From the wild gymnastics of Super Mario, exploring The Legend of Zelda’s Hyrule, WarioWare’s wacky motion control mini-games, and exercise entertainment products like Wii Fit, Nintendo mascots and characters want their players to be active. I’m a gamer, flabby and prone to jogging injuries. And with gyms still high-risk – blending low-impact exercise and cheerful gameplay seems like a decent baby step.
I’m going to be door-knocking and delivering hundreds of leaflets up and down Edinburgh closes in the coming months. I reckon getting some exercise ahead of time won’t kill me.
Nintendo’s latest effort, Ring Fit Adventure, fits nicely in the Wii Fit mould. It comes packaged with a sturdy peripheral to add to the front room. It’s also got smart design choices to encourage players to work up a sweat. Get some water, bring a gym towel, put on your trainers and sweat bands. You’ll get a decent workout.
The game comes packaged with a pilates ring – the Ring-Con – and a little leg holster. You slide each of the Switch’s detachable controllers snugly into them, and you’re ready to play.
The Adventure mode has hundreds of levels, spread over dozens of worlds. The villain, Dragaux – a 80’s Schwarzenegger-level severely body dysmorphic dragon in a singlet – has taken over the land. He doesn’t much like you.
Each motion-sensor controller has a role to play. Navigating each of the worlds involves running courses by jogging on the spot. You can shoot puffs of air to clear away obstacles, work contraptions, open doors, or make a springy Mario-style leap. Running up stairs, or through waist high water requires the player to bring their knees up. Spring-loaded cannons and trampolines require squats to operate. Vehicle sections require other exercises to power them.
The adventure has you battling monsters, Pokemon-style, in a turn-based combat system called Fit Battles. Players select various types of exercise (Fit Skills – using arms, legs, core and yoga poses) as a colour-coded attack. Doing exercise repetitions well does extra damage, as does coordinating monster colours with types of Fit Skill.
Defeating a bestiary of monsters and uncovering course secrets, you gain experience and level up, boosting damage, defence and unlocking new exercises. There’s even skill trees – where players choose how to develop their characters – and “smoothies” (power and health replenishing potions) to prepare. It’s not exactly Skyrim’s level of depth or visual fidelity, but it’s deeper and more strategic than its cartoony presentation suggests.
The art direction is tremendous. Ring Fit Adventure presents colourful worlds with beautifully animated, highly responsive characters. The player character’s body and hair blazes with flame as you work, or pull off a string of well-executed exercises.
Your companion, Ring, will shout encouragement, count down repetitions and give advice on exercise form. He (or she, the game lets you pick) sometimes just says something very silly that inspires exhausted laughs. There’s even a silent character on the side of the screen, Tipp, showing the player how Fit Skills are to be done. You’ll never get lost.
Ring Fit Adventure is a marvellous presentation trick – effectively transmogrifying the act of exercise as something gamers will want, and surreptitiously hiding its monotony. If you’re anything like me, you’ll play in short bursts. Hundreds of reps will leave limbs sore for a day. The battles are knackering, exercise wars of attrition. Using the Ring-Con with sufficient strength is a cheerfully difficult challenge.
The game keeps track of players’ exercise stats, monitoring exercise counts and how long they exercised. It even keeps track of players’ heart rates on course completion – to ensure you’re getting a decent workout. You can vary the difficulty of each session – Tipp will ask appropriate questions and take you through dynamic stretching warmups and static cooldowns.
One of the things I found delightful is how open, accepting and welcoming it is as an overall package. Unlike Wii Fit’s balance board shenanigans, it won’t body-shame you for starting off as a bit of a slob, or when you’re finding it hard to progress. Instead it will welcome you, celebrate your return, or encourage you to take the recovery time you need. It encourages you to actively listen to your body to avoid injury. The exercises are centered around functional fitness. Working toward them both trains your body to perform feats that you couldn’t do before, and also helps make daily activities easier.
As an entertainment, it’s slight but varied. As an exercise product, it’s simple but refined. Put together, combined with COVID lockdown, it’s been a cheerful distraction – and given me a bit of puff back. Recommended.
Ring Fit Adventure is available on the Nintendo Switch – RRP £69.99. Best played on a TV screen, not in portable mode. Avoid scalpers on eBay.