and letting you know if you're doing something wrong. It's limited, of course, to measuring movement either in one hand or both, and one leg, but unless out of some perverse vendetta against your terminally grinning trainer you are deliberately trying to cheat it, it works just fine. There are exceptions - I've had frequent issues registering side lunges, and occasionally it will lose track of what you're doing.
A further problem is with the connecting cord between nunchuk and Wiimote, which can reach its limit all too easily during certain upper body exercises, unless you're cursed with t-rex arms. One exercise requires you to raise alternate knees while snapping both arms down around it. Frankly, I'm too worried about snapping the cord to concentrate properly. But this is a minor bugbear in the grand scheme of things.
Outside of the gym, Active has a bunch of mini-games to mix things up. I've already mentioned Inline Skating, which should be called 'lacticacidboarding'. Elsewhere there are variations on boxing, tennis, baseball and basketball. Boxing's the most fun, a lively cardio workout where you punch specific targets, before switching to the bag for a frantic pummel.
As noted, you can enjoy a perfectly good workout with Active without ever needing the balance board, but if you have one buried in the back of a cupboard, it can be used to add an extra dimension to certain exercises. In boxing, for instance, kicking the heavy bag is added; while in tennis, by moving alternate legs off the board, lunges are worked into the routine.
It's also worth adding that you can workout with a friend, although to take full advantage of this you'll need to shell out another GBP 15 for an extra leg strap and resistance band. You'll know if that appeals to you.
Beyond the 30-Day Challenge there's a sizeable list of pre-set workouts of varying intensity, length and focus, and you have the option to create custom workouts incorporating as many or as few exercises as you like. There's a decent number of exercises in there, and you can mix and match easily enough, but it's a shame there's no option to download new workout plans and routines. No doubt EA will flood the market with billions of standalone spin-offs, but the option for more modest updates would have been welcome.
Once you've created a fitness profile, and chosen a blandly designed, lifeless avatar (it won't win any awards for art, and if you want something to stare at I'd suggest The Girls From Liberty X Toned), you're given a journal which records your fitness regime and offers up basic graphs to track performance.
Here you can also add in additional physical activities (like walking, swimming, yoga etc.), and fill out a 'lifestyle survey', which asks you routine questions about how many meals you've scoffed, how many glasses of water you've sloshed down, how stressed you feel and so on, then shares vapid nuggets of feelgood philosophy about how you should probably sleep more. Sadly, there's no check box for "I would have, but I decided to neck a bottle of vodka and play OutRun until 4am"). It's there if you want to use it, but I'm not convinced it's a great deal of use in its present form.
It should be obvious that Active, like any other fitness title, isn't a miraculous shortcut to marathon-smashing superfitness. And, far more than the charmingly diverting Wii Fit, you really have to want to get fit for it to work for you. But a little will can go a long way in Active. As it stands Active is better on legs than arms, you'll probably need to buy another band if you want to take it seriously, and it's more about gurning than grinning. And that's the point. This is even less a 'game', than Wii Fit. It is, as we've established, an interactive 'personal trainer'.
Should you buy it if you already own Wii Fit? Should you buy it instead of Wii Fit? Mileage always varies, and existing Wii Fit owners will know whether that's working for you. But if you're too poor/lazy/ashamed to join a gym and want to start burning calories while reducing your legs to melting jelly, Active wins hands down.
Wii Fit Plus is coming, with the promise of a bigger focus on targeted fitness. I tried it out earlier this week (check out next Monday's EGTV Show to see it in action), but only mini-games were available which, while undeniably entertaining, offered zero insight into its more serious fitness credentials.
So for now, while there's plenty of scope for performance enhancements, Active's the best there is. I'm still running. But, unlike the weeks after Wii Fit arrived, I'm also still playing.
8 / 10