Editor’s note: Ring Fit Adventure first released on October 18, 2019. Because we were unable to review the game back then, we’re taking this opportunity–the one-year anniversary of its release–to give it a full evaluation now. In this review, Jenae Sitzes reflects on a full year of on-and-off workouts with Nintendo Switch’s premier fitness game.
Over the past decade-plus, Nintendo has established itself as the home for fitness games. Wii Fit and its enhanced version, Wii Fit Plus, have together sold over 43 million copies worldwide, so it was only a matter of time before the company attempted to replicate that success on Nintendo Switch. Fortunately, Wii Fit’s successor is far more ambitious than many people may have anticipated. Released one year ago on October 18, 2019, Ring Fit Adventure is not Wii Fit 2.0, but rather a full-blown fitness RPG with an overarching story, skill tree, and vibrant, lively landscapes. Not only is it far more ambitious in terms of scope than its predecessor, but it also fosters a healthier attitude toward fitness and a friendly tone that’s relentlessly encouraging without a hint of judgment, even when it’s been weeks–or even months–since you last logged in.
In Ring Fit Adventure, you team up with a magical pilates ring to track down and defeat an evil bodybuilding dragon named Dragaux, who is spreading a dark influence across the land. In your pursuit of Dragaux, you jog through beautiful landscapes and engage in turn-based battles against fitness-themed monsters (such as a feisty dumbbell or mischievous yoga mat). In order to attack or defend, you’ll have to perform exercises, and the game eventually introduces type matchups–some monsters will be particularly weak to leg moves, for instance. With four different move types available (leg, arm, abs, and yoga), Ring Fit Adventure provides a great full-body workout, and even though some levels may focus on one muscle group over the other, the option to use different move types keeps workouts balanced and prevents you from tiring out too quickly.
Type matchups are only one aspect of combat strategy in Ring Fit Adventure, however. Food items play a key role as well, from smoothies that regenerate your health and revive you to soups and teas that provide certain buffs, like boosting the attack of all arm moves or converting your move type to yoga. If you get into a battle you’re not prepared for type-wise, these items can literally save you. Outside of combat, there’s even a skill tree where you can unlock new moves and increase your stats, and every world has a shop where you can buy new apparel to boost your attack or defense as well as ingredients to cook more food for your battles. In this way, every aspect of Ring Fit Adventure feeds into making you stronger and giving you more tools to use in battle beyond simply equipping enough arm moves or leg moves. Ring Fit’s embrace of its RPG elements keeps progression varied and interesting over months of playing the game, and you’ll continue to unlock new moves, recipes, and abilities late into the game–it never gets stagnant. This makes the gameplay much more engaging than just following along to moves on a screen, and especially in boss fights, having the right items available and the best moves equipped can mean the difference between success and a KO. The fact that you can actually lose a fight (rather than simply being scored, like in other fitness games) is particularly motivating, engaging you both physically and mentally to give each battle your all.
At the center of Ring Fit’s combat is the Ring-Con, a real-life pilates ring that connects to one of your Joy-Cons (while the other slips into a leg strap to go around your thigh). The Ring-Con is remarkably sturdy and has held up well over the past year, with no noticeable change in its resistance or durability. That’s impressive considering how much you pull and squeeze the Ring-Con throughout the game’s lengthy campaign. Whether you’re pressing it against your stomach for an Ab Guard or lifting it overhead for a tree pose, the Ring-Con is at the center of nearly every move, tracking your precise movements. As in other Nintendo exercise games like Fitness Boxing, I’ve found that you really can’t half-ass these exercises. In Ring Fit, ignoring proper form means your attacks will do less damage, and if it’s a defensive move, you risk taking a devastating hit. This not only keeps the stakes high in-game; it also makes sure you’re getting the most out of your workout and helps prevent injury. Some of these moves can be tricky to get right, but in-game, you have your trusty Ring giving advice on how to do each move correctly with plenty of encouragement.
Ring Fit Adventure encourages you to listen to your body, to understand its needs and to not push yourself beyond your limits.
Ring Fit Adventure has an unwavering cheerfulness to it, and while that’s certainly true of many first-party Nintendo games, it has a deeper impact in the context of a workout game. It’s so easy to get down on yourself when you miss a workout or two, and as someone with severe anxiety, sometimes I just can’t muster the will to do anything at all, let alone get strapped up for a Ring Fit session. There can be such a negative energy around exercise and the expectations to be consistent or look a certain way, but Ring Fit Adventure throws that all out the window. It goes out of its way to make you feel welcome and accepted, no matter what fitness level you’re at or how long it’s been since your last workout. When you boot up the game, it simply asks you if you’re feeling sore at all from the last session and if you want to adjust the difficulty at all. Rather than urging you to keep hiking up the difficulty, the game simply accepts your answer and even asks if it’s annoying to keep asking. Don’t want to stretch with Tipp, your friendly in-game trainer, today? No problem–the game simply takes you back to where you were in the campaign. The removal of pressure to do certain activities or make gameplay harder lets you improve at your own pace and prevents exercise from taking on a negative connotation as it so easily can in the real world.
There’s also a convenient “quiet mode” option for those who either prefer not to or physically can’t jog in place. Aimed at those who may have neighbors living beneath them or need to keep noise minimal for some other reason, quiet mode allows you to do a series of squats rather than jogging in place as your character dashes through Ring Fit’s worlds. Not only is this feature helpful for not bothering others, it also lends to the game’s accessibility, as jogging is a high-impact exercise that may not be possible for everyone, including those with lower-body injuries. The ability to decrease the game’s difficulty setting at any time and select exactly which exercises you want to do also allows you to customize your workout to suit your needs.
Still, I’ll admit there’s a level of forgiveness in the game that could be counterproductive to growth if you lack the motivation–and perhaps it’s part of why I’ve only played around 35 hours over the past year. Ring Fit Adventure encourages remarkably short sessions, prompting you to “take a break” and cool down so you’re ready to go again tomorrow. Sometimes, I’ll exercise for only 10 minutes or so before getting this message reminding me not to overwork myself. It’s in line with Ring Fit’s cheery, positive tone, but this is a fitness game, after all, and experts recommend that the average adult gets at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Unless you decide to ignore Ring Fit’s prompts and keep playing, the game is happy to let you cool down after completing just one world or two and go about your merry way. As someone who picked up Ring Fit to challenge myself and improve my fitness, this messaging has definitely influenced me to have shorter sessions and, as a result, not progress as much as I may have otherwise over the past 12 months.
These prompts to take a break and not overdo it play into what Ring Fit Adventure is trying to say about health and fitness overall, though, and that’s a much bigger part of what makes it not only a great fitness game, but also an important successor to Wii Fit. Gone is the problematic BMI metric, which isn’t an accurate measure of health or body fat percentage and can have detrimental effects on body image. Also gone is the emphasis on how much weight you want to lose and how many calories you’ve burned. Instead, Ring Fit Adventure encourages you to listen to your body, to understand its needs and to not push yourself beyond your limits. It doesn’t just provide a good–and entertaining–workout; it fosters a healthy attitude toward fitness, nutrition, and overall well-being. For example, there’s no mention of calories around food; instead, food items help you grow stronger and literally revitalize you. Daily tips at the end of every session remind you to get plenty of sleep and to avoid training when your body feels bad. Meanwhile, Dragaux, the epitome of toxic workout culture, represents the dangers of focusing solely on your gains and constantly competing with others instead of focusing on your individual health and needs. By rejecting fitness as a goal in itself and instead embracing personal health and growth, Ring Fit Adventure provides a much more achievable and fulfilling experience.
The best part is that there’s just so much of it, too. Ring Fit has 23 main worlds and an extensive post-game that takes you through the previous worlds with new dialogue and harder levels. It also comes with minigames that you can play freely outside of the campaign along with custom workouts that let you focus on specific moves you want to master or muscle groups you want to work on. A free rhythm mode was added earlier this year, though I found it disappointing–the song selection is lacking and the movements themselves, which involve pushing and stretching the Ring-Con at different angles, feel awkward and not fun. Still, there’s plenty to keep you busy with Ring Fit long after you finish the main story, and even doing that will take you some time–I haven’t beaten the game yet myself after one year (though it obviously depends on how often you play and the length of your sessions).
By rejecting fitness as a goal in itself and instead embracing personal health and growth, Ring Fit Adventure provides a much more achievable and fulfilling experience.
Like many people, I’ve relied on Ring Fit Adventure as my only method of getting any exercise for most of the COVID-19 pandemic so far. After sitting inside my tiny apartment day after day, moving from bed to chair to couch, I was always grateful to be able to pick up my Ring-Con and go jogging through Ring Fit’s luscious, vibrant landscapes. Though there’s no straying from the preset path in each area and many of the worlds do look quite similar, they still feel great to jog through. As someone who grew up running and prefers it as a form of exercise, I will say that cardio feels minimal in Ring Fit Adventure compared to strength training. Outside of these short jogs in between battles, there aren’t many activities aimed at getting your heart rate up, which is why Ring Fit Adventure probably shouldn’t be your only source of physical activity. It offers a fantastic workout and supplement to any gym routine, but it can’t beat going for a real run or long swim or bike ride. I bought a fold-up apartment treadmill a couple of months ago, and it’s been great to switch between Ring Fit and the treadmill on different days to feel like I’m getting enough cardio along with working my muscles.
Ring Fit Adventure builds on the legacy of Wii Fit in important ways, not only pushing the limits of what a workout game can be but also repositioning its message around fitness in a much healthier and constructive way. Fitness isn’t a steady, consistent journey for most people; it’s full of tiny improvements and setbacks and obstacles that get in your way, much like one’s progress in an RPG. Because of this, Ring Fit Adventure works perfectly both as a concept and in practice. The sheer volume of content along with new abilities, items, and difficulty levels keeps progression interesting through the entire campaign and beyond. With consistently engaging gameplay, gorgeous landscapes, and a relentlessly positive attitude, Ring Fit Adventure has set a new standard for fitness games, and I look forward to another year of growing stronger with it–and eventually beating that absurdly buff dragon.