Like a lot of people currently at home in lock down, I’ve not been doing a great job of keeping myself healthy. The world is overwhelming and scary, tasty food is a nice distraction from that fact, and leaving the house to exercise isn’t a super east concept right now. I’m not afraid to admit I’ve gotten a bit lazy in lockdown, and realising that encouraged me to return to a game a lot of people have been picking up during Quarantine. Ring Fit Adventure.
Released back in October 2019, Ring Fit Adventure is a cross between an exercise routine management game and an RPG. Players run through levels by jogging or sprinting on the spot, and use a resistance band to blast through obstacles, perform large jumps, or suck items closer to themselves. In battles experienced throughout levels, players pick from a variety of different exercises that are used as JRPG attacks, shielding with abdominal presses and attacking by doing effective sets of squats or Yoga poses. A story involving an evil buff dragon man gives the workouts a purpose, and drive the game forward in an interesting way.
Playing through the game’s opening levels today was a pretty strenuous workout for me, as someone pretty out of shape. I worked up a considerable sweat fighting my way through the game’s first boss fight, with the presence of a boss health bar helping to encourage me to push through the challenge and get those extra couple of reps done. I need to stick with it, but I am excited about the prospect of Ring Fit Adventure as a part of my ongoing lockdown exercise routine.
This all being said, despite being a little out of shape, my body is able to handle most of the movements Ring Fit Adventure asks of me. But, that got me wondering, how accessible is the game to people with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users who may not be able to jog or sprint on the spot reliably? Well, the accessibility options may not be perfect, but they are better than I would have expected from a story based exercise game that comes bundled with a leg sensor.
If you dig into the menus for Ring Fit Adventure, one of the settings you can toggle for your adventure mode profile is Assist Mode, in which certain muscle groups or body parts can be toggled on or off if you have trouble with them. The assist modes on show include Shoulder Assist, Back Assist, Ab Assist, and knee Assist. The primary one I am going to dig into today is Knee Assist, as it impacts the largest number of areas of the game, but much the same changes apply to the other assist modes.
So, turning on Assist Mode, and sitting down to play adventure mode, a few key changes were apparent right from the start. A big part of adventure mode is jogging or running on the spot through environments, and with Knee Assist turned on this aspect of the adventure is automated. Your player character will jog automatically through environments, sprinting when it is vital to level completion. This means that traversal of adventure mode is possible for players who for example may only have reliable or pain free use of their arms. Players can still use the resistance band to fire blasts at obstacles, suck in collectables, and propel themselves off the ground. All of the arm based world traversal exercises work as intended.
One thing that’s not ideal about this, is that at the end of every level, players have the option to check their heart rate, to see how intense of a workout the game deems them to have undertaken. Obviously, the game is expecting the player’s heart-rate to have elevated in correlation to jogging for several minutes, so users with assist mode active may often be ranked by the game as having had a “Very Light Workout”. The game doesn’t adjust its expectations of what makes a strenuous workout when cardio elements are automated.
Some in game activities which would previously have been a leg exercise, plus an arm exercise, such as the end of level squat, into standing up victory pose with arms above head, are replaced with button presses instead. The game doesn’t ask players to simply do the arm element of the exercise, it just gets rid of it entirely.
Now, let’s get onto combat exercise accessibility. With Knee Assist activated, there are some exercises in your starting set of attacks which will still be present in the attacks list, but simply not be possible to activate. If you are seated, the squats exercise for example cannot be activated, because it expects you to be standing to start the exercise. No button option is offered to replace Squats, so that attack on your combat screen simply doesn’t function. There are also exercise attacks such as Knee to Chest, which may be accidentally activated from a seated position, despite their unsuitability for those with issues using their knees or legs. If you accidentally enter an activity you cannot complete, you may need to cheat and move the leg Coy-Con using your hands, because the game will not let you back out of an activity once it is locked in.
With those caveats out the way, around 60% of your starting set of combat attacks do work while seated. Some of these only include arm components, while some expect a stationary seated position, so many of the upper body exercises do still work. Additionally, you unlock additional exercises as you play the game, so within a few days you should be able to unlock enough new abilities that you are able to complete that you can replace and remove the attacks you are not able to use.
While it’s not a perfect solution, Knee Assist seems to do a pretty decent job of keeping the game’s upper body exercise content intact, while removing aspects which might be difficult for wheelchair users or those with other knee and leg usage difficulties. The other three assist modes seem to be pretty similar in execution for their specific muscle groups and body areas, if any of those are a concern.
Additionally, you can pause at literally any time without penalty. Need to rest or recover from pain during a set of reps? Just stop and the game will wait. Need to give up on this held action? No problem, try it again when you are ready. Sudden unexpected pain or weakness won’t penalise your performance if you need to pause.
While it’s not perfect, it’s nice to see a game about exercise at least make an effort to ensure people can opt into exercises they are able to do, while avoiding those they may struggle with. It seems like the adventure mode should be playable for a decent range of people.
Now, I need to get back to exercising. I imagine I’ll probably do some more squats while this video renders. Come on Laura, you’ve got this.