Weird Nintendo, I've always felt, is the best Nintendo. From well-known oddities such as the Ultra Hand or Love Tester through to deeper cuts like the Chiritori, a remote control vacuum cleaner that was an early precursor to the Roomba, or the Unirack, a shelving unit that came with its own set of handkerchiefs and a secret compartment to squirrel them away in, all so that children could conjure them out of thin air in a performative trick for the whole family, it's where the heart of the company lies. Storage units and disappearing acts? Now that's the Nintendo I love - the toymaker extraordinaire, taking everyday items and imbuing them with a little magic.
All of which was very much present and correct in the enigmatic reveal of a new piece of kit coming to the Nintendo Switch, a brief trailer smartly positioned well away from last week's Direct - a move that tells you a fair amount about where this particular device is being marketed. And that trailer will also have given you a fair idea of what to expect from what's officially dubbed the 'Ring-Con'. It's a rubberised ring that's just about shoulder width, and in which you can place a Joy-Con to track your movements alongside various other magical uses.
I'd say there's been nothing like it before, but that'd be a lie. The Ring-Con is, to put it bluntly, a pilates ring, and it's not as if introducing fitness devices like this is entirely unprecedented in the world of video games. There's Nintendo's own Wii Fit, of course, while the accompanying leg strap you place another Joy-Con in and attach to your thigh reminds me of 2009's EA Sports Active, one of the better games to have come out of the fitness fad around a decade ago.
The difference here, though, can be found in the detail. When it comes to the hardware I can't pretend to be an expert in pilates rings, though this particular take is well put together with two soft-cushioned grips on either side and a slot to place your Joy-Con at the very top. Where it really distinguishes itself - as you might expect from Nintendo - is in the software that comes with the Ring-Con.
Ring Fit Adventure is the name of the game bundled in with the Ring-Con, and it really goes out of its way to assert that it's a game rather than a piece of fitness software. That stuff is in there, of course - you can just use Ring Fit Adventure to perform sets of exercises, with the added bonus of being able to track your activity and your progress (as well as being able to easily track the activity and progress of any other user registered on the Switch, making this easy enough to share across a household).
The real prize, though, is the adventure itself - a fully-featured RPG that, I'm told, could take you months to see through to the end if you pick it up for 30 minutes a day. You pick an avatar from the off - although your choice seems to be limited to gender - and then set about your adventure, travelling through some 20 worlds that get grander in size as you earn XP and level up to be able to take on Dragaux, a weightlifting dragon, at the story's end.
Within those worlds are levels, and to illustrate exactly how Ring Fit Adventure works it's probably best to go through one in detail. You're travelling effectively on rails along a pre-determined path, your running on the spot dictating the speed at which you travel (inclines require more effort, while stairs - as they do in real life - will test your thighs). Perform in perfect sync with your avatar and their hair will light up, while along the path are incidentals. Push the ring to blast air, useful for opening doors or simply bothering grazing deer, and pull it to hoover items up. Position it facing towards the floor, meanwhile, and a push will send a jet of air down to the ground, allowing you to leap and hover over obstacles. Reach the end and you're invited to perform a victory pose, squatting down before rising up with the ring held aloft.
There's a significant amount of resistance offered by the ring (and it's possible to calibrate, beforehand, how much input is required to register your movements, something which is then tied to any given profile), so you're exercising without even really being aware that you're doing so. It's only after a three or four minute session is done and you realise you're breaking out in a sweat that it becomes apparent how much effort you've put in.
The effort is measured within Ring Fit Adventure, and if you're willing to input details such as your age and weight it can be measured with a greater deal of accuracy, with a breakdown of your activity and the calories burned available after a round. You can even measure your pulse - and I love this - by placing your thumb lightly over the Joy-Con's IR sensor. That same Joy-Con also sends vibrations across the Ring-Con via its HD rumble, giving each activity an enjoyably tactile edge.
It's impressive how well Ring Fit Adventure works as a fully-functioning RPG. Within each level there are encounters with enemies that work as any good turn-based RPG should, with your moves replaced by 'Fit Skills' - activities, effectively, each with their own 'elemental' status so that some are more effective than others in any given situation, with the ability to take your own load-out into a level. Yoga moves can be used for healing, for example, while an activity that includes a sweep of the Ring-Con can strike multiple enemies at once.
I've barely even started - there's gear to collect, potions to concoct mini-games that are executed with all the flair and panache you'd expect from a game conjured up within Nintendo's Kyoto headquarters (though there's still some mystery about who exactly is heading up this particular project). There's even more I'm not yet able to disclose, though it's not as if you'll have to wait long to find out for yourselves, given that Ring Fit Adventure is coming out in a few short week's time on October 18th.
I'm looking forward to finding out how Nintendo's new device can slot into my everyday life, and as someone who loves some of the company's more outlandish inventions - and who could definitely afford to lose a few pounds - I'm all for it. The Switch has delivered a fine succession of traditional games over the past few months, with a fair few more on the horizon too. Ring Fit Adventure, though, could be the most Nintendo of them all.
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