Despite what many healthy and active people may tell you, fitness is not fun. It’s not. They tell you this lie in an attempt to convince themselves they enjoy the activity, to provide a short-term reward while they work towards the long-term goal of looking good and living a full life. Mate... if fitness was fun, we’d all be doing it.
This is a feeling that Nintendo understands well. This isn’t the company's first attempt at getting players off their sofa and burning a few pounds, and with software like Wii Fit it has shown there's a big potential audience for these things. The trick is to provide people with short-term satisfaction and reward that takes one's mind off your flabby thighs and wracked lungs.
Fortunately, this is core to video games themselves: collecting coins, completing levels, landing jumps, defeating enemies, gaining experience points and levelling up. Short-term accomplishments that will always feel great. Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure attempts this combination, and I'm sure the marketing line will be something about 'making fitness fun.'
Before I went to try out the software and the Ring-Con accessory for myself, Nintendo sent over a polite note that I should dress casually in something I could move in, and that I would be sweating by the end of the session. The latter seemed like an expertly-judged backhand regarding the average fitness level of games journalists, but if anything it underplayed things. I spent the next day shuffling around like a poorly trained zombie, needing multiple attempts to stand up, and sweating like a pig.
Ring Fit Adventure is exactly what it says on the tin: an adventure game complete with turn-based combat, potions, lotions, and on-rails platforming, all of which is controlled via the Ring-Con, an overly large bendy-bus-style steering wheel, and a Joy-Con garter belt.
You navigate menus by steering the wheel left and right, and lifting the ring up and down respectively. Confirming a selection involves you squeezing the ring con together, so the first order of business was to test the ring’s strength. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't break it. Obviously I've got biceps that would make The Rock envious, so it's a sturdy piece of kit.
I played a few levels of the adventure mode, each lasting around 5 minutes or so. They involve you running on the spot (the faster you jog the faster your character runs), whilst aiming and squeezing the ring con to launch fireballs at boxes and doors all while collecting as many coins as you can. Stairs require you to lift your knees up when running while, to jump, you shoot a fireball at your feet, after which holding the ring together will turn any fall into a slow glide.
As you run through the on-rail section adventure, like any good JRPG, you will encounter enemies and enter a traditional turn-based combat section. Or as I like to think of it, a much-needed breather. Different enemy types are weak to different attacks, and each attack is mapped to a stretch, yoga pose or some other physical exercise. When it is inevitably your turn for a beating, damage done to the Zelda-like hearts can be mitigated by, again, squeezing your Ring. This is not a euphemism.
It’s all rather dramatic. The large number and variety of activities mapped to manipulating a simple ring are impressive, and more attacks are unlocked as you progress (you can also craft potions to boost your stats).
You can’t have an adventure without a story, and Ring Fit has that covered too. After the first level, you accidentally release some ancient evil enemy from, yes, another ring. The big bad is a giant leotard-sporting bat-devil with muscles bigger than your head, clearly a steroids user, and has the villain role on lockdown. I look forward to seeing him in Smash Bros.
There are various mini-games that are a lot less strenuous, which test balance, strength and reactions: whack a mole, tightrope, target practice, and so on. I’d imagine they would make a good warm-up or warm-down. There are of course leaderboards that should help encourage a competitive spirit between you and your hopefully equally unfit friends as to who can get the highest score.
Speaking of which, as is common knowledge to fit freaks, you should stretch before and after any exercise session: so Ring Fit Adventure leads you through a few dynamic stretches before starting a session, as well as serving up various depressing statistics when you're finished. In all seriousness this is an important addition, and should stop people injuring themselves by accident.
Ring Fit Adventure has a multitude of settings appropriate for all levels of fitness, and after every level the Joy-Con measures your heart rate to determine how strenuous it was on you. This handy feature is one of several ways in which the software tries to adapt to your capabilities: you can also customise how much pressure needs to be applied to the Ring-Con for a command to be registered, and what jogging speed you find comfortable. I may have been a bit overly ambitious with the latter but, hey, pushing through the burn never hurt anyo- [Callum? CALLUM?!? - ed]
Nintendo says Ring Fit is designed to be played in 30 minutes sessions over multiple months. In the age of games as services, where many people play a single game for months and even years, this seems like a manageable commitment to a more healthy routine. Some people struggle to find the time for regular gym sessions (that's my excuse anyway), so a fun game based around high-intensity interval training, one with short term and enjoyable rewards, might be exactly what some of us might need. And the best thing about playing this in the privacy of your own home is simple: the shower's pretty close.
Callum Agnew is trying out a regular routine with Ring Fit and, presuming he survives, will be back to let us know whether it enhanced his health and well-being or ended up in the bin.