The worst thing about regular exercise, in my book, is just how it can be. At their best, exercise video games can help alleviate this boredom, giving you a distracting and entertaining goal to chase that makes you forget you’re exercising at all.
After spending an hour with —Nintendo’s recently announced pilates-ring-meets-RPG for the Switch—I found it to be, most often, a mildly engaging distraction from the tedium of exercise. Occasionally, it even became an all-encompassing focus that made me forget my body’s movements entirely. But I’m still skeptical that it will remain engaging enough to carry me through weeks and months of regular workouts.
Put a ring on it
From the first moment I held the Ring Fit itself, I found it to be surprisingly solid. It has a decent amount of heft and gives a fair amount of resistance both when pushing in and pulling out on the comfy cushioned grips (you can adjust just how much pushing and pulling is necessary to register via the game settings). And unlike some other (cheaper) Pilates rings I’ve tested, the Ring Fit doesn’t twist or bend in unexpected directions as you push and pull on it. It doesn’t feel like it’s going to snap apart or succumb to wear and tear through normal use.
Diving into the game itself, it starts with a short five-minute video introducing you to a world that seems to revel a bit in its self-aware silliness. A ripped, bodybuilding dragon has taken over the realm, and your player-character has to help a sentient ring (which, of course, mimics the Ring Fit) take the dragon out by feeding it “exercise energy.” Building up enough exercise energy sets your hair on fire, for some reason, which should give you some idea of the less-than-serious lore surrounding everything about the candy-colored world.
Moving through the world of means actually walking or running in place in the real world, where a Joy-Con strapped to your thigh registers your levels of movement pretty quickly and accurately. This feels immediately more natural than the old Wii Fit Balance Board, where you simply rose up onto your toes rather than lifting your legs to “walk” in most games. The thigh strap allows for much more freedom of movement and natural motion, though there is a “silent mode” where you don’t actually have to lift your feet off the floor.
Don’t expect a wide-open world to explore, though—on screen, my character was limited to a single straight-line path for the entirety of my demo. You can interact slightly with items and objects in your path and just to the side, tilting the Ring Fit to aim and squeezing to blast them with a puff of air or pulling to suck them up like a vacuum. You can also collect mid-air coins or reach higher platforms by jumping, which requires not a real-world jump but a downward-facing squeeze of the Ring Fit.
While it’s nice to have to do while running in place, navigating thus far feels more like a chore than a trip to a magical world of wondrous exploration. Even in a single play session, this minimal diversion felt like a weak excuse to string together the enemy battles, where the more serious exercise forms take place.
Let’s get physical
The turn-based battles let you pick which kind of exercise you want to perform for each attack, and it looks like there will be dozens to choose from (though many become unlocked only slowly as you progress). In my short play sessions, I attacked enemies by doing leg lifts, pretending to sit on an invisible chair, squeezing my thighs together, doing “plank” push ups, and stretching the Ring Fit out like a bow and arrow. You can’t just lean on a favorite exercise, either; each attack needs to cool down for a while before you can choose it again.
For all of these actions, I was asked to do multiple reps in time with an on-screen indicator, which speeds up as the attacks continue. The game makes some small effort to evaluate your form and encourage correct movement (by increasing damage potential), but it doesn’t seem like a major concern, as long as you’re actually moving. And in between attacks, I had to squeeze the Ring Fit against my abs to put up a shield from the enemy’s counter-attacks.
As an excuse to test out a bunch of different exercise forms, these turn-based battles seemed sufficient, I suppose. But I ended up so focused on the timing and form of each exercise that I barely noticed the effect I was having on the enemies, or that there was an external “game” going on at all. As a distraction from the difficulty and tedium of exercise, the battle system is pretty much a failure, so far.
Aside from the core “Adventure” mode, I also got a chance to try out some mini-games that use the Ring Fit as an interesting new control method. My favorite of these was a kind of whack-a-mole-style game that required turning the Ring Fit like a steering wheel and squeezing or pulling to send out mole-squashing hammers. This was the high point of my demo, providing 30 seconds where I was so focused on my task (and reaching a high score efficiently) that I didn’t realize the strain on my muscles (and my heart rate) until it was over.
I also tried a game that involved aiming at crates and taking them out with puffs of air, which suffered a bit from the imprecision of the Ring Fit’s motion-sensitivity. Yet another game just had me squeezing the Ring Fit in and out as quickly as possible, which ended up feeling more painful than diverting.
There’s definitely enough novelty and verve to ‘s presentation to get through a single one-hour exercise session without succumbing to exercise tedium. But it’s far from clear whether the game’s simplistic design and “watch the numbers go up” leveling will provide enough diversion to encourage reaching long-term exercise goals. We’ll know more when we try out the $80 package at home ahead of its October launch.