Hitbox First Impressions: Ring Fit Adventure — It’s not just exercise, it’s gamercise

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

Ring Fit Adventure is a little difficult to categorize. Is it a game or exercise software? Well, it’s a mix of both, but definitely more of the latter. Ring Fit Adventure provides the framework for an exercise session with role-playing game turn-based combat, stats and consumable items.

Developer: Nintendo

Initial release date: Oct. 8, 2019

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Price: $79.99

I’ve been looking for an excuse to start exercising again after a year-long lapse. When I heard about Ring Fit Adventure, a game that blends some of the most compelling mechanics of role-playing games, charming enemy designs and motion controls, I had to check it out. 

Ring Fit Adventure’s art style isn’t particularly noteworthy, but it does provide some good scenery occasionally. Screenshot courtesy of IGDB.

The most immediate comparison to make with Ring Fit Adventure is Wii Fit. However, where Wii Fit was primarily focused on exercising with an occasional mini-game here and there, Ring Fit Adventure uses a story about an average person on a journey to defeat an evil bodybuilding dragon named Dragaux with the help of a sentient magic ring. The story and structure of Ring Fit Adventure merely provide an excuse to exercise. I’m not just doing 15 squats, I’m doing 15 squats to deal 150 damage to a blue kettlebell that has the face and ears of a dog. 

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Ring Fit Adventure comes with a seemingly quality plastic pilates ring and a leg strap to track leg movement. One detachable Joy-Con controller of the Switch is placed in each to track movement for the exercises and control the player character. It all works like it’s supposed to, though I found myself having to recalibrate the Ring-Con multiple times per level. This could be due to the space I was playing the game in. I was standing at an adjacent angle from the screen and console and not straight-on as I suspect most people will be. The fabric handles and leg strap can also be hand-washed when needed with instructions provided in a Q&A section on the Japanese Nintendo website. The webpage can be translated when opened in a Chrome browser window.

The variety of skills the player must perform in Ring Fit Adventure is impressive, including leg and arm exercises and an assortment of yoga poses. Screenshot courtesy of IGDB.

The gameplay is relatively simple, with the player jogging in place to move along a set path and pushing in the Ring-Con to send out a blast to destroy obstacles. Pulling the Ring-Con outwards will suck in coins, which can be used to purchase in-game stat-boosting clothes and smoothies. When the player encounters enemies, they will enter combat, taking turns with the enemies performing exercises to deal damage. When the enemy attacks, the player performs an ab guard to defend themselves by pressing the Ring-Con against their abs.

The player begins with a set of four exercise skills: squat, overhead press, chair pose, knee-to-chest and front press. Six exercises can be equipped at once to perform during combat. The player will earn new exercises as they level up. Thankfully, the difficulty can be adjusted easily in the menu between levels and will determine if the player needs to do 30 reps for an attack or only 10. 

Especially during the first few hours, performing the same four exercises can get old really fast. I wish that the player could use any exercise they had unlocked at any time. This system just seems to be a remnant of traditional role-playing game design. The player will even unlock a passive power, which increases damage against enemies by matching the exercise and enemy colors. It’s similar to super-effective moves in Pokemon games. 

The player will jog and fight through levels and worlds similar to a Super Mario game, with a boss fight at the end. However, instead of Bowser, it’s Dragaux, who is apparently so into fitness that he plans his next workout while working out. The other main character, Ring, serves to provide exposition about the story and encourage the player. It’s mildly charming, but can cross over to downright odd sometimes. After one particularly tough battle, Ring said “your sweat is so shiny and beautiful!” I don’t know what to make of that, but I guess thanks for the compliment, ring buddy. 

I’ve only played Ring Fit Adventure for a handful of hours across an equal amount of days, but I’m thankful it’s provided me with an excuse to exercise. The line between the role-playing game and exercise is starting to wear pretty thin, but the drive to collect enough coins to buy a new set of clothes and increase my attack and defense might just be enough to keep me interested for more than 100 levels and over 20 worlds in the adventure mode.