This past weekend, for the first time in my life, I felt guilty for not exercising. I was nearly two weeks into establishing a dedicated routine in Ring Fit Adventure, the latest fitness experiment from Nintendo. But I was sick and just couldn’t summon the energy to run on the spot for 10 minutes. The idea of doing squats or thigh presses made me feel weak. But as I laid in bed chugging cough syrup, I also realized just how much the game had changed my mindset in such a short period. I went from never working out to feeling guilty about taking a weekend off.
Ring Fit Adventure is a game that builds off of one of Nintendo’s biggest hits. Back in the glory days of the original Wii, Wii Fit sold millions of users on the idea of working out in front of their televisions. But despite coming from Nintendo, it wasn’t exactly what you’d call a video game. It was more of a lightly playful fitness aid. Ring Fit Adventure, meanwhile, is most definitely a game — and not just any game, but a full-fledged RPG, complete with worlds to explore, monsters to battle, and items to collect. By combining the two, Nintendo has created something I thought was impossible: a way to exercise regularly that I actually enjoy.
So what exactly is Ring Fit Adventure? It’s a combination of a game and peripherals. In terms of hardware, you get two main pieces: a leg strap and a large resistance ring. Each of these connects to a Joy-Con controller to measure and track your movement. They’re both quality add-ons that stood up to what I could give them over the last two weeks. I had some occasional issues with the leg strap coming loose, but it’s easy enough to tighten, even in the middle of doing some lunges. Similarly, the ring — which Nintendo calls a Ring-Con — is a sturdy accessory. You have to be really hard on it during certain exercises, pulling and squeezing it as much as you can, and it held up to everything I gave it.
The setup for the game is appropriately ridiculous. You play as a silent hero in a fantastical realm that is under threat from a roided-up dragon in spandex. Like many games, you travel across a large map, going from level to level, accomplishing various goals. There are towns and shops, enemies and gear. You can even gather ingredients to create magical potions, which, naturally, are called smoothies in the game. It’ll all be very familiar if you’ve ever played an adventure or role-playing game before.
But things are very different once you actually start playing. One of the first things you do in Ring Fit Adventure is meet a sentient ring named… Ring. It serves as a combination of sidekick and personal trainer, helping you through the game with a steady stream of tips and encouragement. Here’s how a level works: with the leg strap tightened and the Ring-Con held in front of you like a steering wheel, you move through the level by jogging on the spot. As you do this, you’ll regularly come up against obstacles that require different movements to get past. To jump, you point the Ring-Con down and squeeze; to go up stairs, you raise your knees higher while jogging. You can collect coins on the side of the trail by stretching out the Ring-Con and sucking them up, and you can destroy obstacles like boxes by squeezing the ring, letting out a powerful burst of air.
It might not sound that hard, but it can be tricky, especially as you have to remember all of the various inputs in quick succession, without taking a break from running. Naturally, more interactions are added as you progress. Eventually, you’ll be doing squats to jump higher on trampolines and twisting your body to paddle a boat. Levels can last anywhere from two to 10 minutes, and I regularly found myself sweating after doing two or three.
Then there are the battles. In addition to running through each stage, you also have to fight bad guys. The enemies are adorable versions of gym gear; a trundling kettlebell with an attitude or a sweet yoga mat with doe eyes. Battles are turn-based, as if you were playing Final Fantasy in a gym. In order to attack, you select from a number of different exercises. You then do reps — that could mean squats, a warrior pose, or planking — which will inflict damage on your enemies. When it’s their turn to fight back, you hold the ring against your abs and squeeze, holding it for the duration of the attack to create a shield. This process repeats until one of you runs out of health.
There’s a layer of strategy added in to force you to try different exercises. Most enemies have a color, and exercises are similarly grouped into colors. Leg-related exercises are blue, for instance, while yoga poses are green. So if you come up against a blue kettlebell, you’ll probably want to do some thigh crunches. This becomes particularly important against bosses, which have huge health bars. If you aren’t being strategic about your attacks, you’re going to have a hard time. The more you play, the more exercises you’ll unlock so that you’re not stuck doing the same yoga pose every time you encounter an angry green exercise ball.
What’s perhaps most surprising is that both halves of Ring Fit Adventure not only work well together, but they feel fully developed on their own. I really enjoyed the lighthearted RPG gameplay and particularly the world, which is a charming, pun-filled place, despite initially looking very generic. Somehow, despite it yelling at me constantly, I never got tired of Ring and its very helpful positive reinforcement. At the same time, whenever I play, I really feel like I’m getting a workout in. It was a struggle at first, but I could feel myself becoming more adept with each passing day. I could do more, and I felt better afterward. (In a nice touch, the game will ask you each day if you want to increase the challenge or keep it the same, allowing you to ramp things up at your own pace. Though this also means you aren’t forced to test your limits; you have to choose to.)
Also important: the game is easy to fit into your life. Because each level is just a few minutes long, you can get in a quick workout on a busy day, but you can also string together a few if you’re looking for something more intense. The game will even warn you if it thinks it’s time to take a break. Ring Fit Adventure also supports multiple accounts, so you can have several people in the same household using it, and it will track their efforts and customize the experience to their needs. There are also mini-games (more on those tomorrow) and customizable exercise playlists for those who don’t see the appeal of digging through a multi-hour RPG.
The best part about the game, though, is that it is just plain fun. I’m a little bit dubious about how accurate it is in terms of tracking my calories and heart rate, but I don’t think the specifics matter all that much, at least for me. Instead, the most important thing is how it changed the way I think about exercise. It’s no longer a chore. By making the experience into something I’m intimately familiar with — namely, a nerdy RPG — Ring Fit Adventure gave me a structure that made sense and that I enjoyed. The result is that once I started playing, I didn’t want to stop. I’ve missed three out of the last 14 days, and I feel guilty even about that. That’s pretty decent progress for someone who generally avoids the gym.
Now that’s not to say there aren’t issues. As I said, I’m not really not sold on how accurate everything is; after each workout, the game tracks your heart rate via the Joy-Con’s IR sensor, and it never seemed to accurately represent the way I felt. I would get relaxed readings when I could barely catch my breath and told I had an intense workout when I breezed through a level. Similarly, there are some elements of the RPG experience that don’t jibe so well with exercise. Having to grind through experience levels by replaying levels or going through optional side quests, in particular, feels very tedious the few times it’s forced on you in the game, and those long, exhausting boss battles are incredibly frustrating when you die. I also had a few issues with certain exercises not recognizing my movements, which is a common flaw in motion control games, but it feels extra annoying when you don’t get credit for hard physical work.
I can’t tell you that Ring Fit Adventure is a proper substitute for going to the gym or a way to really get in shape. What I can say is this: it’s a polished, fun game that feels like a real workout, and, for me, it became a way I could almost seamlessly fit physical activity into my life. Even as I sit here typing this, I’m feeling a bit off about only having put in 20 minutes today. The good thing is that squeezing in another 20 is pretty simple. I just need to slay some yoga mats.
Ring Fit Adventure launches on October 18th on the Nintendo Switch.