There's a moment where I am one with the Ring. No, this isn't a secret, brand new Lord of the Rings VR game, but actually Nintendo's latest foray into fitness games. Gone are the days of the cumbersome, yet brilliant, Wii Fit Balance Board, and here to stay is the Ring-Con. Although that might sound like a sex toy, it's going to make you sweaty in a very different way.
The Ring-Con is, in essence, a plastic hoop that comes bundled with the game - Ring Fit Adventure - that you can push and pull as part of your workout. It might feel bendy as anything, but as soon as you start flexing it repeatedly to perform various exercises, it's clear that it has quite the resistance torque to it. Be still my aching arm muscles. The idea is that you hold the Ring-Con throughout your entire session - so you'll be pleased that it's lightweight - using it for exercise but also turning it into part of the game's core mechanics. It works by sliding your right Joy-Con into the top, which will then measure your movements. You even take your heart rate after each level by pressing your thumb to the Joy-Con's IR sensor, which just serves to highlight just how versatile the Joy-Con's functionality really is.
Your left Joy-Con sits inside a leg band that you'll have to strap around your left thigh. The game advises that you sit it somewhere around the middle of your upper leg, but I have much more success riding higher up my thigh, as otherwise, it tends to make a slow descent towards your knee the more you move unless you have it tight to the point of tourniquet. I also have the frustrating issue of the left Joy-Con unsyncing with the game the moment I get down on the floor and start (attempting) to do a series of ab crunches. That means I have to get back up, realign the leg strap and start the process all over again - a frustrating process mid-workout.
Work out, game on
But when it all works, it's a formidable combo. That's mainly down to the ingenious nature of the actual game, Ring Fit Adventure. The plot is suitably quirky Nintendo: you're a silent hero working to take down an evil force that just happens to be an incredibly hench dragon who's obsessed with working out - and taking over the world, of course. You'll be trying to take him down with the help of a sentient ring, handily called Ring. Yes, you guessed it, the Ring-Con is actually a creature in-game that you carry with you, pushing to emit wind rings to smash crates, open doors and otherwise interact with the world as you move. And when I say move, I mean move. As you go from level to level, accomplishing the various goals, you won't move along unless you physically jog on the spot. You can keep it fairly low key, but if there are hills, or you have to run through water or mud, you're going to have to pick up the pace or lifting your knees high as you jog to really get your in-game legs moving.
It's surprisingly responsive too, and the game does not let you slack whatsoever. It knows when you're not doing enough, and your character will crawl to a painful snail's pace. I'm not sure whether it's my competitive streak, but every little stumble or slow-down motivated me to get through the level as quickly as possible. It helps that it's not all running-based fitness either, as I'll admit I am not a natural jogger - think Phoebe from Friends rather than Usain Bolt. In between your travelling adventures you'll have to fight off the various minions sent out by the hench dragon. They handily all take the form of pieces of gym equipment, like a dog-type creature that also happens to be a kettlebell or a yoga mat who's also an evil version of Carpet from Aladdin. It's cheesy, and almost Disney-esque in its delivery, but it works.
Taking cues from Pokémon and co, you'll then use turn-based battles to wear down their health bars, but instead of making a Pikachu do the hard work, you have to exercise them to death instead - and hopefully not yourself too in the process. It starts off with a basic roster of exercises, but the more you move through the levels the more complex the moves you'll add to your attack pool. Match the colour coding of your reps with the colour of the foe and your attack will be more powerful, making your 25th squat of the moment feel even more worth it. Ring Fit Adventure does a great job at trying to disguise a workout as a gaming session but does it in a way that feels educational too. Tipp, a little helpful assistant, pops up at the side of the screen reminding you how to do each exercise, and Ring will chip in now and then telling you to slow it down, hold it steady, push a little harder, or just reminding you that you're doing a good job. It's a personal trainer and exercise pusher in one but makes the whole thing incredibly appealing. For me, it's a much more pleasurable experience than going down to the gym, but just as taxing physically. It's a genuine workout packaged in fun.
Fitness fun for all the family
Handily, it's capable of tracking more than one user at a time too, meaning if the whole family wants to get in on the action, you can have several profiles active at once, which may well add a competitive element to the whole thing too. There are plenty of mini-games too, and workouts outside the adventure mode that focus in on a single part of your body if you want to get more granular. I've mostly stuck to the adventure, but have turned the mini-games into a competition against my (much fitter) other half, which was very good fun, and I could see them becoming silly competitions if I have friends over.
It's also good that Ring Fit Adventure can scale according to your fitness level. You can easily adjust the difficulty (which seems to be based on the number of reps needed to beat enemies rather than adding in more complex fitness routines) whenever you feel like it, and the game will regularly remind you to have some water, or take a break if you feel like you need it.
Of course, it won't be for everyone, and you can only play with the OG Switch rather than the new Nintendo Switch Lite because you need it on the big screen. Some may find the RPG elements too grindy - especially when it comes to the lengthy boss battles - and others may find the story concept too twee. But I'm loving Ring Fit Adventure: ease of use, a great RPG, and a great workout all combine to make one great experience.