I'm sweaty and swearing and laughing and -- is it possible -- enjoying this workout? The maniacs at Nintendo actually did it. They cracked the secret to gamifying exercise and got me actually wanting to do squats.
Nintendo invited me to get a brief demo of its newest Switch creation, a fitness-focused roleplaying game called Ring Fit Adventure. It goes on sale Oct. 18 for $80. I spent roughly an hour acquainting myself with its magical quest and accompanying workout accessories, in which I had to thwart an evil body-building dragon named Dragaux using an enchanted pilates wheel, the Ring-Con.
I jogged in place as my character (who was rocking buns of steel, amazing arms and a ponytail made of fire) ran through the scenic outdoor levels. A controller strapped to my leg measured how high and fast I moved my legs. I squished and stretched the resistance ring to collect items along the way. And when a baddie came to battle, I had to repeatedly execute an exercise and follow the on-screen cues.
And as any exercise buff knows, you level up your health by collecting ingredients to make a workout smoothie. (Mmm, kale.)
This game may be a little silly, but don't be deceived. It will push you into a legitimate workout. I was doing way more reps than I would do on my own -- the game nudging me to take it just a little further, like a good coach. And the constant jogging in place while squeezing a ring will get your heart pumping. The first little monster villain took way more squats to defeat than I expected, leaving me pleading with the video game gods for mercy.
The game starts by calibrating it to your strength, asking questions about your level of fitness and measuring how much you can squeeze the ring. So a child won't be expected to push as hard as, say, his dead-lift champion dad.
It's not easy, but who wants easy? If you're paying $80 for this game, you want to break a sweat to get your money's worth. And since I can't motivate myself to work out on my own, this tough-but-fun approach is exactly what I need in my life.
Fitness isn't my thing. So why am I hooked?
I don't go to gyms, but I have paid way too much for memberships. I don't do fitness classes, but I own a respectable collection of yoga pants. Running is not my kind of fun. Pushing my body through the pain does not bring me satisfaction.
Of course I'm out of shape. I know I need to work out. But I also can't resist a good fantasy quest. In just a few minutes, this game was distracting me from the annoyance of exercise with a beautiful world to run through, items to collect, achievements to hit and a mystery to uncover about what lies ahead.
I was out of breath, but I wanted to keep going. This is just a game, right? I can't let a silly workout game defeat me. I jogged a little further to hit the finish line. I squeezed a little more to get those coins. This game just may be the coach I need to get me active.
Another huge benefit is that it can be done any time. A gym doesn't make sense for my schedule. I'm often with my kids -- one of them a baby -- so it's hard to do normal adult things at normal adult hours. But I can see myself playing this when the kids are asleep, or squeezing in a quick level before work.
Mini games for mini gains
There are other ways to get a workout beside the main quest. In my demo I sampled a few mini games, which were short challenge rounds with quirky goals. Smash robots by pressing and pulling on the ring. Become a pottery wheel artist by shaping wet clay with a squeeze of the ring. Or just see how many rapid fire ring presses you can do before the time is up.
The design of those games makes it easy to pass the ring between other players, and it's easy to quickly adjust difficultly levels.
Want to work out your own way? You can create custom workouts that target specific muscles, which can be handy if you want to do a little leg day work before heading out the door.
There's even a way to play at the office -- no Switch or screen needed. Bring the Ring-Con to your desk, squeeze the ring between your legs as you answer emails, and the reps are saved to the attached Joy-Con remote. Experience points are added when the game is back on, awarding you some sweet coin to buy yourself a strawberry smoothie.
I've long desired something to gamify exercise in a way that makes me want to keep pushing to come back and do more -- and distracts from the discouraging feelings that creep up when I can't keep up with others.
But the true test comes with completing the game: How much weight loss and strength gain can we expect from a game? Can defeating Dragaux defeat my jiggle?
One thing is clear -- this is way more intense than when I messed around with the Wii Fit a decade ago. And my body is ready.