Sam Nason works up a sweat in Ring Fit Adventure, Nintendo’s spiritual successor to the Wii Fit, explaining how the game manages to make fitness fun
‘Your sweat is so shiny and beautiful!’, the game tells me. My eyes widen. Surprisingly, nobody has ever told me that before. And yet it might be the most comforting exercise-related comment anybody has ever given me. The game appreciates the hard work I’m putting in for my health, the efforts I’m making – and my sweat is proof of that. But my God, I’m knackered.
This is Ring Fit Adventure, an action role-play game built completely around exercise. Filling the void of Wii Fit or Wii Fit U on Nintendo’s previous two home consoles, Ring Fit Adventure is a more streamlined, robust and encouraging product that swaps the former’s segmented mini games for a entertaining story experience where squats, planks and running are your weapons against the monsters of Dragaux.
While met with extremely positive reviews initially, Ring Fit Adventure saw somewhat of a second wind since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as people used the game to regularly exercise following the closure of gyms and leisure centres. Its popularity was staggering, with scalpers amassing as many copies as they could and selling them on for up to five times the price. When I eventually got my hands on the game this summer, I was astonished; the technical innovation of the Ring-Con, the delivery of the game’s exercise and its encouragement for manageable, functional fitness meant Ring Fit Adventure was the kindest, most uplifting exercise experience I’ve ever had.
Let’s start with the Ring-Con, the circular cradle that acts as the player’s main weapon – one Joy-Con is placed at the top, then you’re good to go. Built to simulate a resistance band, the controller can be wielded in all sorts of ways to complete different muscle, leg, ab and yoga exercises. From overhead presses and knee lifts to bow pulls and the chair pose, the Ring-Con expertly meets your movement and pressure with vibrations to emulate a true resistance-based workout.
Accompanying it is the Leg Strap, where the other Joy-Con sits. Pressed against your left thigh, the strap monitors what your legs are doing, whether that’s speed or movement – while the majority of the time this works fine, it can be difficult to calibrate at some points, which have led me to lie down and plank for far longer than needed in the hopes of it working. Though on the plus side, my abs are now made of bricks.
However all this technology is only successful because of the impressive and tactical ways Ring Fit Adventure uses it to do exercise. The game is laid out like a traditional RPG with stats to increase, attacks to gain and different clothes and items to equip, but the levels themselves take full advantage of the term ‘exercise game’. Overworld sections almost play like a rail shooter. To run in the game, you run in real life; to shoot projectiles, you squeeze the Ring-Con inwards; to suck coins and experience towards you, you pull the Ring-Con outwards. A plethora of moves are employed in these sections to keep you working moderately before the more intense and fitness-based battles.
And man, are they intense. Six fitness skills act as your attacks, of which you are free to customise before a level starts. These are used in a turn-based system where the damage your attack does depends on how effectively you do the exercise, incentivising good and consistent form. Monsters can be defended against using the ‘ab guard’, where the Ring-Con is squeezed into your abdomen as long as the monsters are attacking. There is a degree of depth to it – monsters are marked by colours and are weak to exercises of the corresponding colour, for example – but the result is all the same. You will work out. And you will get sweaty.
That said, Ring Fit’s encouragement and genuine desire for the player to succeed is a phenomenal breath of fresh air. The game is full of fitness tips and gentle pointers, noting that while pushing through the pain is a part of exercise, pushing your body beyond its limits is not. Nintendo manages to strike a perfect medium between the two, creating an accessible experience that caters to all who wish to exercise.
Ring Fit doesn’t use body weight as a form of measurement or achievement in game, instead encouraging more functional goals that train you mentally as well as physically. Ring Fit – to me, at least – seemed an ever more personal experience than Wii Fit, and certainly a healthier one.
Lockdown and isolation has placed enormous pressure on individuals to maintain their normal level of activity, and it can be severely determinate to one’s mental and physical health. There’s a fantastic article on Polygon about how Ring Fit Adventure combats toxic exercise culture to this extent that I would fully recommend reading.
Ring Fit Adventure is unique in that it is fitness game that genuine feels like a gym workout. The innovation of the Ring-Con emulates resistance training and the (mostly) precise nature of the individual Joy-Con controllers encourage correct form and hard work. Most importantly however, it is a forgiving, encouraging and motivating quest that does not make exercise a chore; it makes it a game.
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