Video games generally offer a very good excuse to avoid doing exercise entirely. After all, why would you choose to be bent over a park bench wheezing when there are monsters to slay and XP to harvest?
Ring Fit Adventure has both of those things in abundance. In fact, on paper its surprisingly meaty RPG campaign is as about as traditionally video gamey as it gets. Except here, it’s high knees, squats and shoulder presses, rather than button combos and quick trigger fingers, that’ll see you progress.
Along with the bundled software, the titular Ring-Con and Leg-Strap accessories are all you need to get your sweat on, and like the Wii Fit Balance Board - Nintendo’s first foray into fitness gaming - before it, the former is a brilliantly designed and genuinely impressive exercise tool.
And make no mistake: if you allow it to, Ring Fit Adventure can give you a workout as knackering as any visit to the gym.
Enter the Ring-Con
I’ll get to the game in a minute, but first, the accessories you need to play it. Ring Fit Adventure comes with two peripherals: the Ring-Con, a highly abusable plastic ring much like the one (I'm told) you might use for pilates, and a velcro leg strap.
Into each you slide one of the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Cons, with your movements tracked by their various sensors. The ring has two spongey handles and can be stretched and pressed inward as much as your strength will allow, generating resistance that you’ll really start to feel after a few of the multi-routine levels.
By and large, the Switch hardware accurately tracks your movements, and genuinely seems to reward players who really put everything into the various reps. You can even measure your heart rate after a level by holding your thumb over the Joy-Con’s IR sensor - although there was notable disparity between its readings and what my Apple Watch Series 5 was telling me. I tend to trust the watch.
The leg strap allows you to run on the spot, crouch and kick out on the floor, which means Ring Fit Adventure can combine cardio with the strength-based exercises that use the ring. Again, I was surprised at just how precisely the Joy-Con in its little pocket reflected my motions on screen, but unfortunately the velcro strap is maddeningly prone to coming loose mid-workout, which totally ruins your flow. A few times, the controller even flew out of its pouch. Nintendo should have stress tested it more. Also bear in mind that you’re going to need a fairly large playspace to really get into the exercises.
When you first boot up the game you’ll be asked to input some basic information, like your age and weight, as well as your preferred intensity. You can also set the running exercises to low impact if your pounding footsteps are going to be an issue for anyone else in the building.
Once all that’s done and you’ve warmed up, you’ll want to fire up Adventure mode, a fully-fledged RPG that casts you as a silent protagonist who, with the help of a sentient enchanted ring (it’s very Nintendo), must take down an enormous bodybuilding dragon. Far more concerned with not skipping leg day than fire-breathing, the taunting Dragaux is actually one of the best villains Nintendo has come up with for ages. He’s bound to end up in Smash Bros. at some point.
The sprawling campaign, which Nintendo says can take months to complete, sees you traverse grassy meadows, sparkling streams and thunderstruck forests, with a visual style and colour palette somewhat reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
The game is comprised of a series of worlds, each with several levels that you have to complete before a scrap with gym bro Dragaux. Levels generally unfold in the same way: you move by jogging on the spot, while upping the pace is rewarded with a speed boost in the game. Stairs require to raise your knees, and you can jump across gaps and over obstacles by pointing the Ring-Con down and squeezing it. You can shoot fireballs at doors and hoover up collectables by pulling outwards. It’s proper exercise disguised as fun.
Often in your way, though, are monsters. Upon impact the game launches into a Pokemon-esque turn-based battle where the 60 different exercises you gradually accumulate as you play equate to attacks. You might have to do 20 overhead presses for example, or a set of slower yoga stretches. Holding the Ring-Con against your abs and pressing in blocks incoming attacks.
Much like a more traditional workout, these clashes are repetitive and not always enjoyable, but you really feel the burn on your muscles after a while, which makes the whole endeavour feel worthwhile. And in a nice touch, the enemies here take the form of anthropomorphic gym equipment. It’s not every day you get to fight a kettlebell. Eventually you’ll unlock colour-coded attacks that deal more damage to certain enemy types, while crafting smoothies gives you an often essential health boost.
Completing a level showers you with attack and defense-based XP, achievements and improved ranks. It’s a video game in every way, only in this one the stat boosts are followed by a full breakdown of your real-world results. You can see how many calories you burned and the time spent on each individual rep. Again, I’m not entirely confident in the scientific accuracy of the reports, but if you’re sweating (and you will be) the game has surely done its job.
Ring Fit Adventure will frequently remind you that it’s no substitute for regularly exercising away from your living room, but you have to admire how much depth Nintendo has built into what is a very accessible game.
Adventure mode is going to keep you panting for a while, but there’s plenty more in this generous package. Should you want to focus on just one part of your body, there are individual sets of reps that work particular muscles, as well as timed challenges that could prove popular in competitive households. You might have to do as many knee lifts as you can in 20 seconds, or keep pressing the ring to stop a bomb exploding.
Then there’s the collection of minigames, which you can think of as Mario Party-inspired fitness tapas. Robo-Wrecker has you playing whack-a-mole with some unfortunate robots, pulling and pushing the Ring-Con when they pop up, while in Dreadmill you run on a treadmill, increasing and decreasing your speed to line up with coins coming towards you. I also liked Bootstrap Tower, a climbing time attack game in which squeezing the Ring-Con makes your on-screen avatar leap between holds. There’s a few duds in there, but most of them are inventive treats.
Nintendo has made it very easy for multiple users to play the game, so nobody has to mess around with your scaled difficulty level, and everyone can get involved. You can even ask the Switch to give you a nudge each day when it’s time to park your go-kart in a Mushroom Kingdom lay-by and get moving.
Ring Fit Adventure verdict
Ring Fit Adventure is a really nice surprise. What could easily have been a bland experience aimed at the casual crowd is actually a proper video game that’s bursting with Nintendo’s usual charm.
On its own, the core RPG element is a substantial offering, so when you add in the minigames and custom workouts it’s actually one of the best all-round packages of the year, particularly as the Ring-Con is an expertly crafted accessory could easily be used in future games.
Sure, some of the tracking functionality feels a bit wonky, battles are a bit on the grindy side, and no amount of of playtime is going to earn you the physique of The Rock. But even serial gym-skippers will find something to like in Ring Fit Adventure, and I’m determined to keep crushing that Ring-Con until the world is safe from blusterous weight-lifting dragons.