I am one of those people who just gives up on exercise routines. I've abandoned various approaches enough times to know that this is a general truth about myself. It isn't the case that I got bored of self-directed yoga and calisthenics in college, or that I found the exercise video series I tried this year to be a bad fit. When I've tried incorporating running or even just jogging into a regular schedule, it's not as though I stopped because I suddenly found myself without the time. I just stop suddenly, with no premeditation and no great reason to.
So in comes Ring Fit Adventure, Nintendo's new exercise-focused game. At a preview event last month, I found myself enjoying the Adventure Mode's RPG mechanics. After playing for a few days at home, I'm starting to see those mechanics, but they're being introduced slowly. Slow enough, in fact, that I'd say the most challenging part of the early progression in Ring Fit's Adventure Mode is the same as any exercise routine: coming back to it day after day.
Ring Fit Adventure's story-driven Adventure Mode is certainly the game's main focus, and its most appealing offering. Sure, people may end up hosting the kind of rollicking Ring Fit Adventure get-togethers shown in Nintendo's first teaser for the game—just as people might also gather around a Switch on a rooftop—but Ring Fit's Adventure Mode is front-and-center, and it's designed for solo play in small, regular bursts.
The story is streamlined to start. There's a short cutscene at the beginning that introduces your sidekick, Ring, and the game's antagonist Dragaux. Ring is the living artifact your character holds in place of the Ring Con—basically, they're a workout coach version of Navi. Dragaux, a bodybuilding dragon corrupted by a dark influence, used to be trapped by Ring until your character, naively, set him free. From there, it's a few levels of basics before the first battle against Dragaux, where he's sent running off to the next world.
Players will jog, squat, and stretch their way through that first world without seeing much besides the very basics. Beyond customizing the appearance of your character, Ring Fit Adventure doesn't throw any real choices at you early on. I collected coins without having a use for them, battled enemies with a very limited set of attacks tied to certain exercises, and started gaining XP without a feedback loop emphasizing why leveling up matters.
Nintendo's made a perfectly sound decision in keeping things so simple and restrained to start, as Ring Fit both needs to introduce its mechanics while not disrupting the pacing of the actual workout you're doing too much. No doubt this is a difficult balancing act to design around, but it creates a unique problem for people who can't exercise all that frequently or in long workouts. If you need to take Ring Fit Adventure in small sessions, it'll be a while before the RPG mechanics get a chance to liven things up.
For instance, consider Ring Fit Adventure's color-coded Fit Skills. Fit Skills are the exercises you perform during turn-based combat to attack enemies. They're color-coded based on the area of the body they target: red Fit Skills work out your arms, yellow ones engage your core, blue moves train your legs, and green yoga-inspired moves test your whole body and balance. In combat, enemies are color-coded too. Fit Skill attacks can deal more damage when matched to an enemy's color, but this key strategic ability is only unlocked at the end of Ring Fit Adventure's second world.
Since Ring Fit is designed to be played in comparatively tiny sessions, it can feel like it's taking much longer to get around to introducing its more compelling mechanics than a normal game would. A traditional turn-based RPG could take a similar amount of time spent in-game before layering in enemy weaknesses like the color-coding system, but presumably you'd get there within your first or second sitting with the game, unlike in Ring Fit Adventure.
If I keep playing a level or two of the Adventure Mode daily, it'll take me months to complete its 100+ levels. Furthermore, it could be weeks before a player sees all the gameplay depth Ring Fit has to offer if they play less frequently than that. By the time someone unlocks enough Fit Skills to start customizing the exercises they bring into a level, or once they encounter Ring Fit's first friendly villager character, they may already have been playing on and off for a week or more.
To Ring Fit's credit, it's a much more appealing prospect as a video game on its face than Wii Fit was. From the jump, the Adventure Mode has polished visuals, fun writing, and catchy music to match Nintendo's highest standards. The peripherals also immediately feel like an improvement over the paradigm of the Wii Balance Board. Where Wii Fit inherently excluded people whose weight exceeded what the Board could support and required a good spot to place the Board in view of a TV, the Ring Con and leg strap allow for a greater range of body types and home set-ups. So far, the Ring Con has felt sturdy and I've not had issues with the leg strap staying put. You could even play with an undocked Switch or Switch Lite (as GameXplain tested), though I wouldn't recommend it.
The positive angle on Ring Fit's slow and steady pace in the early goings is that it seems like long-term players will be rewarded with more variety as the days turn into weeks, then months. On the flipside, the first chunk of Adventure Mode is so basic, it'd be easy to walk away thinking that the game is just a slick, light RPG skin on an app that just asks you to do a bunch of squats between stretches of jogging.
A person who struggles with sticking to an exercise routine and regularly find themselves giving up on games early may find it especially hard to get on board with Ring Fit Adventure.. If you manage to make it a little way into the Adventure Mode and the variety of exercises isn't keeping you happy, then the early RPG-lite gameplay might not either.
The best thing I can say in Ring Fit Adventure's favor right now is that I think its designers ultimately made the right call in terms of pacing. On my second day with the game, prior to leaping into the Adventure Mode, the game popped a message on screen congratulating me for picking it back up again. I think it's safe to say that no matter how impressive the Adventure Mode's RPG mechanics, story, and design are, the thing that's going to keep people playing it—or keep people from playing it—is their personal relationship with exercise.
Just gamifying exercise may work splendidly for some people, but I felt it was nice to see Ring Fit Adventure acknowledge that making the decision to exercise at all can be its own challenge. It feels like Nintendo is well-aware that plenty of people give up on games and exercise routines early. While it might rankle me to see a regular video game push me to keep playing while I'm not having fun, seeing a word of encouragement from Ring Fit when I came back for another day's workout could be what gets me, finally, to stick with the program.