Like most fantasy adventures, Nintendo's Ring Fit Adventure puts you in the role of a newly-established hero who tries to free a magical world from a new evil. You venture through different levels, fight evil monsters and earn money and experience along the way to improve your skills. It sounds like a typical role-playing game, but Ring Fit Adventure is far from typical. You do not explore and struggle with buttons and joysticks: instead you work your way through a lush fantasy landscape. It's like Wii Fit crossed with Final Fantasy and it sits beside Labo as one of Nintendo's most unexpectedly interesting experiments.
Ring Fit Adventure that Nintendo teased last week, will be launched in October for Switch. It consists of three main pieces. There are the game itself and two accessories: a leg strap and a flexible ring called Nintendo called Ring-Con, which is essentially a high-tech resistance band. In order to use both, you need to record a Joy-Con controller inside each one and then control the game primarily through your movements. I played through several parts of the game earlier this week, and the most surprising was how expansive and cohesive the experience felt. Yes, it is exhausting and will make you sweat, but it is also a great, fledgling adventure at the same time. And the two seemingly disparate elements never felt at odds with each other during my time with the game.
Ring Fit Adventure is the first fitness focused game I have ever played with a real story. You play as a hero dressed as a gym rat, and you collaborate with a delicate ring called Ring to fight an incredibly swollen purple dragon in a leotard, infecting the fantasy realm with darkness. (Nintendo says the dragon was designed to represent the negative aspects of gym culture, like ultra competitiveness. In other words, he's an amazing bridge.) The experience is structured as a Super Mario game, as you go through a series of levels spread across different settings, punctuated by boss battles.
So how exactly does a fitness adventure RPG work? First you wrap the leg strap around your left leg and then hold the ring in front of you like a steering wheel. Each level is on the rails, with some branch roads to explore. To move forward, jog in place and turn by pointing the ring in any direction you want. To go faster, you just jog faster. If you reach an obstacle to jump, point the ring down, push it to gain power and then release in time to jump. When you run, you can push air emissions to crush boxes, which is done again by quickly pressing the ring and pointing at your target. You can also suck up coins that are hidden in each level by stretching out the ring to suck them in.
It can get intense even if the levels only last a few minutes; I found myself sweating after only two of them. You never really stop moving, and do the various ring-related activities while jogging is a decent workout. Things become even more challenging as you participate in the battles. They act like a classic Japanese role-playing game. You will see an enemy level, and as soon as you touch it, you will engage in turn-based combat.
To attack, you can choose from a variety of exercises. To make an attack, I had to hold squats for a few seconds, followed by on-screen instructions, while another involved doing yoga style poses on the ground. After a few reps, you then switch to defense: to ward off attacks you stand, push the ring to the belly and hold and form a shield to absorb the enemy barrier. This is repeated until you or the bad guys have been defeated.
From what I was playing, the RPG elements felt pretty deep. While I only had access to four attacks from the start, you could unlock more throughout the game, each color coded to match the type of workout, like shoulders, legs or cardio. Each color is strong against similarly colored enemies, which essentially forces you to switch your routine and not focus exclusively on any area of your body. A representative from Nintendo told me that if you played one hour a day, it would take between three to four months to complete the promotion.
During my time with the game, the accessories worked perfectly. The leg strap is simple enough, reminiscent of the strap from the Wii-fitness game 2009 EA Sports Active . I had to tighten the Velcro a few times after vigorous jogging, but it was comfortable enough. However, the main attraction is the really called Ring-Con. The switch's Joy-Con controller turns on it just as it slides into the switch itself. It's a solid piece that you can work hard at; during certain parts of the game I had to really push it, and it worked fine.
There are two removable pads where your hands rest, and Nintendo says they are washable so you don't have to worry about sweaty palms. The ring has sensors to keep track of your movements, while Joy-Con's IR sensor is used to measure your heartbeat after each level; simply place your thumb over the sensor and hold it for a few seconds. (Nintendo says the game will be compatible with the upcoming portable only Switch Lite, but you will need to purchase separate Joy-Con, which makes it a somewhat expensive alternative.)
There's more to Call Fit Adventure than just the historical situation. Beyond that, it is starting to look a bit like a traditional fitness game. There is a mode where you can go through different workout routines, including both individual exercises and sets that combine activities to work out a particular body part.
There are also a number of mini games that add a more playful element to exercise. I played one that was essentially a mole, except you had to hit moles on a circular level by rotating the ring to find them, and either pressing or stretching the ring to crush them. Another was called "Squattery" and was exactly what the name implies: you make pottery by hooking. Squats would lower or raise your position on a clay lump, and you could then squeeze the ring to shape it. The goal was to match a predetermined shape as closely as possible. It is very difficult. Thanks to a high score list, this mode feels almost like a fitness-oriented party game. Mario Party but with cardio.
Despite its generic name, Ring Fit Adventure looks and feels like a premium Nintendo experience. It is clear that many thoughts have entered the game. Here are two examples of some of the smaller details that I noticed:
- The game has a "quiet" location, so if you live in an apartment or want to play at night without waking someone, you can do a series of squats instead to jog to go through the levels.
- The game offers quite intuitive feedback during the adventure mode. When you do your workout properly – jogging at the right speed or following the workout instructions properly – your character's hair will catch fire. The bigger the fire, the better you do it.
Wii Fit is still one of Nintendo's best-selling games. The original Wii titles sold a total of 43 million copies, and it is obvious that the company wants to exploit the significant market with Ring Fit Adventure . (Companies like Microsoft have tried, and largely failed, to replicate that success.) The difference here, though, is that Ring Fit Adventure is much more of a typical video game, potentially helping it not only reach fitness fans, but the millions of traditional Nintendo fans who already own a Switch. It is a chance for the ever wider Switch audience to grow even larger. More than that, though, it feels essential to Nintendo: it's unexpected, weird and – most importantly – fun.
Ring Fit Adventure launches on Switch on October 18 for $ 79.99, including both games and accessories.