Ring Fit Adventure: a review
posted | about 8 minutes to read
Every now and then I get on a fitness kick and try to find something that will keep me committed to exercising, but I have invariably ended up dropping it after a couple of weeks every time. There's always this feeling of boredom from doing the same thing every day, and no amount of movies to watch while on the rowing machine or whatever has managed to get me past that hump. Two weeks ago, though, I ended up getting Ring Fit Adventure, and things already feel very different to me this time around.
For those who don't know, Ring Fit Adventure is a video game developed by Nintendo as a follow up to their Wii Fit games from previous years (and console generations). The difference is that instead of just being a “here are some exercises, please do them” kind of thing, Nintendo fleshed out the concept and turned it into a full-fledged RPG, with exercise-based skill attacks and unlocks, a rudimentary item crafting system, and all sorts of fun contextual actions to take as you jog through the engaging stages.
It's worth taking a minute before I get into the systems, I feel, to discuss why this is such a big deal. One of the things I don't talk about too much on the blog is that I have ADHD (diagnosed quite a few years ago). One of the ways that manifests for me is that I have a lot of difficulty paying attention unless I'm doing something I find to be appealing, and I think this is a lot of the reason why I have had trouble with exercise in the past. Gamifying things is, at least in my experience, a great way for me to be able to focus1 in the way I need to and make progress. Ring Fit Adventure, for me, does a marvelous job of hitting that sweet spot; there's a clear sense of progress in the game as I complete stages and move through the different worlds, and I feel like my character gets stronger as she levels up and takes on more powerful enemies. It's not a super complex system, but my inner numbers geek enjoys trying to optimize the exercises that I use to defeat the monsters based on what will do the most damage to them, too. This kind of stuff is perfect to trigger my brain to actually engage during my morning workout, which has been a really positive change for me; I find myself looking forward to getting out of bed in the morning to start my day.
Speaking of the workout, this is actually a pretty big high point for the game. There are a couple really good things the game does that really shine through; the first is that you're consistently unlocking new exercises that you can perform; these abilities are (roughly) divided into the four focuses of arms, legs, core, and yoga. They also all require at least one round to “cool down” before you can use them, and different enemies are more susceptible to damage from different exercise focuses, so the game is constantly incentivizing you to try new things and spread your focus across different muscle groups. There's good haptic feedback from the controllers as well as visual2 and audio cues to help indicate when you're achieving proper form with the workouts. If you're taking the game seriously you'll definitely feel that DOMS that you're looking for the next day. (The monsters you fight are pretty cute, too; the standout for me so far has been a floating yoga mat with eyes).
In between the battles where you'll be using these exercises, the gameplay revolves around (mostly)3 jogging on a path in various environments while using the “Ring-Con” - the Pilates-ring-like accessory that comes with the game - to shoot blasts of air or vacuum in items. It's a great way to make sure that you stay engaged between sets and keep your heart rate up - and on that note, after each stage, the game offers you the opportunity to actually check your heart rate using the Switch controller's IR camera, which is a really neat use of the technology. I've also noticed some alternate routes in some of the stages, which is a good incentive for me to go back later and look at them when I've unlocked abilities that will let me do those - another way that they packed this game full of stuff to do.
This really is, in fact, probably the game that takes the most advantage so far of the controller's functionality in terms of motion tracking, too. One of the controllers gets strapped to your leg and the other one is slotted into the Ring-Con, and I was really positively surprised as far as how accurate they were in tracking my motion while doing the exercises. I did have one moment of difficulty while planking and piking where the motion tracking wasn't quite kicking in enough to register my reps, but moving the strap further up my leg solved it. I'm sure that this would be pretty easy to game, but honestly if you're interested in doing that, it's probably best to give this game a miss anyway.
Nintendo also gave a nod to accessibility by offering workout modifiers for exercises if you find you're unable to do them, which is nice. Similarly, they offer a “quiet mode” where they replace the jogging mechanic with mini-squats. I'm glad that they took the time to create these options, even if I don't use them.
If you find your workouts are getting too easy or too hard, the game's pretty good about checking in with you every day and asking whether you want to make your workouts more or less difficult. The only impact I've seen of this so far is a higher rep count when doing exercises; it's nice to scale it, but I kind of wish it did more (maybe added longer areas for knee lifts or other non-jogging things in stages, for example).
One other thing that I think Nintendo could have done better is to not have been quite so pushy about stopping a workout. I found that the game would prompt me to think about ending my workout after about three stages, usually, which would be fine - except that by the game's own tracking, I'd only spent about 20 minutes exercising! You're free to tell the game to keep going, but I really wish that there was an option that you could adjust to indicate when you wanted that prompt to start showing up.
Last thing I didn't like - the voice for Ring, your in-game trainer, is a little grating, and I could do without him telling me that my sweat is “shiny and beautiful”. The other voice acting in the game is largely limited to grunts to indicate which character is speaking during dialogue, some of which are a little bit over the top. That said, though, the rest of the sound design is on point! I found the music tracks to fit both the game and a workout very well. It's not going to win any awards for Best Soundtrack, but it doesn't need to.
The plot isn't anything to write home about so far - I'm through four “worlds” now, and so far it's fairly generic “do stages in each world and then fight the Big Bad at the end” (think Mario, basically, but with a large muscular dragon instead) - but there have been some hints of some more interesting things to come. I'm not sure whether the game will actually follow through on these - I certainly don't think the narrative is the focus here - but it's serviceable, at least.
Anyway, that's a rundown of most of the major systems in the “Adventure Mode”, which is the main draw; there are, however, other modes available, including a feature where you can create your own workout routines and go through them outside of Adventure Mode, an option to use the ring while doing other things (gaining offline experience, basically), and a set of minigames. The minigames are fine, in my experience, although nothing special at all; I personally find that they took away from what I wanted to get out of the game, but they may appeal to other people more than me.
In conclusion: for me, this hit all the sweet spots and I'm really looking forward to continuing to play through the game at a measured rate. I feel that it's really helped me engage with exercise in a more constructive way than I have before, and I'm excited to continue to use the game as part of my fitness journey. Despite it being less than two weeks since I've started, I am confident it's providing a much more engaging experience than previous efforts. If it sounds like it might be up your alley (and especially if you already own a Switch), I strongly encourage you to give it a look - the $80 price point is reasonable, given that you get the Ring-Con and leg strap accessories with purchase. It's a strong contender for the best game I've played this year and I absolutely recommend it.
This is more often a hindrance than a help for me; between this and an extremely intense need for escapism which I'm sure I'll blog about someday, I burned a lot more time than was healthy on a certain MMORPG during college. One of the things I'm working on is leveraging that focus for good - mixed success, but the effort is what counts.↩
The game has on-screen guides for all of the exercises, and your character will also glow during battles when you've got the correct form.↩
There are more activities that you'll unlock during the course of the game; most recently I found myself rowing up waterfalls while engaging my abs.↩