It seems there’s nothing that Nintendo love more that managing to bring their weird and wonderfully experimental games consoles into the public consciousness and then throwing fitness games and peripherals onto the market. We’ve seen it before with Wii Fit and its balance board, and now for the Nintendo Switch, with Ring Fit Adventure.
Ring Fit Adventure is made up of several parts. There’s the ring, an elasticated garter for a Joy-Con (or a pistol if you’re a Bond girl in a pinch), and the game that brings these together, using them to track your motion and give you a workout in your living room. This could very easily have been a dry and dull fitness game, with as much personality as, well… a trip to your nearest gym, but Nintendo have instead built a game around fitness and working out in the form of an RPG.
The centrepiece to the whole experience is, of course, the Ring Fit itself. It’s a sturdy, but pleasingly flexible rubberised ring that you can squeeze and stretch to your heart (and arm strength’s) delight, always bouncing back to its perfectly round shape. There’s a clear orientation to it, with two breathable fabric handgrips and a plastic housing at the top into which you slide the right Joy-Con – you can tell which way round it is because the buttons need to face you.
In the RPG adventure that gives the game one third of its name, you play a nameless fitness person who’s just wandering around, minding their own business, when they get tricked into releasing the evil fitness dragon Dragaux from his prison with the magical talking fitness ring…. less imaginatively called Ring. You and Ring then partner up, chasing after Dragaux in the video game equivalent of a Rocky montage slowed back down to real time.
Where most RPGs will have you twiddling an analogue stick to move through the world, here you’re literally running on the spot to move along the set track through each level, your movement tracked by the Joy-Con strapped to your left thigh. Meanwhile, you’re holding the ring in front of you, able to fire out air blasts to break objects you see, hoover up things laying around, or stream a jet of air into the floor to float across gaps. Alongside some bright and nicely stylised visuals, it all helps to gently distract from the fact that you are, well, running on the spot. Really the only thing missing is the forward momentum that a treadmill would provide.
Every once in a while, though, you’ll bump into enemies simply lurking around the world, now that Dragaux’s free, and it’s here that the rest of Ring Fit Adventure’s exercise chops get a workout in turn-based battle. You have a set of up to six physical activities to choose as attacks, including squats, chair pose, and compressing the ring above your head to start with. You can pick whichever one you want, going through a set number of reps, dealing damage each time depending on how well you mirror the action, power or pose demonstrated by the game. Then it’s time to defend with an abs press, squishing the ring horizontally into your abs as enemies attack. Or not. Sometimes they zone out and get bored.
As you make your way through the opening few worlds, this is a game that really starts to put the reps into repetition. You only have a handful of attacks to choose from, after all, and you’re doing 20 ring squeezes or 15 squats, or 10 leg raises each time. Attacks go on cooldown, so you can’t do the same thing back to back, but there’s a definite mental fatigue that I find can set in when considering this as a game.
And you really do have to think of this as a game. While it’s sure to appeal in some ways to those who regularly frequent the gym, this is structured as most games are to start out with absolute beginners in mind. You have the eerily faceless Tipp turning up to run you through a warm up and cooldown, you have the game suggesting after around 15 minutes of play that you call it quits for the day, and you only very gradually earn new elements to the Adventure, whether it’s new exercises, the ability to craft smoothies, mini-games or levelling up and seeing your #Gains to attack and defence. In other words, it’s perfect for someone like me who’s toward the wrong end of the couch-to-5K scale.
Of course, that’s just the Adventure. There’s also other modes as well, with a Custom mode that lets you dive straight into all of the exercises that the game features, following routines that the game suggests or that you create to work on various parts of your body, and also including the more control oriented exercise of yoga in this.
Then there’s party games that – and I can’t quite believe I’m going to say this – might actually be quite fun in a party setting, just like in the original teaser trailer. For easy pass-the-ring multiplayer, those that only need the ring and not the thigh tricking are marked as such, and they take those motions used elsewhere and turn them into more overt games. You could be holding the ring over your head and bending to avoid incoming bombs, squatting to charge up and bounce your character to collect coins, or tilting, squeezing and pulling the ring for a frenzied game of whack-a-mole.
Throughout the entire game, the experience can be tailored to your own fitness, tracking your progress in a variety of different ways. To start with, you’re asked to push and pull the ring, to set a manageable bar for your strength, as well as your jogging and sprinting speed. Those form the baseline for the game’s difficulty that you can adjust whenever you like, and there’s plenty of accessibility options to let you turn off certain exercise types and substitute them for button presses. That’s wonderful for accessibility and something that Nintendo really ought to shout about more; this game can cater and adapt to those with physical disabilities as well.
There’s even some consideration for your downstairs neighbour if you live in a flat. Running through the adventure will create no small amount of stomping on your floor, and I’m certain that more than a few brooms would be banged on ceilings were it not for the “Silent” mode, which replaces jogging with mini-squats. A little painful when squats are still one of your main attacks, but you know how the saying goes…
The end of each level in the Adventure pops up a few interesting stats, throwing XP at you for each exercise and repetition you performed, as well as telling you the time you took and an estimate of the calories you burned. That last stat can be estimated off a generic weight, or made more accurate if you’re willing to tell Nintendo how heavy you are. Additionally, the IR camera on the right Joy-Con can even be used to check your heart beat after a level by pressing your thumb to it. It’s not going to be the most accurate thing out there, and the graph shown on screen often struggles to show defined peaks and troughs, but it was in the same ballpark as my cheap as chips fitness band.
You might initially think that the Ring Fit peripheral is just a dumb bit for plastic, rubber and springy metal, but it soon becomes clear that there’s more to it than that. It naturally taps into the motion sensing abilities of the Joy-Con, accurately tracking the orientation of the device, but there’s nothing in the Joy-Con to determine the force you’re putting into the ring. There’s clearly some electronics in that plastic shell, revealed when you discover the idle Mutltitask Mode that’s usable even when not playing the game.
With the game and console turned off, simply click in the analogue stick of the Joy-Con and it comes to life, letting you track squeezes and pulls that can then give bonus XP and cash to your character when you next load up the game. As you do so, there’s some adorable little beeps to say you’ve passed the thresholds, which I initially thought were tapping into the musical capabilities of HD rumble, but aren’t.
After years of sedentary guilt, Ring Fit Adventure has managed to get me up off my bum and squatting on the spot – I live in a flat, so Silent mode is great once I’ve found the not-so-creaky floorboards. Whether or not it sticks, I’ll have to let you know, but it’s done a good (if initially repetitive) job of feeding a range of exercises into my daily life this past week. It’s not just for beginners though, and could easily appeal to those looking to gameify their workouts.