Nintendo's 'Ring Fit Adventure' Will Work Up a Sweat (Really!)

Switch Ring Fit Adventure - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Nintendo
The latest fitness peripheral from the gaming giant aims to get players up and on their feet, all while traversing a magical land and battling a super-buff dragon.

It’s all fun and games, at least for the first few minutes, but then Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure becomes fun and exercise. And finally, about 30 minutes in, the running in place, the squats, the twists — all egged on by a colorful avatar, cartoonish enemies and an imposing, well-muscled dragon — starts to feel suspiciously like hard work, like unadulterated exercise.

Because that’s what it is.

Peel off the Nintendo wrappings of gameplay, challenges and squeaky-voiced encouragement and you’ll find a seemingly sophisticated piece of exercise equipment that just happens to be powered by the Nintendo Switch, some peripherals and packaged with a game called Ring Fit Adventure.

The title itself, which is set for an Oct. 18 release for $79.99, delivers multiple modes, including a 100-level, 20-world Adventure more, and two useful accessories. The leg strap measures real-world actions by strapping a Nintendo Switch Joy-Con to your leg, just above the knee. Meanwhile the Ring-Con, which also needs an attached Joy-Con to work, operates sort of like a Pilates resistance ring. The device tracks when you squeeze it, pull it apart and twist or move it up and down. Combined, the two accessories track your real-world movement inside the game.

During a roughly hourlong session in New York City this week, I had a chance to get familiar with the exercise game and found it to be more than able, and willing, to put me through the ringer. To start, I strapped the Joy-Con to my left leg and held the Ring-Con in front of me, turning it to the right or left like a steering wheel and squeezing its edges together to select options. Like most exercise apps and equipment, Ring Fit Adventure wanted to know my weight. It can also use the Joy-Con’s IR motion sensor to establish a base pulse rate, something you can revisit after each of the game’s levels.

The premise for the game is thus: You happen upon a magical, talking Ring-Con and are deceived into releasing a super-buff, six-pack sporting Dragon-bro who promises to unleash negative gym culture upon the world. It’s up to you to traverse these 20 worlds and 100 levels to recapture the aforementioned gym wyrm and confirm that exercise is open to anyone, no matter how ripped they may be. It’s a silly premise, but it gets the job done.

The game starts out simply enough. You jog in place to make your character jog in the game. The faster you jog, the faster your character moves. When you come to stairs, you need to really lift those legs up to proceed. As you run along a fixed path, crates and other breakable items appear to the left and right. If you want to break them and collect bonus points, you just aim at them with the Ring-Con and then squeeze and release to shoot a blast of air. To jump and float a bit, you point the Ring-Con at the ground and squeeze it together. The longer you hold that squeeze the longer you’re held aloft by a steady stream of air in the game. That first level, which aptly takes place in the world of Beginnia, lasted just under two minutes and burned a mere 11 calories over the course of a light one-third-of-a-mile jog.

It isn’t until the concept of monsters are introduced that the game begins to feel a bit more like exercise. In the later levels, players come upon groupings of creatures. The steady jog stops — a brief respite, you might think initially — and turns into something of an exercise battle. To take on a monster, you need to select an exercise and then perform reps of it to deliver damage. In my first battle, I selected squats. Once the battle started, I was directed to assume the position and hold it for a few seconds and then repeat that motion a number of times. Each successful squat delivered a ghostly-kick to the monster. At the tail end of the reps, the speed cranked up and I had to do faster squats to succeed. Once my barrage of squat-fueled phantom kicks was delivered, it was the monster’s turn. To survive, I had to turn the Ring-Con sideways and press it against my belly button. The idea being that my stomach was taking on the full pressure of the ring as, onscreen, the creature delivered unsuccessful attacks against a shield that looked like the sort of six-pack abdomen we all dream of. 

The variety of attacks you can perform, each tied to a different exercise, increase as you progress. And the further you move through the game’s Adventure Mode, the longer and more complicated the course becomes, while more and more creatures appear for you to fend off. It’s all a clever way to elicit relatively short bursts of exercise that meaningfully mix up the muscle groups you’re working out. And yes, by my final level (they skipped me ahead to a level in the 20s), I found myself winded and drenched in sweat.

And that’s just the Adventure Mode. The game also includes a number of other offerings including minigames that target specific muscle groups, customizable workout routines and even the ability to take the Ring-Con with you, completely free of the Switch, for exercise away from the TV. In that last mode, the Ring-Con is powered by the Joy-Con and tracks how many times you squeeze it. When you get back to your Switch, it uploads all of that hard work to level up your character.

As a game, Ring Fit Adventure may not stand the test of time, but as a bit of cleverly crafted exercise equipment, Nintendo’s latest is a smart bit of tech that goes a long way toward both encouraging exercise and distracting a player from the very real hard work of breaking a sweat. Perhaps more interesting is the notion that support for the Ring-Con, once released, could, in theory, be added to Nintendo’s massive backlog and games. Imagine playing a Zelda title where Link can only run as fast as you exercise, or using the Ring-Con to shoot a bow in a game, or steer a kart while maintaining a squat in a Mario Kart title.

Marrying exercise to video game play is a noble effort by Nintendo, one that the company could more deeply ingrain if Ring Fit Adventure shows there’s an interest.