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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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EyeToy: Kinetic Combat

It's a... hhh... hhh... a... fitness... hhh... Give me a... minute... hhhhh...

I was going to start this review with an admission of my fitness level to indicate my aptness for training with Kinetic Combat, the martial arts version of Sony's previous Eyetoy workout title. Perhaps, though, I should first point out that I live in the shadow of my brother, who earns a living as a semi-professional weightlifter and sports teacher. So while he's spent the last few years working on his muscle mass, scoffing four large protein shakes and a whole chicken for breakfast, I, on the other hand, am a gamer whose lungs can just take the occasional up-tempo techno tune on DDR.

It's not all bad, though: I'm a skinny twenty-something with a diet that at least attempts to include five portions of fruit and veg a day, and I can comfortably run for the bus without collapsing in a heap. I was also an avid gym member a couple of years ago, but there's always an excuse nowadays: too expensive, too far away. So while, I'm nowhere near the threat of obesity that plagues my nation of birth (Scotland, naturally), I've got a long way to go before I enter that buff six-pack zone.

Anyway, today I punched a tiger in the face.

Which is to say, not an admission of my hatred for those big cats (bloody stripy orange bastards) but one of several games included in Kinetic Combat that purport to increase your level of well-being through martial arts. It's based around a discipline of kung fu known as Hung Gar, which is adapted here to teach moves and stances as a means of keeping in shape.

Kick, Punch

The game is divided into five different zones. Dragon, which acts as an introduction, Tiger which focuses on strength and endurance, Mantis on agility, and Phoenix which ties it all together. Each one of these zones is made up of a moveset tutorial and exercise programme, a sparring section, a couple of mini-games, and what is effectively a simple boss section that asks you to use what you've learnt to defeat the zone's guardian in a three round fight (and isn't that good). The final zone is a special one that concentrates on breathing and massage techniques to round off that faux-Oriental martial arts experience.

Our trainer in the middle of a Hung Gar move. Is it an irony that the've taken a Kung Fu discipline with a name that sounds like how most people probably got unfit in the first place?

All of this is tied up in the game's main selling point, a prescribed 16-week course that takes you through about an hour of a warm-up, exercise, warm-down routine every couple of days, with a month spent progressing through each zone. In fact, the course is tied into the PS2's internal clock, so there's no getting ahead of the instructor. If you really want to do that, there's both the Freestyle option which lets you piece together your own routine from everything on offer, and Quick Play which randomly selects a few games to dip into.

When entering your profile it'll calculate your weight, ask a few questions about your general fitness level and tailor the challenges to your responses. Speaking as someone of my physical persuasion, if you're willing to take it seriously and follow its tasks, it does provide a decent workout. Indeed, no more than you could ask of any home bought fitness video, yet with the added depth of both length and interaction. Having said that, though, be aware that there's obviously a lot of moving about. Because it needs your whole body in frame, even with the accompanying wide-angle lens attached to the front of the Eyetoy, you'll require a good deal of space not normally needed for the other peripheral's titles. Even I had to temper my moves a little in order to avoid kicking in the glass door in the only room in the house that offered both suitable space and light.

You All Remember

Why are all the people they show doing this always fit already? No, don't answer that one.

Admittedly, this is more of an exercise tool than a martial arts trainer. You may be punching and kicking merrily away, but the obvious lack of a personal instructor to admonish you for your habitually lazy uppercut method, can't be entirely corrected. It does monitor and score you in some way for your technique, but the Eyetoy's problem has always been one of slight inaccuracy if the light level isn't perfect.

Then again, if you treat it like something that lets you bounce around and move your limbs while an eternally patient fitness trainer gives softly spoken words of encouragement, you can't go far wrong. Think of it more as a refined alternative to the previous game in the series. Like any fitness package, if you don't cheat yourself, you'll get as much out as you put in. It may lack any spirited level of excitement in its features individually - the various Eyetoy mini-games which all revolve around the theme of hitting and avoiding targets get too samey and won't exclusively keep your interest - yet they compliment the overall experience well.

And honestly, while I obviously can't speak for the entire four month course (not yet, at least), what I did do felt like I'd accomplished something with my body, even if it was just the re-awakening of muscles previously thought lost forever.

I suppose if you lack the motivation required, you could always release those endorphins by bidding a stupidly high price for a PS3 on eBay this Christmas. Alternatively, if you've never heard of fresh air, get this and you can chopsock your way to the front of the pre-order queue come March. Now what's going to make you feel better about yourself?

Well, yeah. You're a gamer too, aren't you?

7 / 10