Nintendo’s had a weird relationship with fitness and video games. It started all the way back in the NES days with the Power Pad, a floor mat for use with games like Track and Field that’d have you running on the spot as you controlled your in-game avatar with your youthful energy. That ethos was at its most pronounced during the Wii era of course, what with its waggle Wiimotes, Wii Fit Balance boards and games that had you getting your arse off of the couch, making you move to control a video game.
Nintendo’s back at it, this time with Ring Fit Adventure for the Switch, a new game that tries harder than ever to be a game while trying its best to get you working up a sweat. In many ways, the most similar thing to Ring Fit Adventure is EA’s noble, but misguided attempt to get people fit, EA Sports Active for the Wii. That was something that I bought in my own noble, but misguided attempt to get fitter. As with that game, you strap a controller to your leg with an included strap that houses one of the Switch’s Joy-con controllers. Instead of a wired connection to a Wiimote though, you’ll be holding a Ring-Con controller into which the other Joy-con slots. The Ring-con is a bit like one of those Pilates resistance rings. It’s a solidly-constructed bit of kit, a steel band covered in a matte rubber that’s used in-game as something you can either squeeze or pull, utilising the sensitive tech in the Joy-Con to gauge how hard you’re pushing or pulling. Thanks to the Joy-con’s gyros, It can tell which direction you’re pointing the thing too.
The Joy-con that’s strapped to your leg will measure your running speed, how high you’re lifting your legs and also the pace and depth of your squats and lunges. Together, they measure all sorts of exercises and movements, and they do so exceedingly well, with my on-screen avatar exactly matching my movements. Where Ring Fit Adventure diverges from other exergames though is that this one puts an emphasis on the “game bit.” Instead of being a collection of unrelated minigames, Ring Fit Adventure is a simplistic but engaging action RPG that has you (quite literally) running across a fantasy world, battling beasts, looting chests and levelling up as you try to track down and defeat a swole, egotistical dragon who’s a caricature of the very worst aspects of gym culture. He’s also your problem, because you’re the one who let him out of his conveniently ring-shaped prison when you stumbled upon it. By unleashing the evil beast, you also become spiritually attached to the Ring itself; a living prison and a chatty companion.
To traverse this linear on-rails experience, you need to actually pick your legs up and run on the spot. When you encounter stairs, or goopy swamps, you need to pick your legs up even higher by doing knee lifts. You can also squeeze on the Ring-Con to shoot out a blast of air, or pull on it to hoover up coins and medals scattered in a level. If you point the ring towards your feet and push, you’ll be propelled upwards into the air. Don’t worry if you live in an upstairs apartment, have a disability or don’t want to make a noise; in the game’s options you can switch out running for squatting, or disable that aspect of the game completely to focus on upper-body exercise. And there’s plenty of that to be had.
When you encounter an enemy, you’ll take it out using a series of reps of exercises across various disciplines, focusing on arms, abs, legs, general fitness and yoga. They’re colour coded to the monsters you face, but they also run on a cooldown timer. While you might be able to get by doing slightly easier Yoga poses to dole out attack damage, sooner or later you’re going to have to attack using squats, or arm and leg presses. Gosh, you may even have to get on the floor and do a series of crunches. As you progress and level up, you begin to unlock an array of new exercise to perform, each doling out different attacks. Enemies fight back, and you’ll have to press the ring into your stomach for some ab crunches in defence. Given how many of these reps you have to do just to vanquish even little baddies, it becomes quite a workout. There’s also a large focus on form, with an in-game trainer making sure you’re standing right, making the best of your time working out.
I’m not the fittest bloke on the planet, but I’ve recently taken to regular gym sessions so I’m far fitter than I was just a few months ago. Even so, my first Ring Fit Adventure session had me work up a decent sweat – though I think that’s because it’s a little different to the cardio-focused workouts I do. You won’t just have sweat to show for your time though; the game tracks the calories you burn, and can even measure your heart-rate when you put your thumb over the right Joy-Con’s IR sensor. That’s not something I knew the Switch could even do. I compared to my fitness tracker, and it was pretty accurate, too. I will admit that it’s also been hard fitting this game into my life on top of my regular gym days – but I think it’s really meant for people who don’t generally exercise, and they’ll see the most benefit.
On top of the adventure, the game comes with a few other features. You can do the game’s exercises as standalone mini-games, generating exercise “playlists” to help you hone certain activities and areas you’d like to improve on. There are also a few fun, bespoke minigames to round out an exceptional package. One of my favourite features though, is that you can use the Ring-con outside of the game, and it’ll still track up to 500 crunches. When you play the game again, it’ll give you a little gift to use in-game. I keep the ring near my desk, and when I’m sat here, thinking or reading I’ll do a bit of exercise that doesn’t feel like a waste of time.
There are some minor negatives though. When hung over my shorts, the sling for the left Joy-con had a habit of sliding down my leg, something I mitigated by strapping it directly to my leg (praise the maker that it’s machine washable. Ring, your sassy companion, also just won’t shut up while you’re doing reps, his guiding cheers becoming more annoying with every minute. Once you’ve unlocked enough attacks, it also becomes a bit easy in that you can easily pick and choose the easier exercises that don’t make you sweat as much, but that would be a personal bit of defeat.
After two weeks of use, I can’t really say whether or not Ring Fit Adventure is leading to a fitter, stronger me – but it’s the best example of gamified exercise, and one of the best damn incentives to work out that I’ve ever played.
Last Updated: November 4, 2019