What a difference a decade makes. In 2008, Nintendo released Wii Fit and was met with an interesting mixed reaction. While it became an enormous global success, shifting over 22 million copies, a percentage of Nintendo’s long-time fanbase expressed anger (rightly or wrongly) because they felt the company was seemingly abandoning them in favour of appealing to the ‘casual’ market. Fast forward past two sequels and here we are, 11 years later, with another attempt to turn fitness into fun. The difference is, this time it may have what it takes to get gamers on board as well as casual players.
Ring Fit Adventure's main Adventure mode consists of around 100 levels, set over 20 different worlds (each with their own Mario-style world map). The aim is to make it through each of these stages, taking out enemies along the way, in order to reach and battle with Dragaux, a rather large and buff purple monster who’s probably the type to kick sand in nerds’ faces any time he’s at the beach. In order to carry out this task, you’re armed with two new accessories: the Ring-Con and a leg strap.
The Ring-Con is essentially a resistance ring you can buy for pilates workouts, albeit one with a slot for the right Joy-Con to connect to. When you squeeze or expand the Ring-Con, the Joy-Con can detect what you’re doing (and with how much effort) and act accordingly. The leg strap, meanwhile, does what you’d imagine: it straps to your leg and you place the other Joy-Con in a little pocket there. Oddly, while you may expect the Ring-Con is the most likely of the two to be susceptible to problems, we actually had more issues with the leg strap: no matter how tightly we stretched it around our left thigh, it would occasionally slip slowly down during lengthier sessions. Perhaps we're just too buff?
The majority of the Adventure mode’s stages are made up of two parts: exploration and battle. The former is an on-rails situation where your character jogs along a path, squeezing and stretching the Ring-Con as you go in order to blow and suck air for a variety of reasons. You may need to blow it to fire wind at a wheel that needs to be spun to open a door, or you may need to use the suck function to attract coins and other pick-ups.
Your character’s traversal through these sections is controlled by physically jogging on the spot, with the Joy-Con in your leg strap picking up your motions. Some areas require a faster jog – more running on the spot than jogging, essentially – while other situations like climbing stairs or wading through water require you to lift your knees higher. Again, this isn’t a new concept for Nintendo: Wii Fit included the ability to run through Wuhu Island by putting your Wii Remote in your pocket and jogging on the spot. Where it differs here isn’t just the added interactivity but the feeling of progress you’re making due to the fact that each stage has you running through different environments.
Occasionally you’ll bump into an enemy and it’s here where the game gets down to serious business. No more frivolous jogging on the spot and squeezing your ring here; in order to defeat the enemies you encounter you’re going to have to do some proper exercises, and do a lot of them. You’re armed with a set number of potential ‘attacks’ that you can pull off, each represented by a different type of exercise. Once you pick the one you want to do, you have to perform numerous reps of that exercise, with both Joy-Cons using their motion sensors to determine whether you’re performing them properly.
Battles can be pretty hard work, especially if you aren’t the fittest person and you’re playing Ring Fit Adventure to change that. The exercises vary in intensity depending on your own body’s strengths and weaknesses, and as you gain experience and level-up you can unlock new exercises that can be swapped in for ones you don’t like doing. This should be done sensibly, though: exercises are colour-coded to match their type (upper body, lower body, core and yoga) and performing an exercise on an enemy of the same colour will do extra damage. It’s all well and good roaming around with a repertoire consisting solely of yoga moves, but they’ll only be truly effective against green enemies. A well-rounded move set is key, then.
Outside of the main adventure mode, things are a lot more like the Wii Fit games of old with a selection of mini-games. Some of these are purely novelty-free exercise games that either challenge you to do a certain number of reps within a set time, or give you a set of different exercises designed to focus on one area: your core, your abs, your glutes (i.e. your rump) or what have you. Then there are 12 more frivolous mini-games that have you using the Ring-Con and leg strap to take part in such activities as making pottery, flying a parachute and riding a jumping go-kart. None of these are as potentially iconic as the likes of the football heading game in Wii Fit, but they’re fun enough and come as a welcome bonus when they appear throughout the main adventure mode, too.
Mini-games and pseudo RPG stuff aside, the most impressive thing about this game is that it works. We appreciate that may not be saying much, but one of the main criticisms levelled at Wii Fit back in the day was that standing on a big plastic board and leaning left and right may have been useful for improving your balance – which, to be fair, the game always maintained was its main focus – but it never really gave you a good workout unless you were built like Pavarotti.
Because Ring Fit Adventure focuses on resistance-based exercise and insists on making you perform each motion numerous times in a way that (assuming you've balanced your moves) covers most of the key areas of your body, as long as you play the game properly and don't try to cheat it, you're definitely going to get a workout here. It's obviously not going to replace going to the gym, but it was never really trying to do that. Instead, it's a brilliant way to stay fit if the gym isn't an option for whatever reason; maybe there isn't enough time in your daily routine to travel to one, or maybe (like us) you just find them utterly boring and prefer the idea of it being gamified.
If you're a gym addict you probably shouldn't throw out your membership card just yet, but for everyone else looking to get fitter, this is a fantastic way to do it that won't bore you senseless. Play it properly and you'll definitely feel it the next morning – a sure sign that it's at least doing you some good – while the compelling adventure mode with its RPG elements will ensure that you'll keep coming back for more.