A wild recurring segment appears! Maybe? That’s the hope at least as I begin a brand new fitness journey. Or well, a journey to at least get some exercise as opposed to not getting exercise. I’ve had flirtations with the desire to “git fit” at various times of my life to varying degrees of success. The double whammy of depression followed by a global pandemic took my most recent efforts at working towards a healthier body and chucked them decisively out the window. Motivated by the desire not necessarily to lose weight or have a nicer body but to improve my health so that I can live longer for my child, I’ve decided to start taking some steps towards undoing the damage done by the last couple of years. With that decision came another one, and I decided to use some gift card money I had burning a hole in my pocket to scoop up Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch.
Previously I’ve tried to use gaming to exercise with the game Fitness Boxing. I had some issues with that one, though – the game does a poor job of reading movements with the Joy-Cons, and your leg workout is completely unmonitored so it’s hard to know if you are making good progress on your lower body. It also primarily rewards you with customization options for your personal trainers, and the new options begin to trickle much slower after your first few sessions. Without a lot about the game to motivate me to keep playing plus the irritation of the game missing inputs all the time, I had a hard time keeping up with Fitness Boxing. I’d heard great things about Ring Fit Adventure, though, so I wanted to give it a try and see if it worked better for me.
So what’s the basic premise of Ring Fit Adventure? You play a person who randomly comes upon a magical ring that seems to be speaking into your mind. “Free me,” it says, “break the seal.” You are apparently playing as someone who has never read a fantasy novel, watched a movie, or played a video game because they of course immediately say “yeah sure buddy!” and pull the seal apart. This frees Drageux, a very buff black dragon who wants to cover the world in dark influence. As Drageux flies away you meet Ring, the magical ring that was keeping Drageux sealed, and the two of you team up to stop the dragon from raining destruction on the world.
From a gameplay standpoint, Ring Fit Adventure is a turn-based RPG. You choose levels off an overworld map with each level generally being only a few minutes in length. Once in a level, you run along a mostly-straight path and try to scoop up collectibles. On the path you’ll run into monsters, throwing you into a battle arena where you take them on in turn-based combat. One level in each world will feature a boss battle, a tougher combat scenario that unlocks the path to a new section of the map. This all may for the most part sound like standard JRPG fare, but what Ring Fit Adventure does differently is that everything I just described is done not by pressing buttons on a controller, but by exercising.
Ring Fit Adventure’s control setup uses two Joy-Cons in conjunction with some special accessories. The most noticeable is a large black ring; this clips into your right Joy-Con and provides resistance for exercises where you push and pull with your arms. The game also comes with a leg strap for your left Joy-Con, which is worn above the center of your left thigh and measures what is going on with your legs. These two tools in tandem have a surprising range of motion that they can capture; Ring Fit’s exercises vary widely and even from an early stage incorporate squats, yoga, leg presses, an ab workout, and of course squeezing or pulling on the ring. The right Joy-Con can even use its IR camera to estimate your heart rate using a press from your thumb, giving you a rough idea of how solid of a workout you are getting.
Your activities vary depending on whether you are running through a level or battling monsters. When running you walk in place (or if playing in Silent Mode like me, move up and down in a squatting motion) to move your character. Blasts can be sent out by squeezing the ring to blow open doors or treasure chests, or you can pull the ring to vacuum up collectibles on the side of the path. Holding the Ring-Con down in front of you and squeezing allows you to jump over obstacles or drops. Your character can’t die from a failed jump like in a platformer – missing a jump generally just means missing some opportunities for more coins. Once you run into a monster, you enter the battle screen and you cease walking in place as combat begins.
Your character has a number of attacks based on the exercise performed to execute them. Choosing what move to use is also choosing how to work your body. You start with four basic moves but unlock more as you level up. Moves are color-coded based on the type of workout involved, and level-up moves generally do more damage or hit a larger number of targets. Moves also have cooldowns, though, so the game does a good job of requiring your to spread your workout around rather than just using the “best” move over and over again in any given situation. Blocking is done with your abs by pushing against the tension of the Ring-Con with your stomach muscles. At the end of each match, you get experience points for the enemies you defeated and the workouts you did. You also get EXP at the end of a level, meaning that you level up pretty quickly and by extension get new workouts added to your routine at a steady pace.
I’m really into the structure of the game. The squats to move through a level give my legs and thighs a good workout but it’s nice to vary my movements during battles. The game gives you incentives to switch between different moves thanks to the cooldowns and the fact that different moves have different power levels and effectiveness. But you also have the flexibility to focus on a particular part of your body if you want to by choosing specific types of exercises for your attacks. You can also customize the attacks available in your action bar during combat, flat-out removing any moves that you cannot do or don’t want to do. You can also set the difficulty of the game based on the intensity of the workout you want to get. The degree of customization makes the game feel approachable for someone like myself who hasn’t exercised in a significant amount of time.
Ring Fit Adventure is a unique exercise game that utilizes RPG mechanics to give the player a focused reason to do a variety of exercises. For me, that system is sufficient motivation to do something I might otherwise want to avoid. It’s a clever design that I’m excited to see expanded more – during my last session I unlocked the ability to deal bonus damage to monsters based on workout type, further expanding why I would want to vary my workouts from battle to battle. What new workouts are waiting for me as I gain additional levels? What new abilities will push me to exercise in unique ways? These are questions I never thought I would be excited about and yet Ring Fit uses game design to hack my brain in just the right way to make me want to do something that ultimately contributes to my health. I hope this will continue to be true for a long time, but for now, I’ll plan to post another update next Friday on the progress I’ve made with the game.