2 Days of EA Sports Active 2 for Kinect

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EA Sports Active 2 is the most ambitious Kinect workout title. In addition to the trainer-led workouts of the Wii original, the new version adds a heart rate monitor and a social fitness tracking website. I recently picked up a copy, and have found it mostly delivers on its promises albeit with some noticeable shortcomings.

The initial setup of the game is a bit lengthy. You'll be learning how to pair the heart rate monitor with the Xbox 360 and setting up your profile and avatar before you can even begin your workout. The setup is easy enough, but it is time-consuming. I completed this setup and launched directly into the 9-week program which looked like the meat of the experience.

This assumption is most likely true although selecting it resulted in my trainer (also a Devon) proceeding to kick my ass all over my own living room… all at medium intensity! I'm certainly not in terrific shape, but I'm not in bad shape either. I have been known to ride a bike; I walk a good bit every day at my job; and I'm mindful of my diet. The game didn't really seem to care.

I was wishing the game had given me a bit more guidance before turning me loose to figure things out on my own. For the most part, it's is very good at handholding. For example, each new exercise is introduced with a helpful tutorial video. However, in the case of where to begin once my character had been created, the game fell a bit short.

I ended up quitting that program in favor of the 3-week cardio program which is very satisfying at the medium intensity. Players might want to start with individual workouts and build up to one of the programs. I would have loved for the game to assess my fitness level and choose a program automatically based on that assessment rather than having to blindly stumble through the process myself.

As of this writing, I have completed two workouts in my own program, buddied up with my wife for a workout in her easy-intensity cardio program, and completed most of a one-off workout — the reason for that not being completed are detailed a bit later. The workouts consist mostly of typical exercises like push-ups and squats with the occasional game-like activity peppered in for variety.

Before Active 2, I had never worked out with a trainer. I found the direction and encouragement the virtual trainer provides very satisfying. If you're having trouble properly completing an exercise, the trainer will try to tell you what you're doing wrong. Start struggling near the end of a set of repetitions, and the trainer will count out the final reps. The trainer even appears on-screen at the beginning and end of your workouts to lead you in warm-up and cool-down activities.

Although the trainer is great, he sometimes can't tell you what you're doing wrong. My first ever workout was never completed. I was on exercise 15 of 22 in a 20 minute workout. The exercise was V Crunches — my first seated exercise. You typically play by mirroring your avatar. So, I tried to turn my body the same way my avatar did. He was angled about 45 degrees from the screen. I started doing my crunches and noticed my movements were not registering properly.

I found I could turn slightly more toward the screen at the extension in the exercise and the game would recognize my movement. Then, I could turn back to have it recognize the contraction. Unfortunately, this made the exercise exponentially more difficult. I had to quit which resulted in none of my exercises up to that point in the workout being counted. It was a bummer to say the least.

I have since learned that floor exercises are always done at a 90 degree angle to the screen. This brings me to another point. Remember the hullabaloo about Kinect space requirements? EA Sports Active 2 turns that up to 11. I had already cleared about 10-12 feet of play area in my living room and found I needed about 3 feet more for Kinect to properly register the floor exercises. They would still work before, but I had a persistent "Move back from the TV" message displayed on-screen.

For all the depth of the stat tracking and information presented here, it left me wanting more. It takes very basic nutritional information and uses this to fill your "gauge" which is a composite score based on your exercise and nutrition for the day, but it never really makes any specific recommendations for nutrition based on this information.

The same goes for other exercises done outside of the game. They can be recorded using the journal, but they don't count toward total calories burned. Once this information is composited into your gauge which is scored out of 100, it seems to never be liberated from it again.

Active 2's singular social feature, Groups, is very superficial. You can see a list of all members of your group in a table with seven statistics to compare to your own. I can click the name of a group member to see a bit more detail, but that's it. It very much seems like an afterthought.

Perhaps the biggest downfall in the game is with its interface. It is very poorly designed for the Kinect. You will find yourself navigating multiple levels of menus trying to palm tiny menu selections and waiting quite a while for the next menu to load. It appears as though the menu was designed for a controller, but, quite frankly, it's a bit of a pain to keep grabbing a controller to navigate and then find a good place for it while I'm working out. I would much prefer the interface itself not be part of the workout.

Minor complaints aside, EA Sports Active 2 is so far proving to be a great fitness tool. For someone who knows little about fitness but still puts a value on it, it's nice to have guidance about what I need to be doing in an exercise routine. The workouts are fun. Most importantly, I now lie in bed typing out this review and, before I started, my fingers were the only part of me not sore and burning. That's good, right?

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