The first thing that comes to my mind when hearing the expression ‘fitness game’ is without a doubt Nintendo’s Wii Fit and all the unconventional hardware attached to the brand. While the product was engaging and provided comical moments every time you played with a group of friends, I can’t remember how many times I saw the hardware tucked away in storage rooms or under a bed when visiting other people.
Nintendo’s latest effort into the fitness games market is a Nintendo Switch game called ‘RingFit Adventure’ and, like its predecessors, it comes with its own quirky hardware. The game requires you to attach your Switch’s joycon controllers to a)basically a more rigid Pilates ring and b)a velcro strap for your leg. Fortunately, that’s where the resemblances between the two stop. Instead of iterating on the old model, the new product tries to marry together the gaming and fitness aspects in a way that it pushes users to categorize it into a new revolutionary genre rather than putting it down as an evolution of the old ‘fitness game’ category.
In the first regard, RingFit has most of the elements of a full-on — yet admittedly linear — turn-based RPG title. The game world looks a bit flat in the beginning but as you advance it develops a lot of character through some storytelling elements and some puns/dad jokes. The way the game entices players to go through all the exercising routines as opposed to always doing arms for every encounter is a clever system of strengths and weaknesses between the element/color of the enemy you’re fighting and the same attribute of each exercise. So, for example, if you’re fighting a blue enemy you’ll know that doing a legs-connected exercise will deal more damage, thus giving you the best chance of defeating them.
Physically and mentally intense boss battles, item collecting and the myriad of mini-games are other elements that make this a game with a fitness element as opposed to the other way around. The fact that they also physically feel the exercise the next day helps a lot in driving engagement but most players get back into the game because they are compelled by the fun, short gameplay sessions and the positive reinforcement they get from the Ring sidekick not because they have some fake motivation that will run out in a few weeks anyway. While instant biometrics like calories burned and heart rate are seen as important when you start the game, most people will just forget about them pretty soon when tasked with keeping perfect form whilst attacking an enemy and/or running at the same time.
All things considered, it’s easy to see how RingFit Adventure opens the door for more products that ‘fitness-ify’ games rather than gamify APPs. RingFit will never get you to the level of fitness of someone who goes to the gym every day and it doesn’t pretend to be able to do that. The target audience is mostly kids and the majority of adults who find it hard to go to a gym for some reason or another, a group for which any exercise is better than what they currently do.