Can Nintendo Switch be a force for fitness – or are we all too lazy?

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Oh Nintendo, we appreciate you trying. The House of Mario has seen fit to unveil a brand new hardware accessory and video game for the Nintendo Switch, Ring Fit Adventure, continuing a long line of fitness-related games for Nintendo’s home consoles.

Much like the bestselling Wii Sports or Wii Fit games on previous console generations, Ring Fit Adventure uses motion controls and dedicated hardware to simulate something like exercise – though whether the experience really equates to a workout is arguable. Don't we all find ways of playing with as little effort as possible, even when the game is intended as a workout?

The Switch fitness game utilizes a ring-shaped controller that attaches to one of the Joy-Cons, meaning the gyroscope is able to tell in what direction you’re moving or shaking the ring. Made of a pliable plastic, you can bend and stretch the ring too, making it more flexible than the average Mario Kart steering wheel. There’s also a strap you tie to your leg, which houses the other Joy-Con and can tell whether or not you’re squatting, running, or otherwise while platforming or fighting monsters in the game.

In the trailer released this week, the Ring Fit Adventure shows off a number of family members cheering each other on as they reach the climax of their workout – some even breaking a sweat! But there's a disjunct between the slick image of happy exercising families (do families do this together?) and the way gamers play in real life.

Gaming the system

The issue with gamers is that, well, we can be lazy. Don’t get me wrong – the stereotype of gamers lying in their sweatpants all day without a moment of sunlight gets tired very quickly, and if Nintendo has shown us anything with the portable / home console hybrid Switch, it’s that gaming can be enjoyed anywhere these days, in all sorts of situations.

But gaming is also about winning, and completion – and if there’s a low-effort way to complete a level in a fitness game, or beat a friend at a game of Wii Tennis, you can be sure we’re going to do it.

When I first played Wii Sports back in the 00s, I was amazed at being able to recreate the swing of a racket in someone’s living room, but that soon descended into sitting down and just flicking my wrist to get the same result.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

TechRadar’s Tom Bedford seconds this, commenting that “my family played Wii Sport Island Resort and Wii Fit, and really quickly learnt how to play the games while putting in the least effort possible, while still getting 100% function.”

He adds that genuine exercise, when you really are pushing yourself to the limit, is “the least efficient way to win in an exercise game.” By contrast, our Global Editor Gareth Beavis – a keen long distance runner – has fond memories of Sports Champions (on the PS Move) for the way it required real effort from the player:

“For me, I want a game that allows me to do better with more effort… I used to pull muscles playing the gladiator game on PS Move. You’d lose without [pushing yourself that far], but just the motion made you want to try harder.”

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Real vs fantasy

The addition of the Leg-Strap is an interesting one, and may require more full-body engagement than some of us could get away with on Wii Sports and the like – possibly more in the vein of our editor’s experience in Sports Champions. But there will no doubt be those of us looking to game the system regardless, in which case, why did we bother buying an exercise game?

Like anything else, the outcome will largely depend on your own willpower and desire to use Ring Fit Adventure for its intended purpose. But we also play games in order to simulate experiences, rather than have them for real. I don’t particularly want to fight a dragon, or mow down waves of soldiers in real life, but the gameplay, storytelling, and general trappings of the title are what tempt me towards it.

Equally, there are local gyms I can go to for an intense ab workout, but if I’m staying in my living room, it’s probably to play a game first – with any exercise considerations coming second.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.