Sunday, November 29, 2020

Ring Fit Adventure Kept Me Active During 2020: A Retrospective On What Might Just be the best Exergame ever made.


Look at this image above you. This image was taken on September 8th of 2020. The culmination of a Tuesday night, dedicating my evening to a final gauntlet of exercise after a long day of work. The grind of retail wage-slavery still wore at me to the point where I had to have eaten immediately after getting home, and yet I was determined. I was going to beat this beast back and claim my victory. It was late into the night, just shy of midnight, but I had to beat it. And in proper JRPG Fashion, after two phases of boss battle in a grueling battle of endurance, I had done it. Awash in exhaustion and post-exercise afterglow, I sat down on my bed and watched the credits roll.

I had beaten Ring Fit Adventure. Now, let me tell you about the journey of getting there.

Before I even set out on my adventure, I first had to actually obtain the game. That was just as much a process as playing it. While it had been available earlier than when I got it, I was only able to safely afford the game in late February, when my annual tax refund came in. However, my conservative spending habits were to be my bane that fine winter's afternoon. In light of the then-recent emergence of the awful catastrophe that we now call a year, copies of Ring Fit became exceedingly scarce due to, supposedly, many people buying up units as a way to stay active while they're sequestered at home waiting for everything to blow over. This led me to nearly run afoul of one of many scalpers, which vastly overwhelmed the legitimate sales listings.

Eventually, I cracked and called GameStop, eventually finding my quarry...several tens of miles out. It would take an hour-long trek there and back, with a couple of trade-ins in hand to cushion the financial strain.

All of this was worth it to actually own the thing. I guess you could make the argument I was only perpetuating Nintendo's frequent practice of artificial scarcity during peak sales periods, but at the time, I really didn't care.

Now with the preamble out of the way, you're probably wondering how the game actually is to play, and that all starts at set-up.

Where this game's predecessor, Wii Fit was based around a singular peripheral--the Wii Balance Board--Ring Fit, as the name implies, comes with a ring. Specifically, a pilates ring or a tension ring. What may at first look like a fragile, unassuming plastic ring belies a shockingly tough piece of kit. Just as you might think it will break, it doesn't. It's a real marvel of engineering. Complimenting this is a leg strap where the other Joy-Con snugly fits inside to track your knee movement for the purpose of jogging, squatting, and other exercises you'll soon do.

Once you start the game proper, you're given the usual battery of general life questions--age, height, approximate weight, et cetera--to set your starting difficulty level, and are then let loose.

From the moment you start Adventure Mode, one of the first big differences of this game compared to Ring Fit makes itself known:

This game actually makes sure to dedicate time to have your warm-up and cool down.

This may not sound like a game-changer, but as an exercise game that is designed to act as a legitimate exercise tool, this is huge. This is the start of a dedicated part of the gameplay that is intent on ingraining a healthy habit into you as you play. At the start of each session, you'll do a short warm-up to get your blood flowing, and at the end of each session, the game will curate a cooldown set designed to stretch out the particular groups of muscles you exercised that day. In addition, the game will ask you whether you want to make the upcoming session easier or harder, and at the end ask how you handled it. Whether you cranked it up or dialed it back, the game doesn't judge you in the slightest--it even encourages you to take breaks if you don't feel up to it and offers you plenty of advice along your journey. Though it should be noted all of what I just said mainly applies to Adventure Mode, and seeing as that's the real meat and potatoes of this game, let's get cracking on that. 

The setup is pretty stock--you're an average joe in a fantasy world in which exercise is a magical force, and stumble upon a magical ring that beckons you to it. Being a gullible adventure game protagonist, you oblige its request to pull on it, and unwittingly unleash a Pandora's Box upon the world in the form of Dragaux. I like Dragaux. He's very clearly designed to be a play on the stereotypical jerkass gym rat stereotype, and they make it very clear that something about him is clearly not right. From his dark magical aura to his otherworldly bodybuilder frame to his disproportionate wings, he's clearly someone who took the wrong lessons.

However, in this chaos, you also awaken the spirit inside the ring, just called...Ring. Don't worry, the names get more creative (if incredibly reliant on puns and wordplay) in time. As it so happens, Ring was Dragaux's personal trainer and spotter, and awakening the both of them caused the loss of each other's powers. So now it's a marathon trek across the many Worlds to get fit and help restore the land and Ring's powers and put a stop to Dragaux before his dark influence consumes all.

From then on, you go through stage after stage in a very Super Mario Bros. 3 fashioned overworld, complete with the occasional on-map enemy that gives special rewards if you beat it and little mini-game stages for extra rewards. As you might expect, the difficulty in each world gradually gets harder, eventually culminating in first a mid-boss, then a boss fight against Dragaux himself at the end of most Worlds where you and Ring have character-revealing banter before going into Fitness Battles.

From there, the primary gameplay loop is pretty simple—each stage involves some mix of jogging where you'll find many coins to suck up by pulling on the Ring-con and plenty of things to blast by pushing in on the Ring-Con. You can also point it straight down to "jump" by shooting yourself up with an air blast, or hold it to hover over the ground. The latter technique is useful for if you want to bypass enemies or for certain challenges where you have to get to the goal in as few steps as possible. 

Throughout the stage, you'll come upon various physical challenges that are given understandable context within the world--doing high knees to wade through waist-high bogs and climb tall staircases, squatting to get hangtime on giant swings or spring yourself up on giant trampolines and springboards, pulling on ziplines to go on huge rollercoaster rides, and even chasing down mimic-like chests in a mad dash to get some sizeable loot. You also will find EXP Coins that are often found when finding alternate routes, hidden in crates, or very occasionally just out in the open to grab. These give a sizeable chunk of EXP, and are fairly rewarding to capture.

Eventually, however, you'll have to engage in Fit Battles, which is where most of your time will be spent in the game. Fit Battles play out in a classic JRPG style. You take a turn, then your enemies take a turn. You attack by selecting an exercise and a target to exercise on and get to work doing a set. Before each exercise, you'll get a prompt to get yourself in position, then as you perform the exercise, a handy guide character (fittingly called Tipp) will demonstrate what the exercise ideally should look like. Get it bang-on, and you do more damage. Do it good, but not perfect, and you do middling damage. Do it poorly, and it does next to nothing. Simple stuff. You also "block" attacks by pressing the Ring against your abs and tucking in.

Where it gets complex is the four different types of Fit Skills. You have Arms, Legs, Abs, and Yoga, and each skill comes in single, triple, and full-screen target variations. Almost every Fit Skill (with the exception of the few Aerobic exercises and Yoga Skills as a whole) will have a set of reps needed to complete, with the majority being normal speed, but ending in a shorter "drop set" of faster reps. On top of that, you quickly gain the ability to do more damage if you hit the right-colored enemy with the right Fit Skill. Red Enemies take more damage from Arm Skills, Blue from Leg Skills, etc. This is important due to the sheer variety of enemies the game throws at you. From megaphone-beaked toucans that can buff the enemy team to Yoga Mat Manta Rays (or Matta Rays, as the game calls them) that can heal other monsters, to even shake dispensers that can nerf some of your skills and buff others. 

In addition, skills have ranks and certain levels of damage proportionate to how many targets they hit and how difficult the target is to perform. Naturally, the hardest exercises that hit single targets do the most damage. By the time you hit level 40, you'll even gain access to a skill tree where you can invest in particular types of skills you like, as well as gain various boons like being able to occasionally negate damage altogether when defending, get a second turn immediately after the first, and even the ability to perform a flurry of exercises to heap on extra damage. You can even get armor sets that have various set bonuses like making knee lifts easier or making it so you don't lose cash when you hit a stage hazard, or even heal you through certain actions. 

All in all, for a game trying to bill itself as a proper game with exercise as a focus, I feel it accomplishes its goal with aplomb.

However, I think the thing that definitely stuck out in my mind is the sheer charm of it. As is typical of a Nintendo game, everything is light-hearted and colorful, with puns and creative character designs de jour. All the aforementioned monster designs—particularly early on—have a clear inspiration of exercise equipment. Every attack you land on them is personified as an ethereal fist, foot, torso, or lotus flower growing in definition as you perform each exercise to its fullest. The NPCs and their towns have a plethora of puns. From the Kingdom of Sporta (which, curiously, makes no reference to 300) to the Four Masters of Armando, Allegra, Abdonis, and Guru Andma to the alliterative stage names, someone at Nintendo clearly had a blast trying to find ways to incorporate as many puns as possible into the design.

Then there are the cutscenes. Any major boss fight that involves the Four Masters or Dragaux is an absolute delight. Almost every encounter with Dragaux, without fail, usually starts with you walking in on the big guy in the middle of a set, and the two of you have a chat before fighting. He absolutely steals the damn show, and the game makes no illusions about that.

Lastly, surprisingly enough, is the story. Most Nintendo games typically don't care much for story, and those that do either follow incredibly linear plotlines or hide the true nature of the setting behind little snippets of lore or subtle imagery (Kirby is a particular offender of the latter), this game actually shows a surprising level of history between its cast, often in the form of character snippets during runs, before and after stages, and through interactions with NPCs. The Four Masters and their struggles all match realistic worries of people getting fit, and Dragaux embodies all the worst parts of fitness culture, only to slowly understand that he wasn't always like this. It's not high art, but it's a compelling enough narrative if you pay attention.

So what might be the catch, you ask? What might be the things to be wary of?

Well, in my experience, the leg strap is kind of hit or miss. Trying to get a fit that doesn't feel like it's going to slip off my knee is something of a process, and even then, it still feels loose at points. Maybe having proper clothing helps this, but I don't have dedicated workout attire and I don't think Nintendo expects you to, either. There's also the fact that because the strap is meant to go just above your knee that sometimes, knee-lift based exercises can be a literal exercise in frustration. This held especially true for the staircases, where the game demo expects you to do it kind of fast and rhythmically when it usually works better to do a slower, steadier one-two motion.

There's also the matter of the story mode, as decent as it is, suffering from what I call "The Splatoon 2 Problem". While I won't spoil the specifics, I will say that New Game+, aside from its continuing challenge, doesn't quite offer much different in terms of story. It's a crying shame, really. 

Lastly, and this may just be an issue for me in particular, but I seriously wish that the game had some kind of free update that added new sets to the game. While the game did update to include a rhythm game mode and the ability to choose from a male and female voice (in multiple language options!), both are somewhat thin-on-the-ground distractions from the main game. The little tips you get during gameplay are also somewhat repetitive and could use some expansion.

All in all, Nintendo's latest foray into exergaming is well worth the purchase. In spite of some issues with the actual hardware on occasion and feeling that the current allotment of exercises being could use some expansion, I'd say it's a definite step up from Wii Fit and Wii Fit U, especially in regards to space requirements and accessibility. I definitely think it's worth it's MSRP, but be wary trying to get it right now. Due to Current Events, that may yet be a ways off for the rest of you. But the effort is well rewarded.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I have a set coming up.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive