Earlier this week, I exercised for an hour with Ring Fit Adventure in front of a handful of strangers. With one Joy-Con strapped to my leg and another in the Ring-Con I held in front of me, I wondered if I'd be able to lose myself in Nintendo's Switch fitness game without getting self-conscious about the public relations professionals watching me work up a sweat. To my surprise, I felt myself getting in the groove for a while, but the experience faltered a bit outside of the game's Adventure Mode and whenever I had to look away from the screen.
If you're not familiar with the pitch from Ring Fit Adventure's chipper reveal trailer, the game uses a pair of Joy-Cons and a couple accessories—a stretchy Ring-Con dock for the right Joy-Con and a simple leg strap for the left—to act as exercise-detecting motion controllers. Ring Fit Adventure has the minigames and quick play options you might expect from a Wii Fit successor, but the RPG-inspired Adventure Mode is both the main draw of the game and what I had the most hands-on time with.
Adventure Mode Is More of an RPG Than I Expected
Adventure Mode can be thought of as divided into two states: exploration and battles. I started my time with Ring Fit Adventure in the first exploration-only level. During exploration, you move your character along a set path by jogging in place and timing downwards-facing Ring-Con squeezes to perform jumps. Levels can branch if you skip or miss a jump, but were linear otherwise, with coins and collectibles scattered along all the paths. Occasionally you'll move forward with different actions, like high knee steps to vault up stairs or with a paddling motion to row a boat, but I was mostly just jogging for the majority of my exploration time.
Those exploration sections are Ring Fit Adventure's way of getting your heart rate to an active baseline, but battles are where the Adventure Mode incorporates all the types of exercises that it can detect. When you encounter enemies in a level (it seems like the encounters are placed by design), you enter a turn-based battle. You attack by performing various exercises, ranging from simple squats to calm, measured yoga moves. During enemy turns, you defend by pressing the Ring-Con against your waist for an "ab guard" shield. There's not a lot of downtime during battles or while getting into and out of them, so even though they interrupt the flow of exploration, you're essentially working out the entire time.
Battles are also where Ring Fit Adventure's RPG elements really leap out. By completing levels and battles, you earn XP, gain levels, and boost your attack, defense, and health stats. The game measures how well you're performing each exercise (in menus, you can dial in ranges that won't over-exert you) and doles out damage to-and-from enemies accordingly. I never made it through a battle without taking at least a little damage—in other words, you've actually got to pay attention to your health and stats on top of doing the exercises right.
You also have to manage your character's build, too. For one, you can only have a certain number of attacks at your disposal when entering a level. Attacks are divided into four different Fit Skill types depending on the style of exercise: exercises focusing on your arms, core, legs, and yoga moves. Every enemy type is weak to a particular type of Fit Skill, and each move has a cooldown period after using it. This means you can't just continually spam squats at enemies that are weak to core moves, and will need to consider switching up the Fit Skills you equip depending on the enemies in a given level.
For an added edge, you can equip stat boosting items for your character, such as new shoes that give your leg-based attacks added power. These items change your character's appearance on top of the regular cosmetic options, such as body type, skin tone, and eye color.
Ring Fit Adventure's commitment to blending RPG tropes with fitness staples extends to Adventure Mode's charming theming too. Yes, the game's antagonist is a bodybuilding dragon named Dragaux, but you're also fighting cute enemies modeled after gym equipment and collecting ingredients for stat boosting and health restoring smoothies that would actually go in real smoothies. There are even item descriptions and interstitial screens that give you nutrition information. It's a clever way to work health and fitness ideas in beyond the exercise mechanics.
Other Parts of Ring Fit Adventure Don't Feel as Well Thought-Out
The most jarring thing about my time with Ring Fit Adventure was when the RPG mechanics dropped away, both during Adventure Mode and in the other modes I sampled later.
You don't always use the Ring-Con for exercises in Ring Fit Adventure, which makes sense when you're doing leg exercises like planking or mountain climbing, but as soon as I put down the Ring-Con during combat and looked away from the screen, I was taken out of the flow. Essentially, I became hyper-aware that I was there to work out. I also found it difficult to know if I was doing an exercise correctly (or if I was putting enough damage on enemies) when I was down on the floor and looking away from the screen.
For the minigame and quick play modes I sampled, I was looking at the screen the whole time, only now I was less engaged because of the total lack of RPG mechanics. I played a robot bashing minigame for a high score and went through a customized exercise routine that was presented similarly to a battle, but without enemies to fight. Pure score chasing didn't feel as rewarding as the progression I had in Adventure Mode, and neither did striving for a personal best in standard fitness terms of repetitions or sets. Maybe it says a lot about me that real-world exercise measures aren't as compelling as making XP bars climb in an RPG, but it felt like I was getting the best of both worlds from Adventure Mode.
I should note that Ring Fit Adventure also has a mode that's entirely about not looking at the screen. In the game's Multitask mode, you can just grab the Ring-Con and have it track however many times you compress or stretch it while your Switch is asleep. The next time you turn your Switch on, the game will update with how many repetitions you got in and let you dump them into a user profile for XP, up to a certain daily cap.
Ring Fit Adventure looks like it does all the things a fitness game should do. It tracks personal bests, provides estimate measures of fitness, and gives prompts to cooldown after sessions, encouraging you to take breaks. That said, it feels like the main attraction is really the game Nintendo has built on top of these principles. Maybe Adventure Mode won't be as engaging over weeks and months spent at home, but I'm impressed that it got me loosened up and ready to sweat in front of strangers. Ring Fit Adventure will cost $79.99 USD and comes out for the Switch on October 18.