Health and wellness shouldn’t be such a goddamn chore and a difficult decision, but welcome to the world we live in today. Seriously, I’m astonished at how much weight I’ve gained over the years, and my job is infinitely more active than most people’s jobs (kindergarten teacher). The fact remains, we’re beset on all sides by a lot of fantastically unhealthy choices, and most people give into them. Whether it be having an extra drink with dinner because you feel like you’ve “earned it” or opting for the elevator instead of the stairs because it’s four flights and you’ve got a long day ahead, a lot of people aren’t necessarily getting fatter, but we are getting unhealthier. Naturally, the video game market has been trying, desperately, to get people into the right mindset, for years, by offering active gaming. Just Dance is arguably one of the most popular and successful attempts into this market, but there’s a massive flaw: it’s not a game. Not the way that many people think of gaming. Same thing with Wii Fit: it was great to have that balance board and a regiment to follow, but the actual “game” aspect of it was paper thin and made for some really boring, repetitive stuff. If we wanted to exercise, gamers would merely exercise with any number of YouTube trainers, smartphone applications or, God forbid, going to an actual gym. But Nintendo has never said die to this idea, and that’s why Wii Sports, the Sports Resort and several other attempts have been made. The newest entry direct from Nintendo comes with a few caveats, but, frankly speaking, Ring Fit Adventure might be one of the most genuine and strong choices to date.
First and foremost, this comes with some of the better fitness accessories that I’ve seen. Rather than just let you flail around with the JoyCons and pray no one gets hurt, Ring Fit Adventure outfits would-be exercisers with both a leg strap and a Pilates ring, sometimes called a Magic Circle, and, in this case, called a RingCon. The RingCon is a really decent build, a bit heavier than your average Pilates ring but understandably so for both durability and the fact that a JoyCon attaches to it. Along with the leg strap for your left JoyCon, these two accessories do a mostly great job of being able to track and keep measurement of a number of different fitness moves, such as lunges, crunches, presses and many, many others. The downside of these great accessories is that the price is higher than the average game out the gate, but not significantly so. Compared to the almost released Luigi’s Mansion 3, Ring Fit Adventure clocks in at roughly 15-20 dollars more, depending on where you are, and several stores have deals going to balance the price of this newly released game. These are both accessories that long time fitness enthusiasts will already be familiar with, and will be easily adaptable for new coming players, especially since the RingCon is so integral to the gameplay.
For Ring Fit Adventure, the name of the game is trying to get yourself onto a healthy and happy path. There’s a main adventure mode, a series of mini games, and even just straight fitness routines for when you want to work on something directly, such as your core or deltoids. The adventure mode will be the one that brings in players the most, as it’s an honest-to-goodness RPG with a ton of exercise and fitness challenges baked in to act as different branches and choices within the game. You play a no-named hero (with customizable hair, sex and skin tone) who awakens one day in a field and finds a mystical ring calling out to you. Not wanting to ignore a talking ring, you decide to break the seal on it and promptly release Dragur, a dragon/human hybrid baddie who’s positively jacked and ready to go spread darkness while blasting his pecks. The ring, who you learn is named Ring, was actually the container that was keeping Dragur from escaping and making the world evil and, more importantly, insecure about their fitness goals. So you and Ring team up to travel across several worlds and get Dragur re-sealed and saving everyone. Along the way, there are adventurous stages to explore, bad guys to fight, experience to grind and mini games to play. I gotta admit, Nintendo went all in on combining gameplay with the exercise regiments, and I’m duly impressed with how they pulled it off.
The combat of Ring Fit Adventure is literal reps of exercise routines, such as squats, crunches, yoga poses and different presses that utilize the RingCon. Besides just letting you hammer away at the same activity again and again (which would be both boring and also not as beneficial to your overall condition), there is a cool down timer between moves, as well as elemental typing that demonstrates effectiveness versus certain enemies. So, for example, the Forward Press is a mass-attacking move that damages all enemies, but is Red typed (so more effective against red enemies) and has a cool down charge of two. So, if you don’t clean out all the enemies in your first attack (which won’t happen for quite a few levels), you gotta decide to use other attacks that will effectively, work out other parts of your body, or at least work out those same areas in different ways. Successful defeat means EXP, and EXP means Gains (attack and defense boosts) as well as adding different new skills to your workout attacks and, occasionally, adding another heart to your health meter. Which is good, because enemies do get stronger, and you will get whooped if you’re not ready, no matter how good you are with your Ab Guard.
I’m not here to attack the core idea of Ring Fit Adventure, not by a long shot, and the message and intent are solid and pure. The game does a great job of encouraging and boosting along the player both inside Adventure Mode and in other areas, like the workout routines and the mini games. Ring himself shouts a lot of encouragement and helpful hints to your exercise (letting you know when to squat lower or extend your arms more), and there’s zero shame about needing to adjust the difficulty level up or down depending on how you’re doing. More than a couple of times, I was able to switch from Default mode to Silent Mode (which changes running to short, repetitive squats) because I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors. When my ankle was messed up due to stepping into a pothole near my school, I could turn on Ankle Assist to get the game to consider my physical inhibitions to make the play more suitable. Not easier: it felt like I did a lot more upper body work as a result of Ankle Assist being on, but I was able to still get a solid workout in during my gameplay without aggravating my injury. That’s some great forethought on the part of Nintendo.
The concern comes with a bit of how the game, the physical mechanics and the core market will all play out. First and foremost, Ring Fit Adventure hopes that your JoyCons are properly calibrated and that you can hold the RingCon in a tight, solid fashion while you’re running through the stages. A lot of times, there are pickups that can be vacuumed up (pulling on the ring), boxes that can be opened with air blasts (squeezing the ring), and different pathways to take through hovering and specialty jumps (blasting the ring downward). But, if calibration is off even a little, you can easily miss these pickups and rewards, which don’t affect the exercise journey but do mean you miss free EXP and coins (which can be used to buy equipment), much to the chagrin of the collector inside me. Plus, my JoyCons are from the Switch launch: even though the game allowed me to recalibrate time and time again, I often felt like I needed to keep resetting in order to actually point in the direction I wanted. I found out early on that I could jump over enemies entirely if I didn’t want to fight some minor mobs, but that wasn’t because I wanted to: it was because I was trying to air blast them and I ended up hovering over instead. A happy accident, but not the one I wanted to have.
Additionally, this is going to be one of those times where players need to understand that, no matter how much more expensive Ring Fit Adventure is or how you now have a legitimate Pilates Ring in your home, this is not a full, total replacement for your healthy lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic addition and change, and it has given me such better choices on my days off (which I’ll get to in a moment). But you’re not going to be able to live a life where you sit at the desk all day, eat two or three hot dogs from 7-11 for lunch, have a couple beers and a Hungry Man for dinner and then do 8 minutes of Ring Fit Adventure and call it square. Nintendo isn’t trying to advertise that, but that’s where a lot of people’s minds go. We want the quick fix, and a video game that makes us sweat because we aren’t sitting down feels like some kind of magical portal to a better, stronger, healthier body. It’s a good start, and it can develop into something wonderful if you’re willing to put in the time. But Nintendo also recommends doing about 30 minutes a day within Ring Fit Adventure. I’m exhausted and sweating after 10, and I’m concerned I’ll hurt myself with 30. So, it’s the next leg of the journey. We got the exercise going, now let’s focus on the other good choices.
Ring Fit Adventure invites you to make those good choices with additional fitness tips and information between levels and workouts. The game is actively advising you on water consumption, good sleep, and keeping an eye on your overall well-being. I only did ten minutes because the IR camera in the right JoyCon can be used to check your pulse (such great innovation!) and it concluded that my workout was distinctly “heavy” even if only a few minutes passed. So, when I check out from the game, I know that it wasn’t a long time, but I did a lot, and it’s a good start. When I get home from work, I can either grind some stages to get my EXP up for the boss fights (which are fantastically long, varied workout routines), or I can just focus on my core in the meantime because I want to deflate my belly. The mini games are a great way to spend time with my wife and kids because they’re intended for passing the RingCon between multiple people, and we can all measure our strength or test our reaction times in a way that’s fun and challenging and when I simply don’t want to do any of that, I can sit down and watch another episode of Insatiable with the RingCon set for “Multitasking Mode,” which is code for “do something active while being inactive.” I can do some squeezes and pulls with the ring during some general cool down, it generates bonus EXP when I rejoin the game, and I’m not screwing around with my iPhone or shovelling crackers into my face. It provides options, and they’re good options.
Ring Fit Adventure isn’t a brand new way of living, but it’s an invitation to start down the path of a better way of life. To make Ring Fit Adventure work, you need to enjoy the game and enjoy HOW it’s played. If you wanted to cheat, you can trick the RingCon into thinking you’re doing more work than you actually are, but you’re literally just cheating yourself. I may only be level 11 as of right now, but I’m doing my best to play every day, and I think that says something. The burning in my legs is decreasing, the quality of my sleep is getting better, and, last night, I literally put down the Fritos and picked up the RingCon (after washing my hands) because that’s how I wanted to end my day. Not with a quick fix snack, but with a few minutes of work to move closer to where I want to be and how I want to live. The gamification of health and fitness might be a seemingly easy market to invest in, but the players need to want to play, and Ring Fit Adventure makes the journey a bit more accessible.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.