Nintendo made fitness fun with a plastic ring and a pulse-pounding RPG

Ring Fit Adventure will help you work up a sweat while saving the world. The game, out now for Nintendo Switch, combines fitness routines with the gameplay of a traditional role-playing game. As a silent, but svelte, hero, I’m joined by a mystical ring (named Ring) on a quest to battle a dark, super-buff dragon and banish monsters from a colorful fantasy world. We jog through bucolic fields and mazes that look like fitness courses, battling strange beasts shaped like yoga mats and kettlebells.

It may sound like a strange combination, pairing a fitness routine that’s meant to be used daily with role-playing game mechanics, but Ring Fit Adventure works as a video game and motivation to get off the couch.

Like so many creative and boundary-pushing Nintendo games (think Labo and Wii Fit), Ring Fit Adventure is one part software, one part hardware. In order to play the game, I need to slip the Switch Joy-Con controllers into two peripherals; the left Joy-Con goes into a little pocket that I strap tightly onto my left thigh, and the right Joy-Con slides into a sturdy resistance ring roughly the size of a car’s steering wheel. I squeeze, stretch, turn, and twist the ring to perform actions as instructed by my onscreen trainer, Tipp. As I squat or do planking poses, the Joy-Con in my leg senses my motion. It all works — surprisingly — near perfectly.

I jog in place to move through Ring Fit Adventure’s world. I do knee raises to climb up stairs. I aim the ring-shaped controller and squeeze it to fire blasts of energy as I run, and point the ring downward and squeeze to jump over obstacles. All these discrete movements combine in a way that quickly starts to feel like a real workout. My heart rate rises and I start to sweat after just a few minutes of gameplay.

After each level, I can check my pulse by placing my thumb over the Switch Joy-Con’s IR sensor camera. It feels like a neat little trick, but felt either too finicky or wildly inaccurate. I gave up on it after a half-dozen pulse checks.

Ring Fit Adventure’s Ring Con controller
Photo: James Bareham/Polygon

The Leg Strap
Photo: James Bareham/Polygon

Each level in Ring Fit Adventure takes just five to 10 minutes to complete, in most cases. Each has its own variety of environments and activities, and are interspersed with turn-based battles against evil blobs and goblins. These battles have me choose from a series of color-coded exercises, like squats, overhead presses, yoga poses, and body twists. In order to defeat my foes, I have to perform a variety of exercises. Each one also has a cooldown, so you’re not just squatting everything to death; you’ll need to choose different exercises to get the job done, which is how the game “tricks” you into getting a full-body workout, without an easy option to skip leg day.

Sometimes these battles become tedious, particularly the game’s lengthy boss battles. Oftentimes, there’s a sense of imbalance, such as when I perform a set of 14 reps of overhead presses to whittle away an enemy’s health, but then defeat it four reps into a series of ab crunches. And you can lose certain battles if you’re not leveled-up enough, and grinding for XP, not matter how light, feels counterintuitive in a game meant to motivate its players to get fit. In other words, sometimes the slavishness to RPG gameplay interferes with Ring Fit Adventure’s quest to get healthy.

But so much about Ring Fit Adventure is smartly designed. I earn new exercises as I level up, adding variety and motivation to try new things. I can also earn buffs that make me think strategically about which exercises to use in which situations. For example, one special power I acquire makes color-coded exercises more efficient against certain color enemies: a red exercise (e.g. overhead presses) will do more damage to red enemies (e.g. evil stability balls). That compels me to try workouts I dislike, like ab crunches, because I know they’ll help me win the battle.

Holding a chair pose in a Ring Fit Adventure turn-based battle
Photo: James Bareham/Polygon

Ring Fit Adventure is also respectful of players who might be new to working out. The game regularly checks in with me to make sure I’m staying hydrated, and asks if I need to take a break without being annoying or condescending. It asks me each day how I’m feeling about the challenge level so far: Too easy? Too tough? Just right? Ring Fit Adventure also does its part to dispel myths about physical fitness, explaining that you’re not going to get bodybuilder-ripped just by using the ring-shaped resistance controller or doing squats. The mystical ring buddy I travel with is constantly shouting words of motivation, yet somehow never becomes a pest.

Outside of the lengthy story-based RPG component, Ring Fit Adventure offers a series of customizable workouts and minigames. I’ve mainly stuck with the story so far — Nintendo spokespeople have said the adventure can take weeks or months to complete — but dabbled with some of other elements. I can create multiple playlists of exercises, each targeting a specific muscle group or fitness challenge, or play through a dozen fantastical minigames.

These minigames include fun diversions like Aerochute, an upper body and core-focused workout with shades of Nintendo’s Pilotwings, and Dreadmill, a challenge focused on running speed that offers an aerobic workout. Some of the more arcade-style minigames include Whac-A-Mole-like modes that are easy to pick up and play, but don’t provide great workouts. There are also strength and stamina-building challenges, which can be absolutely exhausting, if you’re looking for something more demanding. These side activities can be fun, and stray from the jog-and-battle sections of Ring Fit Adventure’s story mode enough to make them worthwhile, plus they offer an even quicker way to get a cardio workout in.

Ring Fit Adventure is built with multiple users in mind, so if you have a family or a partner that wants to get into shape, it’s easy to switch between profiles and peek at each other’s progress. The people I’ve shown Ring Fit Adventure to have found it fascinating (and fun to play), making it an easy sell to someone in your household to create a profile of their own. There’s even a mode played with the Switch turned off called Multitask Mode, where I can squeeze the Ring Con controller to earn additional experience that I can then put back into the game, and I can even choose to put into my own profile or someone else’s for an extra hit of motivation.

While Ring Fit Adventure is a good way to squeeze in short bursts of physical fitness, it makes no claims about being a substitute for a fully fledged regular workout routine. But for fit-curious Switch owners, or those of us who might skip the gym a little too often, it’s a wonderful way to feel a bit better about your health, even for just 15 minutes at a time.

Ring Fit Adventure was released Oct. 18 on Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed using a final “retail” code and hardware peripherals provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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