What is this? Reviewing a game—and not even really a game, at that—that is 14 months old? Do not worry; there is a method to my madness, which I will make clear very shortly.

Personal Trainer: Walking debuted on May 26, 2009, and I do not doubt that marketing-types at Nintendo expected it to latch on to the Wii Fit craze, driving the fitness-crazed masses to pick up a DS to go along with their single-purpose Wii, capping its cunning plan with a $50 price point. I already own a DS, I already own a Wii, I still use Wii Fit (Plus, actually), and I have said for a year plus: (emphatically) no.

But something changed between then and now.

That something is what inevitably happens to all the games that Nintendo expects will push a lot more copies than they actually end up doing: they acquire clearance status. (Moment of silence for Elite Beat Agents, please. Thank you.) Personal Trainer: Walking got, I hear, a really screaming deal at Target stores, but where I spotted it about a month or so ago was in the DS aisle at Best Buy, for $20.

When Wii Fit Plus added step tracking—a rudimentary option, mind, merely giving you the option to punch in some numbers from your own pedometer which would then be charted—I started investigating pedometers. Most of the ones available were the pendulum-based mechanical variety, of which I found the most reliable was a freebie from when McDonald's had that brief spell where they pretended they were healthy. I had sort of given up on the whole thing when I was cruising the aisles at Best Buy looking for bargains (why I look, I do not know, I have almost certainly purchased every DS game that is remotely worth buying) and spotted this deal (oh wait, that's why I look.)


In this delightful $20 box are two pedometers—sorry, Activity Meters... which is probably a better name because "pedometer" is really an awful word to type on the Internet—neither of which are based on that old noisy pendulum design (seriously, try walking around a quiet office with one of those old buggers clipped to your hip, they can be worse than squeaky shoes on the self-consciousness meter) but instead have nifty accelerometer-based step-counting logic. They do not have their own digital readouts, but what they do have is the ability to count how many steps you took for every minute of the past few days, which you will be able to review when you pop in the magical and revolutionary DS card and sync it up.

Syncing is done by way of an infrared port on the edge of the meter. But wait, you say! The DS doesn't have an infrared port! Here is where the magic comes in: the entire Personal Trainer: Walking card is made entirely of that cool black infrared-channeling plastic and there is a corresponding infrared sensor inside the game card itself! In effect, after you slip the card in, your DS does have an infrared port on it! So you hold down the button and the cute little anthropomorphic Activity Meter on screen chats with you a little bit (I think he has anthropomorphic Balance Board envy) and then walks you through a chart of the past day's walking, showing you highlights like how long you sat on your ass and did nothing, when you mowed the lawn, and expressing shock at how many steps per minute you were apparently racking up that time when you forgot to take him out of your pocket and rode your exercise bike at top speed.

Personal Trainer: Walking will collect this data and let you do all sorts of things with it. At the most basic level, your total steps per day are tallied and you can see if you surpassed your step count target (3,000 by default, but you can adjust it in increments of 1,000 as you see fit.) You actually don't even need to use the game to see this; there's a little indicator light on the Activity Meter that will flicker red when you haven't reached your target for the day (yes, it resets itself overnight, you don't have to do a thing) and will start flickering green when you have. On a more advanced level, it the game will categorize your step patterns and call you some sort of animal (my first day I was a panda, now I am alternating between ant and horse) as well as let you go back and peek at condensed versions of your daily charts.


Beyond that, there are a slew of other little activities, from being able to compare your pathetic step counts to some guy who pulls off six figures in a single day either by running a day-long marathon or putting his Activity Meter in the clothes dryer, to tallying all the Walking players' steps together (or number of times their shorts hit the dryer's interior wall) and seeing how far we've all got in our quest to walk right off Earth to the moon (which we reached last August; eat that, Neil) and now onward to Mars (only 35 billion steps to go!) There are also more personal activities like an excruciatingly slow picture drawn by your Mii traipsing around (yes, the game has Miis, you can import them from your Wii or create them right on your DS) the ground while clues are given so you can try to guess what it is before you've spent all your steps drawing it out. It's usually ridiculously obscure. I think I've guessed maybe one.

There is also a multiplayer activity, in case you happened to give the other Activity Meter to someone else in your family. I almost did this with my daughter, but then I realized that it was going to get really inconvenient really fast to share the DS card to log our progress, so we aren't doing that. But in there you can jointly try to light up a house with your steps (you can also do this solo!) If you don't have another person handy, you can also attach the meter to your dog. I don't like dogs. I don't have a dog. I have cats and I think they would hate it, so I haven't tried it.

But yes, silliness of the activities aside, the really great bit about Personal Trainer: Walking and why I am even writing about it 14 months after its release is that if you already have and carry a DS around, it is the best pedometer you will ever get for $20 or under. It seems to be very accurate as long as you aren't doing things that would easily confuse a pedometer, and it gives you an almost-frightening-sometimes view of your whole day, not just a number totaling up the steps you took since you punched the reset button. I should know; I have tried many pedometers around that price point, and found them lacking. But here, right here, is a device I am happy with, helping me achieve my goal of spending more time on my feet by giving me reams of data to check out—much like Wii Fit's constant feedback did for getting me to really get into and stick with my exercise routines there. (Speaking of Wii Fit, I wish it linked up with Plus somehow—but it doesn't. Shame!) But yes, if you are into this whole counting-your-steps thing, check it out. It's not like it's ridiculously expensive... anymore.