Review: Ring Fit Adventure

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Every once in awhile, you see odd little efforts to gameify parts of our daily lives. I remember news apps awarding achievements for reading articles or posting comments, and zombie running apps providing that extra incentive to keep your jogs brisk. Fitness games are a natural fit for this trend, and while they have a long history dating back to NES Track and Field and beyond, they generally haven’t been big business. Not until Wii Fit, probably, which did the smart thing and married the growing trend of yoga to the hottest console on the market. Now we have Ring Fit Adventure on the Switch, which seems to be a similar effort but makes a rather striking move from most fitness games: it goes all-in on the game aspect.

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You’ve unwittingly released an ancient evil upon the land, a ridiculously buff dragon who’s incensed he’s been missing out on thousands of years of gains. He takes off to follow the whims of his evil self-improvement plan, leaving you with a mysterious enchanted ring. Ring, which is its name (it has a face), informs you that this simply cannot stand and that together, you must pursue Dragaux across the land and eventually re-imprison him. To do that, you’re going to have to do a lot of jogging, jumping, and battling Dragaux’s minions with the power of squats, leg lifts, and chair poses. And the friendly folks you meet along the way might be willing to help with new workout clothes and smoothies, if you’re willing to quest for them in return.

That’s right, this exercise game has a story! And it’s not just some goofy, tacked-on afterthought, either. Ring Fit Adventure is a proper RPG adventure, with stats you level up, gear you equip, and tactical decisions to make in turn-based combat. It’s just that instead of hitting A to confirm, you have to work your body just to move forward or punch a monster. All of this is facilitated through a clever JoyCon setup that sees one strapped to your leg to track lower body movement, and the other attached to a Pilates ring that can register how you swing, squeeze, and stretch it. In menus, for example, you turn the ring to change selections, squeeze it to confirm, and stretch it to cancel.

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We’re just scratching the surface of how clever this whole system is, though. Your adventure is divided into different worlds, with each world having a few levels to work through, a town or two, a few mini-games, and a boss encounter with Dragaux. During regular levels, you physically jog in place to keep your character moving along the path, and use the ring to vacuum up treasure or launch you over chasms. Monsters will appear along your path, which send you to an RPG battle where you select different exercises to attack foes. If you choose squats, the game will track you as you do a dozen or so squats, each one doing damage to the selected enemy depending on how well you do it and how consistent you’re being. Not just battles but doing any sort of registered physical activity awards you EXP, which levels you up to make your character do more damage and take less for battles ahead.

Starting out, levels and battles will proceed as simple workouts. You’ll be able to choose any moves to attack, and as long as you’re not completely failing to exercise your attacks and defenses will keep you from getting knocked out by even bosses. However, the further you get into the game, the more options and abilities you’ll unlock to turn this into a proper RPG experience. One of the first you get is color-coding, which makes the colors of enemies and attacks matter. Once you get this, you’ll need to pay attention to which exercises are more effective against which foes, and plan your battle turns out more carefully. Systems like this are spread out over dozens of hours, with major features like a skill tree only coming into play after weeks of regular exercise.

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That’s the true beauty of Ring Fit Adventure, that it understands exactly how to keep people interested and engaged enough to keep working out. There will always be something more to unlock or discover or collect on this grand adventure, and you can only do so much exercise in a sitting to find it. The game is acutely aware of its place as a teaching tool, too, so every corner of the game is loaded with helpful and sometimes important tips for getting the most out of your workout. It strongly encourages you to warm up at the start and cool down at the end of play sessions with choreographed stretch routines, it reminds you to take breaks when you play too long, it can set up alarms to remind you to play, and it drops all kinds of advice for eating, sleeping, and making the most of your time away from the game, too.

Ring Fit Adventure does exactly what any good exercise game can be expected to do, which is help you build habits to improve your health. It’s not going to make you the buff demigod Dragaux is but it puts you on the road to regular activity and fitness by making the process so rewarding and fun. There’s enough depth to the game here that I’d absolutely play it as a conventional RPG, but tying everything to challenging exercises is simply a stroke of genius. It’s a clever game in how well it’s put together, and an admirable one for how effective it is in advocating personal fitness. If you’ve ever thought that working out is too boring or onerous for you, this is what you want to try next.

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