Family Trainer sees Namco Bandai joining the Wii-Fitness generation with a dance mat game that emulates Wii-Fit’s Exergaming credentials. As you would hope, the game also stays true to the developer’s novelty style, and (like their game Quickspot DS) avoids the slightly stuffy nature of the balance board activities.

It’s one of those type of game genres…

Fitness games are only recently becoming a genre in their own right. Previously, rhythm action games would cover these titles. With the release of the Wii and related peripherals however, a new Exergaming genre is emerging.

Games that motivate you to exercise by making it entertaining, and tracking your progress, are usually intended to supplement existing exercise routines rather than replace them.

But why is it any better than the others…

The main novelty with Family Trainer (Active Life Outdoor Challenge in the states) is the extra large two person dance mat controller. This can accommodate two people for multiplayer games (such as running, and hurdles) without the need to buy any more peripherals. Many activities pair the mat with additional input from the Wii-mote (rowing and pumping), while others place the player in the center and task them with hitting particular zones in a limited time (stomp-a-mole).

The game is split into a multiplayer adventure mode that takes you through some preset activities, and single player events that focus more on exercise and times then direct competition. As you work your way through the adventure modes you unlock additional activities in the single player game. Each event can be played at three difficulty settings that not only make things harder, but introduce additional game play elements. The hurdling, for example, benefits from tricky speed ramps on the harder levels.

The majority of the games involve jumping or running on the spot, and certainly get your heart rate and metabolism pumping – running, hurling, sprinting to name a few. Other games are more technical and focus on co-ordination rather than fitness – games like the foot stomping whack-a-mole or trick filled trampolining. The only down side here is the difficulty to ensure you stay on the right spot when playing the game. It is easy to drift off and press the wrong buttons. A little practice though and most people will get used to working the same spot without straying.

So what experience should I play this game for…

Where Wii-Fit attracts those with a serious desire for fitness and exercise, and Wii-Sports suites more competitive types, Family Trainer provides a home for those looking for fun and exuberance. Playing or watching events like the trampolining are thoroughly entertaining. The combination of jumping in time with the on screen character then using both feet to punch in the tricks feels surprisingly like the real thing. Combine this with competitiveness of straight events like running or hurdling and you have an experience that matches Wii-Fit for exercise and easily out does it for fun.

And when can I take a break…

You need to give Family Trainer a little time to begin with, especially if you’re not used to the dance mat controller. Additionally, some games can seem a little simple at first, but repeated plays reveals a great degree of depth. Once you are familiarized, a single player session can be completed in as little as ten minutes, although our Personal Trainer tells us that a good hour is really needed before any fitness benefits will be accrued.

This is a great game for who…

Family Trainer is certainly more youngster friendly than Wii-Fit. The biggest challenge is keeping them on the spot though. Our youngest found it frustrating to have to run without going anywhere. Here at least Wii-Fit’s jogging (that let’s you run around the room with the Wii-mote in your back pocket) has the edge.
The fun factor will win out for most novice and intermediate players though. The sheer range of activities and inventive ways to use the mat (sitting, straddling, standing and jumping) create an experience that should connect with a range of players.

Is Family Trainer an attempt to cash-in on the Wii Fit phenomenon? The game’s title hints there may be exercise involved, and it comes bundled with a peripheral you stand on. But Wii Fit is made by Nintendo – new, sophisticated, lifestyle Nintendo. Family Trainer is made by Namco-Bandai. Let’s explore what this means in practice.

The Wii Fit box features pale grey silhouettes of female figures performing yoga poses. The Family Trainer box features a mainly orange photograph of an over-excited family. It looks like it was taken from the MB Games image archive (folder: “Twister box art 1992 – 94”). The Dad is wearing jeans that are too short, white socks and no-brand trainers. He hasn’t shaved. The little boy has a haircut that would get him nailed to the climbing frame in any self-respecting British playground. The Mum looks dead inside.

The Wii Fit box features no text other than the title of the game in discrete grey and green type. The Family Trainer box has the title of the game in giant orange letters. It also has the same message displayed in six different languages (“INCLUYE UNA ALFOMBRILLA ESPECIAL DE JUEGO!”). There are some stick shapes that look like they’re pretending to be the kanji figures for Family Trainer but have just been made up.

Inside the Wii Fit box, you will find the balance board: a sleek, white, wireless peripheral that looks and feels like it is the result of serious technological research and development. Inside the Family Trainer box, you will find an extra-large dance mat covered in blue and orange. It features paragraph-long safety warnings (again in six different languages) about the dangers of playing while drunk or on drugs, plus what to do if the mat becomes “wet with sweat or other liquid”, and a 2-metre long cable. The sound it makes when you step on it suggests it’s filled with crisp packets.

So, while booting up the Family Trainer game disc, you suspect you’re in for a different experience. Sure enough, you’re greeted with a huge fanfare of electronic trumpets and some intro music so jolly it would make Santa jealous. The screen is filled with sky blues, apple greens, pillar box reds and Lucozade oranges, and it feels like everything’s going to be all right. There’s no weighing or height measurements, no blathering about BMI or your fictional body age. The single-player mode does have an “Exercise Training” mode, but all this means is you choose which part of your body you want to “exercise” and you’re presented with a relevant mini-game.

There are 15 in total, which isn’t a huge selection – but unlike with so many Wii mini-game compilations, they’re not just four basic ideas wearing different hats. Highlights include Mole Stomper, which is Whack-A-Mole except you use your feet to hammer those little round heads into the ground. It’s very silly and a lot of fun. In Pipe Slider you sit on the mat, using your hands to steer left and right as you avoid obstacles and aim for speed boosts. Watching me play this alone, Eurogamer’s MMO expert Oli Welsh suggested it looked “spectacularly lame”, to which I suggested it’s more fun that it looks, and anyway shouldn’t he be punching rats with a hammer in the mines of Nerzzerzzaroth.

Kayak Attack involves standing up and lifting alternate legs to steer your boat while swinging the remote around like an oar. This can be quite tricky, and it’s a bit disappointing when you’re trying to paddle furiously round a bend and the game warns you that you’re “swinging the remote too hard”. Still, it’s fun, especially when you go over the rainbow bits at the side of the river and it makes your boat go all fast.

Most of the games revolve around running, jumping or a combination of both. In Sprint Challenge you just run on the spot, except you’re not really running, just jiggling your feet as fast as possible like Michael Flatley after too much orange squash; the best part is the bit at the end where it informs you of your top speed (I am proud to say I can run 75 miles per hour).