Ring Fit Adventure promises more than just a workout for your thumbs – you use real-life exercises to explore a world and battle enemies. Is it a short-lived novelty or a gateway to long-term fitness?
I’m sure I looked ridiculous. In front of my TV, I was jogging on the spot, squeezing a ring and squatting to make my on-screen character run, float and jump through the Ring Fit world and battle a buff purple dragon in a leotard. But I was working up a sweat and, unlike in any gym I’ve been to, I was having fun.
I entered this trial expecting to find a novelty I’d grow bored of in a couple of weeks. However, a month in I’m still going. That’s because the “adventure” part of Ring Fit Adventure really works! While I enjoyed the strenuous and varied workouts, just like my (failed) teenage mission to complete Zelda on Super Nintendo, I really want to beat the 20 Ring Fit worlds.
The premise of Ring Fit Adventure is ridiculous. Your character finds a talking ring (imaginatively named Ring), which takes you on a quest to defeat a ‘roided-up dragon (Dragaux). You literally run through levels on a fixed path, squeezing the ring to fire puffs of air at crates and stretching it to vacuum up coins. Along the way your progress is halted by monsters. You do different aerobic, strength and yoga exercises to defeat Matta (a yoga mat), Kennelbell (a kettle bell), and other exercise-equipment-themed enemies. At the end of each world, you take on Dragaux in a boss battle.
Anyone who’s played Zelda, Mario World or any other role-playing game will recognise many of Ring Fit’s game elements:
The link between game and exercise is possible because the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers can sense motion. One Joy-Con goes into a pouch strapped to your left thigh; the other slots into a squeezable pilates-style ring, about the size of a car steering wheel (the ring and pouch come with the game). In combination, the controllers recognise various running motions, aerobic activity, yoga movements and strength exercises.
Gameplay would quickly become tiresome if my character didn’t respond to my movements, such as running when I did. However, the game was impressive at recognising what I was doing. My on-screen character mimicked my movement closely enough for me to adjust my exercise form. The on-screen Ring, your in-game personal trainer, also offers advice. I strained to set my character’s hair on fire (yes, really), which showed I was performing an exercise correctly.
Nintendo has previously attempted to fuse exercise with video games, with Wii Fit. That included an accessory balance board that combined with the consoles’ motion-sensing controllers. The problem was Wii Fit didn’t get anyone fit – the exercise was mild and most people gave up quickly.
Nintendo has learnt from its Wii Fit experience – Ring Fit delivers a proper workout. Before starting the adventure, you calibrate your jogging style and strength (by pushing and pulling on the ring). Then you decide how intense you want the workout to be (from mild to intense).
I’m active most days, either playing football or tennis, climbing or cycling. The inbuilt assessment put me at difficulty level 21 (out of 30) and I chose the third of four intensity levels.
I was doing exercises I wouldn’t normally, such as planking and squats. Instead of planking for planking’s sake, I was saving the Ring Fit world from Dragaux.
Those settings gave me a decent workout, completing exercises in sets of 21 and needing between 2 and 10 sets to beat different monsters. After half an hour I was working up a real sweat and muscle burn.
You can adjust the settings at any time to make your workout harder and the in-game monsters stronger. Of course, you could make it much easier. But, as I’m sure the rage-filled purple dragon would tell you, you’re only fooling yourself.
There’s strategy, too. The game includes dozens of different exercises, but you can only choose six for each battle. Different monsters take more damage from certain exercises – encouraging you to work more on abs, arms, chest or legs to beat them faster. And some monsters join forces. I realised part-way into an intense boss battle that Dragaux was using Matta the yoga mat to recover health – my attacks were only damaging to my own (real, not virtual) energy level, until I got rid of Matta. Grrrrr!
As you would for any home workout, you need a clear space to exercise. The difference here is you need that space in front of your TV. A space about 4x3m is plenty, though being tall I couldn’t complete exercises requiring high reaches without hitting the ceiling, and I couldn’t exercise in the early morning as my TV room is directly above a bedroom.
Ring Fit isn’t limited to role-play adventure. A custom mode lets you create sets of the exercises, which may appeal to people who like visiting the gym. However, the workout you get from Ring Fit isn’t comparable to a gym session lifting weights or pushing through a high intensity aerobic activity. It’s more akin to pilates or dynamic yoga – a combination of high-rep strength exercises, stretching and a moderate aerobic workout.
There are standalone arcade-type games you can dip into as well (also used in some of the main adventure’s side quests). The best are addictive little games where you, for example, become a human pinball, fire puffs of air to smash crates, or play a physical game of whack-a-mole.
I think Ring Fit is a success. The game has a good hook to get you into regular aerobic and resistance training – your sweat and raised heart rate never let you forget you’re exercising, but the adventure means you don’t mind, and it doesn’t get boring.
I don’t play every day. The game fits around other activities and I manage 3 or 4 half-hour sessions each week. I like the adventure aspect to Ring Fit, it’s keeping me motivated. Some of my sessions go longer than planned, as I just have to get through the next level.
Since I've been at home in Covid-19 lockdown, Ring Fit Adventure has taken a pounding.
However, even with the choice of leaving the house I’ll keep going with the game, at least while I have the Adventure to complete (I’m barely 20% of the way through it, not counting all its possible side quests). Anyway, I want to see that rage-filled bully of a dragon smashed flat on his back – pounded for good by my awesome abs.