Here at Gameplanet we’re quite willing to suffer for our art, to risk life and limb stepping out of our comfort zone and into the combat zone. Usually, any suffering is minor and limited to overworked trigger fingers and the double vision that comes from spending many hours staring at a screen. However the arrival of Sony’s latest fitness title: EyeToy Kinetic Combat has indroduced us to an entirely new level of suffering… and by that we mean prolonged physical pain. To give you an insight into just what we’re prepared to undergo in the name of a review, here’s a diary excerpt from one intrepid reviewer:

Day 1: I set up the EyeToy camera with its special lens to capture full-body motion, and shift the furniture around to make room for my mini dojo. This is practically a workout in itself and I don’t know that I’d care to do it every day. Other family members wander into the room for a look; one even brings snacks! They obviously think they are in for some cheap entertainment at my expense… and they are right.

The intro video with its super-fit, super-flexible young actors looks promising, if a little intimidating. I quickly flick through the health disclaimer, sparing it as much attention as the license agreement on newly installed software. Filling out my profile takes about five minutes and involves divulging some highly personal information such as age, gender, height, weight, and body shape, much to the amusement of my uninvited audience.

The next step is to choose one of the three modes on offer: Freestyle, Quick Play, and Personal Trainer. The first is a mix-n-match routine of activities selected by the player and the second is a single activity played solo or multiplayer. Both require a bit of inside experience and since I know absolutely nothing about Hung Gar Kung Fu - which forms the basis for all activities on EyeToy Kinetic Combat, I decide to bite the bullet and try the third option: a 16 week program designed to improve my martial arts abilities and overall fitness. Sounds good!

After selecting a trainer (Anna looks like she’ll go easier on me than Matt would), and filling out a few more details to determine my fitness level, I am introduced to Leon, the resident Hung Gar Kung Fu expert, and shown some background on the four different zones, or animal forms, as they are known. The plan is to spend one month in each zone, learning the basics in Dragon style, before adding speed and power in Tiger style, followed by agility and balance in Mantis style, and finally putting together everything I will have learned in Phoenix style. Well, that’s the ultimate goal… For now it’s back to the harsh reality of the uninitiated student with two left feet.

The screen splits into two; on one side Leon performs a sequence of moves, and on the other - superimposed over my own image, is a full body outline mirroring these moves. The idea is to stay within the outlines as much as possible; thanks to EyeToy Kinetic Combat’s nifty motion matching technology my ability to do so will determine my final grade – A for Absolutely Awesome, and E for Extreme Embarrassment.

Under Leon’s guidance I begin with an optional but recommended warm-up to prepare for the workout ahead. Thankfully this isn’t scored, because it takes a while to become accustomed to the timing and movements. Like the furniture shifting exercise, I feel as though I’ve already completed a full workout… and we haven’t even started yet.

We move onto a series of kicks and punches in the Dragon style. I clumsily execute the movements, exhibiting none of the grace and fluidity possessed by my instructor, and wishing there was a slow-motion mode for newbies like me. As we move Leon rattles off a constant patter of verbal instructions, but I am too busy trying to stay within the outlines to take in much of what is said.

Visual cues at top of the screen chart my progress in real time. There’s a running graph in one corner and a colour coded bar displaying how many repetitions are remaining, plus my performance for each rep: green for ‘pass’, yellow for ‘could do better’, and red for ‘fail’. By the time we have finished that first round I have a perfect line of red lights and an E to show for my efforts – although I’m convinced my baggy clothing has something to do with this. Anna supplies a suitably sympathetic and encouraging comment, designed to prevent me from throwing in the towel. I decide to put the towel to better use instead, and hobble off to the shower.

Day 2: I'm feeling a little stiff and sore today – particularly in the hamstrings and quadriceps. I attribute the discomfort to that cursed ‘horse stance’, a torturous form of half-squat designed to improve strength endurance in your legs, and from which position many Hung Gar moves begin and end.

After yesterday’s poor result I decide to experiment with dark, form-fitting clothing to see whether the camera tracks my movements more accurately (it does). Thankfully there’s no audience today; the novelty has obviously worn off. I undergo a repeat of yesterday’s workout and manage to attain a C grade. Feeling cocky, I show off some of my newly learned, authentic Shaolin Monks’ moves to the troops. They laugh at me, the philistines.

Day 3: Ouch! When I get out of bed this morning, most of my muscles – some of which I never knew existed - protest loudly. I seriously consider skipping the workout today, but those personal trainers are all-knowing and can track such details. They also know when to increase the intensity and challenge levels… something I don’t really need at this point in time.

Today it has taken me a long time to work up the courage to face Anna and Leon. It is evening when I eventually do step up to the plate, and the camera doesn’t pick up my movements as well as it did yesterday – even with all of the lights blazing. I realise that, in order to keep an accurate record of my workouts the lighting conditions must remain constant. In other words, I will have to exercise at approximately the same time each day. Disheartened and in pain, I cut the session short and crawl into bed.

Day 5: Okay, so I have skipped a day’s workout… but it’s all good. The aches and pains have lessened to a point where I can actually walk without grimacing, and I am finally getting the hang of those sequences. Today I manage to score a B on some routines and thrash a virtual sparring opponent, which encourages me to attempt some of the high intensity training games on offer.

After spending some 20 minutes striking targets and dodging flying objects with my instructor advising from the sidelines, I conclude it is entirely possible to enjoy these games having undergone no training whatsoever, but by using the moves I have learned I can achieve each game's objectives more effectively and efficiently. There's enough variation in the program to convince me to continue with it for the time being. Perhaps I'll even get a tatami mat for my mini dojo... really get into the spirit of things!

To anyone thinking of adding EyeToy Kinetic Combat to their PS2 wish list I would say that, as a serious fitness tool it has some excellent qualities that make it well worth consideration. Of course, it does require a certain level of co-ordination to be able to follow the instructor’s movements, and like all exercise regimes requires perseverance to reap any long term benefits. Simply put, stick with the program and you will see definite improvement in your overall fitness. EyeToy Kinetic Combat offers more variation, flexibility and value for money than any fitness program on the market – except perhaps for its predecessor.

Speaking of which, if you’re keen to get fit but the martial arts approach of this title doesn’t appeal, why not check out EyeToy Kinetic instead?