So I’m in a small but pleasantly furnished room in London’s fashionable Soho. It’s just me and this young dude who’s half my age and my boobs are bouncing around like it’s the opening credits of Baywatch. About half an hour later, as we’re on our way downstairs, I catch a glimpse through an incompletely-closed curtain of a middle-aged man having a similar experience. He looks happy enough but he is out of breath and his button-down shirt has come untucked and is flapping around his middle. It’s not Nintendo’s fault. They did say to wear sportswear when they invited a load of games journalists round to theirs to try out their newest product, Ring Fit Adventure. It’s a fitness game. I realise it might sound a bit more exciting than that from the title alone, based on the way I’ve just introduced it, but in fact it is about fitness. All the games journalists and I have been jogging and doing squats, lunges and yoga poses for half an hour and everyone has managed to work up a light sweat. The young dude who is my personal Nintendo fitness coach, guiding me through a demo of the product, tells me that I’ve burned up 40 calories, which isn’t very much when you come to think of it, but more of that later.
When I get home, I do some price-checking online and buy a Nintendo Switch. That’s the first time I’ve ever bought a piece of hardware just because I enjoyed trying out a particular game, so if you’re wondering how much I liked Ring Fit Adventure, that’s how much. Ring Fit Adventure could be just what you need if you love gaming and you also like being healthy, two things which have not been natural companions over the years. As I remarked to my coach, I’ve played World of Warcraft since 2006, but it’s not good for your waistline. The invitation to review Ring Fit Adventure came at exactly the right time for me because I’ve been forcing myself to go to the gym recently. I like the results from going to the gym – I’ve lost 25 pounds – but everyone knows that treadmills are not exciting and nor are crunches.
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So I get my new Nintendo Switch and my very own copy of Ring Fit together at home and it doesn’t take too long to set up. The blue joy-con controller is strapped to your thigh with a piece of Velcro, where it does a fantastic job of understanding the movements you are making with your body, whether you are jogging on the spot or doing leg raises on a mat. The red controller slots into a device that I now know to be similar to a Pilates ring. It is a large, hollow ring, about 12” across, with foam handles on either side. The ring is flexible and the controller can sense its position. You give your arms and chest a workout by squeezing and pulling it and the game can tell when you are holding the ring above your head or out to the side and so on, and so on.
You might think all this is a bit too similar to going to the gym to be interesting, but here’s the good part. You are doing all these movements and exercises in pursuit of an actual game. This is about a million times better than the dismal options offered by treadmills at the gym, such as watching morning TV with the sound off or playing card games that look as though they were coded in 1992. Ring Fit Adventure is immensely more entertaining than that. You will be represented by a very buff avatar who runs, jumps and punches their way through what amounts to a platform game. You will proceed through levels in hot pursuit of a purple dragon who is the Bad Guy and who you have to pursue for some reason that is probably explained if you take the time to watch the five-cinematic at the beginning. As you run through some attractive countryside, you can collect gold coins, fire missiles at crates, leap implausibly high into the air, smash through doors and fight cuddly demons, as any platform game would normally require. And it is fun. It totally outranks the usual sort of exercises that I do at home because it’s giving my eyes and brain something to focus on that isn’t minutes or sets or reps. I’m absorbed and the time goes quickly.
So, a few factual things. Ring Fit Adventure offers several ways to play. If you play your way through the built-in adventure story and you really chase those levels for 30 minutes a day, it will take you 90 days to complete the game, a Nintendo exec tells me. But there’s more to it than that, because you can pick from four levels of fitness, from ‘casual’ (that’s me and the dishevelled guy with the flappy shirt) through to extremely fit, which means that you could conceivably see the adventure through 4 times with increasing demands on your physical skills. If that’s not enough, you can skip the adventure story and choose from numerous mini games which put an entertaining gloss on familiar exercises and you can design your own custom workouts from quite a large menu of options. It’s fun, it seems really well researched with a lot of emphasis on correct form and will even monitor your heart rate through some magic that involves placing your hand over the controller. I love it. I’ve recently taken to exercising every day and it is often a chore so I’m genuinely excited about this thing I can do in my home that is going to make me concentrate on gaming and forget about the boring parts of getting fit. There’s also a super feature that I must mention in case you have downstairs neighbours like I do. They don’t want to listen to you running on the spot right over their heads while they’re trying to watch Emmerdale and Nintendo has thoughtfully anticipated this by building in a silent mode where you do bouncy squats to make your avatar run. A very creative solution.
Are there any drawbacks at all? There are just one or two. I spent at least 30 or 40 minutes with Ring Fit at home on the day of writing this feature. So much time was used up watching cut scenes, entering information and choosing among options that I managed barely 10 minutes of actual exercise and had to do a 50-minute Pilates DVD afterwards in order to feel that I’d hit my daily target, although this could be due to the fact that I’m still new to the product and I don’t know everything about how to use it. I also suspect that the foam grips on the side of the flexible ring are going to become rank with sweat over time, yet Nintendo was unable to tell me whether I’d be able to purchase replacements. The adventure story is possibly a bit thin but I don’t know how much lore a person needs from a game that revolves around physical activity. All in all, it’s great and I’m pleased to add it to my repertoire of exercise solutions. Every little helps.
The game will retail at about £70 and my Nintendo fitness coach told me that in exchange for a further £100, cash in hand, he will come round to my house and show me what to do, but he might have been joking. Ring Fit Adventure goes on sale on October 18th.
Featured Image Credit: Nintendo