An attempt to review Ring Fit Adventure

I was a fan of Wii Fit Plus for a while, but it was never really a fan of me. The game didn’t work great as a fitness regimen, with a smattering of fitness activities and minigames that could be done in any order, without any particular rhyme or reason. There wasn’t much structure to these bite-sized activities. The game worked reasonably well at tracking metrics, recording how good your posture and balance were and keeping record of your weight. But the fitness element itself, despite the use of Balance Board and Wii Remote motion controls to accurately convey (most of) your physical inputs, did little to generate much real activity for me. I’d often give up on the game and return to it at a later date, at which time it would bemoan how much weight I’d gained or some other defect on my part. Rather than encouraging more activity in my sedentary lifestyle, it ultimately discouraged it. But there were some minigames that promised something more, like Island Cycling, where you’d step in place and lean controllers to guide a virtual bike along a course over an island you could ride freely on, or Obstacle Course, where you used your body’s movements to navigate a platformer level that could have felt appropriate for a Mario game. The promise of using your body in an active way to control movement through a virtual world was very appealing to me.

Ring Fit Adventure delivers on that promise. Released for the Nintendo Switch just about a year ago, Ring Fit Adventure is an exercise video game that works both as exercise and as video game. It’s made me considerably less sedentary, prompting changes to my behavior and diet more generally as small ripple effects out from the game itself, and in the 20 or so minutes a day I spend in the game, I get a good workout in an engaging fantasy world.

I’ve now spent 30 consecutive days playing Ring Fit Adventure. The game does not do anything to demand consistent playing. It in fact advises taking breaks–both in the form of encouraging you to quit for the day after a certain amount of activity, and in the form of tips that suggest taking days off from training. But I don’t need a mandate; it’s fun and rewarding to come back again and again. Keeping to the relatively short activity times suggested by the game, it’s no problem at all to return day after day. But I know if I needed to miss a day or two for whatever reason, it would be okay; I wouldn’t need to feel guilty, and the game wouldn’t chastise me for it.

My total stats after my workout as of today’s post. My Switch records 20 hours or more in the game; the time listed in the image refers only to the periods in which the game tracked actual exercise activity.

The game offers a range of difficulty settings, initially set by a short quiz that tries to assess your current level of fitness. I’m very sedentary through years of engrained habit, and my various attempts to develop a fitness habit usually begin to fizzle after a couple weeks, so the game started me at level 13. I’ve worked up to 18. There are plenty higher difficulty levels above that to continue challenging me as my level of fitness and comfort with the ever-increasing variety of exercises improve. Comments and reviews online suggest that people from a wide variety of fitness levels, including those with an already active lifestyle, have found benefit from the game–at least as a supplement to other activities, for those who already have a decent fitness regimen. But I think I’m the target audience for the game: someone with a sedentary lifestyle who loves video games and has never had much talent or interest in sports. Ring Fit Adventure is, in a way, a sport for those who don’t care for sports: it’s a fun way to get moderate to intense physical activity in, working toward a goal and oriented around accumulating various types of “points,” bound by the rules of the game. If you’re already a regular pickup basketball player or you hit the tennis courts a few times a week, you don’t really need this game. But I’m not that person, and I’m still amazed to find a fitness video game that emulates that level of “fun activity” for a sedentary person like me.

Ring Fit Adventure plays like a traditional roleplaying game, with turn-based combat against a variety of enemies that you encounter as you make your way across individual levels, which are in turn selected from a course charted across several world maps (really more like region maps, but the Level and World designation is pretty classic Nintendo). Within the traditional turn-based combat structure, you use sets of exercises to defeat the enemies. Exercises, navigation through levels, and a variety of other activities are all performed through physical movements by the player, tracked in the game by use of the Joy Cons, one slipped into a leg strap peripheral and one clicked into place in the Ring-Con, a high-tech Pilates ring. These peripherals work great, and the motion sensitivity, with a few occasional exceptions, works exceptionally well and is easy to reset if, say, the aim gets a little off.

As the game progresses, you gain new Fit Skills, or attack/exercise sets, with different effects. Early in the game, you gain access to Color Coding, which means that Fit Skills in the same color group as an enemy do more damage. Fit Skills are divided into five groups: Red (arms), Yellow (core), Blue (legs), Green (yoga), and Recovery (a later, non-combat addition that restores health). Your defense is defined by Ab Guards, where you slightly bend your legs, flex your abdomen, and press the Ring-Con controller into your belly, or occasional Mega Ab Guards, where you squat while taking the other steps of an Ab Guard to ward off an exceptionally powerful boss attack. You also gradually build a large catalogue of clothing to wear (with a variety of permanent buffs, augmented further when a full outfit is worn together) and potions to produce (providing typically short-term buffs, like increasing a specific color attack power or restoring health, and created by combining harvested ingredients and then squeezing them to make smoothies, soups, and drinks).

The plot is fairly simple so far. Your avatar (masculine or feminine, with customizable eye and skin color) is tricked into breaking the seal on a magical ring, releasing the imprisoned dragon Dragaux. Dragaux carries a dark influence that corrupts him and those around him, making them selfishly pursue their inner desires at the cost of everything else. The ring, simply named Ring, is actually a sentient artifact and former trainer of Dragaux, pre-possession, who enlists the protagonist in a quest to stop the dragon and the dark influence. You go from region to region, battling Dragaux’s minions and attempting to undo the effects of the dark influence along the way, meeting a variety of goofball characters in the process.

The narrative is always a little campy, and the dialogue is typically very self-aware and paronomastic. While the story broadens, it (so far) hasn’t gotten much deeper than what I’ve presented above. But that’s okay; the story keeps giving me clear objectives to push forward, and I love/hate Dragaux and have been charmed by many of the other supporting characters I’ve encountered. The silliness is energizing, and the fact that the game presents a solid RPG adventure at all, with all the typical accoutrements of the genre, is quite impressive for a fitness game. I could strike that–the game’s impressive, and while it might be a forgettable but fun diversion without the fitness controls, with those features it feels remarkably fresh and inventive. It is a good game, not just a good fitness game.

You’d think that 30 days of daily playing would be enough for me to have finished a game, or to at least have a good idea of all elements of the game. But that’s not the case here. For one thing, 15 to 20 minutes is a lot less than one or two hours of gaming on a weeknight or much more than that even on a weekend. (First behavior change: Ring Fit Adventure convinces me I’ve had plenty of “game time,” so the amount of time I spend playing video games altogether has decreased sharply.) As a result of this fairly limited approach to play, I’m still uncovering new gameplay elements regularly. It took me a few days to unlock Color Coding, and a bit more than that to unlock the ability to paddle over rivers, and a couple weeks more before the skill tree was opened to me, and nearly a month before the skill tree was expanded for the first time, and there’s still a steady trickle of new Fit Skills being unlocked as I play. From what I’ve read in forums, it looks like the skill tree should expand at least once more. And even when I finish the full quest, there are apparently new-game-plus modes.

Some of the newly unlocked content has a direct impact on gameplay from day to day; for instance, there are new enemies appearing, and enemies work together in new ways that create unique challenges in levels. The best example of this happened just today. The game had gradually introduced me to Skuttlebells, enemies with powerful claw attacks, and showed me in earlier boss fights that Dragaux would lift them up for extra damage. It also added in Matta Rays, enemies that could heal their allies by sliding under them. And it most recently added Megaphauna, which can provide buffs to their allies or call in more support as my enemies are vanquished in a fight. The most recent boss fight against Dragaux, who perpetually retreats after defeat, had him using Skuttlebells while supported by a Matta Ray and a Megaphauna. While I normally would have targeted the Skuttlebells first, I focused on the Megaphauna, to shut off any buffs or additional enemies; then I turned to the Matta Ray, taking it down in a group attack that also weakened a Skuttlebell; then I focused on the Skuttlebells directly; then I finally fought Dragaux himself. He often launches into a mid-battle special attack, and this one was a familiar form, hurling boxes at me for me to shoot down before impact, but it was still freshly challenging because he was now hurling a few boxes at a time, spread out across the screen, at pretty high speed. I’m not suggesting that the game requires strategic thinking, but it was nice that I could put a little thought into a battle plan more complicated than attack-attack-attack, and this is hardly the only example of engaging and different battles.

I’ve said almost everything that I could about Ring Fit Adventure, but I want to emphasize that the game is super-encouraging. Ring cheers me on and gives tips on better form. The game praises me for showing up and for working out. It celebrates milestones in activity and rewards me with titles. It’s very wholesome and holistic in its approach, focusing on the positive, encouraging me to think positively because I’m putting some work into this, suggesting I don’t overextend myself by pushing too hard or too long, providing healthy lifestyle tips at the end of the day, reminding me to drink water in between sets, and recommending a guided dynamic stretching session at the beginning of every workout and a static stretching session at the end. While I haven’t missed a day yet, my understanding is that the game never calls you out for time away, instead always focusing on how good it is that you’re back for another day. And I can speak directly to what happens when you lose a battle: the game still counts your reps, awards some experience, and lets you pick right up where you left off. I lost to Dragaux once, and the game gave me the option of skipping the course leading up to him to start my fight directly with him; I opted to instead go through the course again, but it was nice that the game doesn’t punish you for defeat. It’s not a hard game, and even if you have little gaming experience or struggle at first with some of the boss fights, it’s not going to punish you for losing. Even a “loss” is a moment to gain experience, recover, and push forward, both in the game and in reality. This positive and continual reward for engaging is a powerful motivator.

It’s hard to say how long I’ll stay with Ring Fit Adventure. But I have no desire to let up at this point. I’m excited to get to the game each day. And even when the campaign is well behind me, I imagine I’ll still want to jog through certain beautiful courses, or take part in some of the custom workout routines you can build with accumulated Fit Skills, or dig into the more recently released rhythm game addition that I’ve barely touched so far. There’s a lot to engage with, and I hope it will be a long while before any of this begins to be boring or stale. For now, Ring Fit Adventure has made exercise a fun, daily part of my life, and I’m grateful for that.

If you can find a copy of Ring Fit Adventure for its original price, which was easy enough when I bought it a little over a month ago, then this is definitely worth it for anyone hoping for a fun and fantastic way to make exercise a part of your everyday routine.

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