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Review of Ring Fit Adventure – Fitness Game for the Nintendo Switch

No, you’re not having dejà-vu. This is a review for Ring Fit Adventure, a new fitness game from Nintendo.

You know those old movies where someone walks into a old building filled with long-abandoned machinery, flips a few switches, and you hear the equipment whirring to life. That’s kind of what it felt like coming back to this blog.

Don’t get me wrong–I’ve loved reviewing PSVR games. But as immersive as they’ve been and as technically advanced they’ve gotten since the days of Wii Fitness Gaming, it’s still not 100% there yet. The bulky VR headset is still a barrier for me to use it daily. I’ve heard of people using ankle weights and wrist weights; but trying to exercise with VR is like having a head weight. It’s still not like the days of games like Walk It Out, EA Sports Active, and Wii Fit.

If you don’t remember the Wii Fitness craze, here’s a refresher. In November 2006, Nintendo launched the Wii, the successor to Nintendo’s GameCube console. Everyone was predicting the end of Nintendo as flashy new consoles from Microsoft and Sony came out. And yet the Wii’s use of motion controls changed console gaming. Instead of working out your thumbs, you could move your arms around to play games. In 2008, Nintendo followed up with Wii Fit, which combined innovative hardware (the Wii Fit Balance Board and the Wii Fit Meter) and a set of games that let you track your weight, do yoga and calisthenics, and play mini games that got you moving your legs and your arms.

The concept took off like wildfire. So did this blog. You can read the archives to see the history to see some of the fantastic fitness games Nintendo and third party game developers made (and a lot of shovelware from publishers looking to cash in on the craze). Microsoft and Sony scrambled to come up with the Kinect and the Move Controllers, respectively, to try to catch up to Nintendo.

And then it all stopped. Why? Mainly because the time people had been spending playing Wii exercise games was now taken up by people farming crops, crushing candies, and flinging birds. Microsoft’s efforts at motion gaming flopped. Sony repurposed the Move to support its new PSVR. Nintendo launched the Wii U in hopes to keeping motion gaming alive, but console exercise, for all intents and purposes, was dead. When the new Nintendo Switch was launched in 2017, Nintendo focused all of its marketing efforts on traditional console gaming. Motion gaming wasn’t even advertised as one of the benefits.

It’s now two years later, and Nintendo has launched its first fitness game for the Switch, called Ring Fit Adventure.

When I saw the first reports about Ring Fit Adventure, it sounded really gimmicky. It came with two accessories that were “dumb” in that they didn’t have any electronics built in–just a plastic “ring” called a Ring-Con that seemed like a glorified Mario Kart plastic steering wheel, and a leg strap that seemed like a glorified Zumba fitness belt. Am I really going to pay $80 for this?

But as with all things Nintendo, the magic came out with the software. And that’s where Ring Fit Adventure shines. Nintendo did something very smart–they didn’t try to re-create Wii Fit. Instead, they created a complete role playing adventure game (RPG), with characters that have personality, quests to complete, monsters to slay, goodies to collect, potions to drink, and an entire world to explore. According to Nintendo, if you play for an hour a day you’ll finish the game in about 4 months.

While I really like about Ring Fit Adventure is that it brings together a lot of the great features of some of the best old Wii games, fitness games and otherwise. As with that great game Walk It Out, you need to walk in place to get your character to move through the world. As with the flying chicken game in Wii Fit Plus, at some points in the game you need to flap your arms to fly. As with games like Pokemon, when you encounter an enemy you need to fight them in a turn-based way–only instead of mashing buttons you’re doing as series of exercise moves, from yoga positions, to squats, to core exercises, to try to knock your opponent’s health bars while preserving yours. As with games like Mario there are coins to pick up along the way, but instead of just walking over them you’re stretching the Ring-Con to pick them up.

The Ring-Con is a surprisingly versatile peripheral that’s really a Pilates Ring in disguise. It’s a resistance device designed to be twisted, stretched, squeezed, pointed, and to otherwise take a lot of abuse. A lot of time has passed since those old days of getting frustrated with the poor motion tracking of the early Wii controllers–the Switch controllers do a fantastic job of tracking your movements precisely and accurately. The combination of the red Switch controller (which you put in the Ring-Con) and the blue one (which you put in your leg strap) enables a surprisingly large number of different exercises. You’ll find yourself twisting your body to paddle your boat, doing high knee exercises to run up stairs, doing squats to jump on trampolines.

I also love how they thought of a lot of details. Living on a third floor apartment, back in the Wii days my downstairs neighbors sometimes had to pound on their ceiling with a broomstick to get me to stop. Ring Fit Adventure has a mode called “Silent Mode” that lets you do fast squats instead of jogging in place. Another cool idea is “Multi-Task” mode, where you can build up reps while watching TV or or sitting at your desk, and they’ll be “credited” to you when you go back to playing the main game.

Nintendo’s secret sauce has always been that it “gets” character development and the emotional connection we get to video game characters. It would have been so easy (and lucrative) for Nintendo to just dust Mario or Link and have them “star” in this game. Instead, they introduce a whole new cast of characters with personalities of their own. The main antagonist of the game is Dragaux, a body-building dragon who plans on unleashing his reign of evil on the world. Your sidekick/trainer/cheerleader is a character named “Ring” who happens to look exactly like your Ring-Con controller. Ring will encourage you as you go from quest to quest, moving through different levels and encountering different adventures.

You’ll find yourself sweating and getting a full-body workout. Different enemies will have different colors, and each of the colors represents a different part of your body you’ll be working out. Blue-colored enemies will get you to work out your legs, red enemies your arms, and yellow your core. With green enemies you’ll find yourself doing yoga poses.

What would a Nintendo game be without mini-games, of course? In addition to the main RPG game, there are a number of fun mini-games that manage to match the fun and addictiveness of the kinds of games they had in Wii Fit. There are 12 mini-games in all:

  1. Robo-Wrecker – A “whack-a-mole” game where you smash little robots around you by pushing and pulling the ring.
  2. Aerochute – A parachute workout that focuses on your upper body and core.
  3. Squat Goals – A game where you’re on a trampoline and need to jump (by squatting) to collect coins.
  4. Crate Crasher – Shoot off explosions by squeezing the Ring Con to destroy crates that are falling in front of you.
  5. Squattery Wheel – Squat and squeeze the ring to on a pottery wheel try to replicate a vase.
  6. Thigh Rider – Sit down and squeeze the Ring Con between your legs to steer a vehicle through an obstacle course.
  7. Bank Balance – Walk like you’re on a tightrope, leaning to collect coins and avoid bombs.
  8. Bootstrap Tower – Climb a tower by raising the Ring above your head and stretching it to jump.
  9. Core Crushing – Smash robots by holding the Ring Con against your abs and turning to hit the robots.
  10. Glutting Gallery – Hold the Ring Con above your head and lean left and right to avoid bombs and collect coins.
  11. Smack Back – Hit discs that robots are throwing at you by holding the Ring Con against your abs and twisting.
  12. Dreadmill – Run in place at just the right speed to collect coins, get out of the way of bombs shooting at you. Squeeze the Ring Con at just the right timing to collect coins that are higher up.

The game isn’t without the same kinds of annoyances that come with just about every other motion game in existence–the system will sometimes lose track of you, especially if you step out of the sensor range. But compared to the early years of the Wii, Kinect, and PS Move, they’re gotten it down pretty good.

If you’re been reading this blog since 2009, you’ll know that the one thing I look for above anything else in a fitness games is: is the gameplay so fun and immersive that I end up exercising without even realizing that I’m exercising? Happy to say that Ring Fit Adventure does that. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s going to necessarily kick off the video game fitness craze like Wii Fit did, but hopefully there’ll be enough interest that Nintendo will see fit to create other games that use the Ring. If you have a Switch already and are looking for a fun game to work out to, I’d say it’s a no-brainer.

If you don’t have a Nintendo Switch, this by itself may not be enough for you to get one, but on the other hand if you’ve been on the fence, this may just push you over.

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