Ifan Morgan Jones
Over the last few months, I’ve run over 44 miles, completed over 500 squats, 7000 knee lifts and thousands and thousands of overhead pressed, leg scissors and who knows what else.
You might think I’ve been displaying a casual disregard towards the Welsh Government’s ‘Stay at home’ lockdown message and sneaking off to the gym or the great outdoors.
But thanks to the Nintendo Switch’s game Ring Fit I was able to do all of the above in my living room.
The game is a descendent of the Wii Fit on a previous Nintendo console but thanks to the leg strap and the titular ring itself it can now record a much wider range of fitness moves.
But the most clever development is that your entire workout is based around a turn-based RPG game where you battle through 23 worlds against a large variety of monsters.
Rather than simply press A to choose a move with which to bash your opponent, instead you choose from a list of exercises, all of which have different attributes in terms of damage done to different enemies or the number of enemies that can be attacked at once.
The enemies you face all have different skills too – some can simply cause a lot of damage to your HP, while others can call on reinforcements, heal other monsters or rob you of some of your moves.
As you progress through the game the variety of enemies grows, which means that there is very often a strategy element as well as a fitness element to the game – you need to carefully select which moves to use and which monsters to attack or risk being killed and sent back to the start.
You can also purchase clothes to level up and buy and make smoothies which boost some of your abilities as you go.
This may sound needlessly complicated but it’s actually very clever because a) it completely distracts you from the mundane reality of the exercise you’re doing, b) the RPG story element motivates you to want to continue on through the game.
Your exercise becomes less of a chore and more of something you enjoy doing, as you would if you were trying to beat any other video game.
And the main adventure is long. Apart from a three-week break in April when I caught Covid-19, I played for at least half an hour almost every weekday throughout the lockdown.
The game says I took 41 hours to complete it over 75 days – that’s a lot of content. And it’s all exercise time as the game stops the clock if you pause your exercise for any reason.
But how challenging is it? Will it actually make you fit?
Well, it’s as challenging as you want it to be. I do quite a lot of exercise anyway so played on the highest difficulty – 30 – and when I played for more than about 40 minutes I would find myself flagging. At that difficulty, it will have you doing 30 reps per set of some of the harder exercises like overhead ring presses or squats, and up to 60 of some of the easier ones like knee lifts.
But how does it compare with going to the gym? In terms of the impact it had on my body the results were mixed. It worked the smaller muscles like the abs and shoulders very well. However, I noticed a gradual weakening in larger muscles such as pectorals and biceps because the ring just couldn’t provide as much resistance as free weights.
What I did notice was a drastic improvement in my core muscles and general flexibility. Aches and pains in my hips and shoulders that had been bugging me for years disappeared within a few weeks.
My overall fitness seemed to remain good too. At one point during the lockdown I went for a five-mile run to raise money for an NHS charity and didn’t have any difficulty completing it despite not having ran in months.
It also seems to be great for weight loss. My weight dropped 20 pounds in three months just by doing Ring Fit before breakfast every morning and not eating excessively.
It’s therefore perfect if you’re looking for a way to exercise while stuck indoors during lockdown, but once the gym reopens I would also stick with it on alternate days to complement a weightlifting program.
So do I have any criticism of the game? There are a few problems if I wanted to nitpick.
The main one I think would be that, while the game is very long at 23 worlds, it does feel as if the designers have run out of new ideas after the 15th or so.
In fact, it often feels as if you’re running through exactly the same levels again but with slightly differently themed textures, and fighting the same monsters which have been ‘enhanced’ by some extra graphic.
The feeling of a ‘dip’ in the second half of the game isn’t helped by the fact that, despite being an RPG, there’s no particularly captivating story here.
Many of the characters are amusing – particularly the Four Maters: Allegra, Abdonis, Andma and Armando. But the plot essentially amounts to ‘get to the boss and beat him’ and when you do ‘the boss has flown to the next world’.
It’s almost but not quite at a Super Maio Bros ‘The Princess is in another castle!’ level of storytelling.
In terms of the mechanics of the game there is also a tendency to give you easier moves that do more damage than harder ones – I’m looking at you hip shake, which is extremely easy but does huge damage to multiple enemies, compared to the overhead wide squat which is hellish but for large parts of the game does far less damage.
The talent tree also feels like a little bit of a misstep as it actually rewards you for favouring the training of some parts of the body – legs, arms, torso or core – over others, when surely the whole point is to balance these out.
A combination of these two factors means that you sometimes spend large portions of the game favouring quite easy but very powerful moves and neglecting others, which in practice means neglecting parts of your body that need a workout.
Later on in the game it gets the bright idea, for a few levels at least, of forcing you to use certain moves you haven’t used in a while, but this was a gimmick I think could have been used earlier and more regularly.
The gamification of exercise is something that has been ongoing for a few years with fitness apps such as Strava adding a new layer of motivation to keeping in shape.
Ring Fit however is particularly interesting, and for me exciting, because the fitness workout is built into the mechanics of a game that would be enjoyable to play under any circumstances.
Given that it can be played in the home, it is also very accessible to those who have some mobility issues, can’t afford an expensive bike, a gym membership, simply have nowhere suitable to run, or maybe just aren’t confident enough to want anyone seeing them exercising.
Perhaps in future, we could see such games being promoted and financed by governments as a way of lessening the burden on the NHS from an overweight and unwell population?
A Ring Fit in every home is an election pledge I’d certainly vote for.