… or WiiFit RingVenture as I like to call it…
TLDR: It’s pretty good at doing what it does
Longer Version: I’m a long time dabbler in the gamification of exercise so I really know what I’m talking about. My relationship with the world of physical exertion is a complex and haphazard affair, especially compared to some of my family, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the gradual gains and progression that exercise can bring… it’s just that I want some flashing lights and numbers… ideally in graph form… to go with seemingly endless reps. So I’ve tried all sorts of things, I’ve logged exercise through fitocracy and given the Google.. erm.. fit/exercise/active/whatever app a shot during my last sustained gym going effort (over a year ago now), but really nothing has stuck. The common problem with these types of apps for me (and I appreciate that they work for many people) is that they don’t really get to the heart of gamification. They tend to revolve around the idea of the user being happy with a sense of knowing that they’re doing exercise without really providing any sort of structure to do that; goals are self imposed and the experience of ‘logging your hours’ is largely the same on day one as it is in day 100.
… and let’s face it, if there aren’t unlockable costumes involved then I’m just not invested..
On the flipside are the games that tried to get us to exercise. A plethora of titles have appeared over the years designed to get all ages and abilities up off the couch to flail around the room covering actions as diverse as ‘waving a Wii controller‘ all the way through to ‘waving your hands‘ and hoping that an EyeToy picked up something resembling your movements. Like some monolithic structure looming over all of these was the wild success of the Wii-Fit with its fancy set of bathroom scales and, given its success, the WiiFit did get some things right. For example, I enjoyed the ability to log your activity, not just what you did in game, but going for a run or hitting the gym at times when you were exercising a a more traditional setting away from your lounge and baffled onlooking relatives. Its presentation was that of a product designed to keep you healthy rather than as a party game and much of the actual exercise content was in the form of various yoga poses to wobble about with uncertainly on top of that small rectangle. Looking back though, it never seemed to present a unified view of “we’ve made you a keep fit regime that’s also a game”. The exercises themselves were little more than copy the onscreen robot-person with a little guidance on form provided by the board. Likewise the ‘game’ elements were partitioned away as a series of party-game style activities rather than anything resembling serious exercise. From memory the parts that I really enjoyed were the cycling sections around Wuhu Island (Can I just say that’s Wuhu is long overdue a revisiting). They combined light cardio with something actually resembling a game as the player casually made their way around the various trails and paths of that bizarre land. It wasn’t much, but felt like a start.
… and really, that was where we left fitness games until Ringfit Adventure made its humble appearance on the Switch to relatively little fanfare. I was gifted a surprise copy last Christmas but I have to admit that, aside from a brief boxing day play of the first world, it lay relatively untouched for a few months until we all found ourselves spending a lot more time around the house. Since then however I’ve become a RingFit convert, Using it for my daily exercise when I haven’t been able to leave the house and just burning off that excess energy which was keeping me awake at night. Now, I know that many people have already written about the joys of RingFit, and it’s a testament to how solid a product it is that there have been supply problems and the associated ludicrously inflated prices that love to join that particular conga line. Nonetheless I thought I’d ramble on about my own impressions of that weird springy circle.
For the uninitiated in to the ways of RingFit the physical hardware comprises of a kind of squeezable, hardy, rubberised ring that acts as a fairly adaptable resistance training aid. Slipping the right joycon in to it makes it complete allowing the Switch to track its orientation and how squeezed it’s being. The left joycon is slid in to an unobtrusive leg strap for you to wear trendily on your left thigh to register what… I guess your left leg is doing… I kind of assume there is a fair amount of artistic interpretation about how the actions of your left leg translate to the rest of your flailing limbs. From here there are just a few small one time setup steps to get your profile started and you’re let loose in to the world of RingFit.
The game takes its cues from RPG’s with a long list of unlockable worlds (I’m still unlocking them), each with a gradually opening overworld allowing you to pick which stage you want to play. Stages themselves comprise of a largely linear track that the player must run (on the spot) along, collecting items along the way and overcoming various conveniently placed exercise based obstacles. Combat is where the exercise regime really kicks in; from enemies lying on your path, specific battle gyms, and boss fights this is where the game makes you work up a sweat. The player must choose their attack (exercise) from their combat set and inflict as much damage as possible by performing the required amount of reps using good form. Simple as they are, it’s really these combat sections that make the game, and it’s what you’ll spend 80% of your time playing doing. Each exercise has a range allowing it to hit either an individual or multiple enemies and an associated body area (legs, core, arms, … yoga?…) enemies roll in with varying numbers and are colour coded showing which type of attack they are susceptible to. Of course as gamers we’re hard wired to try and take enemies out in the most efficient way possible; maximising attacks, unlocking skills that compliment our strengths, and ensuring that our ‘loadout’ is the most appropriate for the challenge ahead… And therein lies the game’s best trickery; using our own gamer instincts to ensure that we have a varied, balance, and rewarding workout.
Outside of the battles, the game adds a fair amount of variety to ensure that you don’t get too bored of ‘pick-exercise-ab-guard-rinse-repeat’. The running tracks themselves are visually interesting and take the player through a variety of settings in that characteristic cell shaded style. As the game progresses the tracks add in more exercise and platforming elements. My only slight disappointment with the game is that there isn’t more player driven choice during the runs; paths are mostly linear whereas I think I was hoping for a user steered free-roaming type adventure. Mini-games and combat challenges mix things up a little more and can themselves be played as party games.
… I have to at this point tip my hat to arguably the best named minigame that I’ve ever seen: Squattery Wheel. A game where you do squats and squeeze the ringcon to shape a virtual pot on a pottery wheel….
Finally there is the usual truckload of collectables in the form of the slightly useful smoothies, ingredients, costumes, and bonus abilities to keep you feeling as though you’re progressing.
… but of course a big factor in the success of any such game is the hardware; what the game does with it an how well it works. Most of the exercises don’t stray too far from what you’d expect being variations on squeeze or stretch the controller to work various different upper body muscles. Outside of this it’s generally an overly elaborate motion controller to make sure you’re flailing your limbs to the correct predetermined exercise amount, but there are a few neat innovative uses, such as jamming the ring between your knees to do a thigh-press set and re-purposing the IR camera on the joycon to take your pulse after completing a stage. The bigger strength is that it all works about as close to perfect as can be expected from this type of setup. Motions ‘feel’ very connected to the game and there are really only a small handful of occasions where I’ve felt misinterpreted by the hardware.
I think what’s possibly most important are the more subtle ways Ringfit Adventure frames the entire experience as a workout which sets it apart from many of its predecessors. Sessions kick off with a dynamic stretch and dialogue which might ask about how you’re finding the exercises or possibly other aspects of your fitness. There are reminders to stay hydrated and to consider how long you can keep exercising comfortably. Even ‘Ring’ (despite their slightly grating voice) provides immediate feedback during each exercise along with further tips (For example when doing the Russian twist you can lift your legs off the ground to add more emphasis on your abs). Wrapping up each session is a quick review, some celebration at particular milestones you’ve reached, a cooldown stretch, and even tips and trivia. The upshot is to make Ringfit feel like an exercise session with rather than just a series of flailing activities.
For me Ringfit adventure ticks all the right boxes for a gamified workout and deserves the praise that it’s been receiving. Sure, it’s not 100% perfect; I’d like a bit more interactivity in the running sections and if you’re not looking to do squats/core strengthening then the experience is a little on the thin side, but compared to what has gone before (even the mighty Wii fit) it has managed to hold my attention for well over 50 sessions now and I’ve got my eyes on 100% completion which is still some way off.
… and hearing the phrase “Your sweat looks so shiny and beautiful” makes me feel darn good about the red faced dripping mess that I am after a particularly gruelling battle!