In a July stockholders meeting, Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa hinted that new content for its Ring Fit Adventure game may be on the way. That’s potentially great news because it’s lacking in features for the population that arguably needs to exercise the most–the disabled. During Covid, many Nintendo fans were enthralled with the serene stylings and cute animations of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, catapulting the game’s sales to 32.6 million copies sold.
And while many gamers were busy building their dream houses, others took the opportunity to get in shape with Ring Fit Adventure. However, the fitness-themed title has only sold 10.1 million copies to date. It’s strange, because Wii Fit Plus, the game’s predecessor, and Wii Fit sold 21+ million copies each. Ring Fit Adventure is definitely missing something — accessibility options. According to a 2020 WHO report on health and disability, the organization estimates that there are over a billion people in the world who have a disability. That’s a huge section of potential consumers that aren’t being served.
Don’t get me wrong, Ring Fit Adventure is already surprisingly accessible compared to other games on the market. However, it needs to go even further with its inclusivity. For example, there’s a shoulder, back, ab, and knee assist mode. If you turn knee assist on, someone in a wheelchair can participate without jogging in place to move the character. At the end of every level, players can check their heart rate. However, the game assumes the player was jogging the entire time. So if knee assist is on, the player will get a lower workout ranking.
These assist modes can be toggled on and off to build muscle and endurance during activities. You can also adjust the difficulty, pause if you need a break, and flee from battles if you’re caught at an inopportune time. However, everyone’s body and capabilities are different, so it’s difficult for an individual to find a mode that perfectly fits them. Nintendo needs to allow the user to calibrate assist modes and difficulty levels on a slider to fine-tune each individual‘s experience as well as not penalize for physical inability.
Recalibrate the calibration
Speaking of calibration, before you start the game, the player is asked to squeeze the ring and do leg movements so the game can adjust to your strength and stamina. Sounds good, right? But what if you were feeling particularly spry that day? Or maybe you moved uncommonly sloth-like. This incentivizes the player not to try hard during the initial calibration so that the game’s easier throughout. Our bodies can be sensitive to weather, air pressure, what we ate or drank the night before, so said sliders would really benefit all players.
Build a better battle mode
Ring Fit Adventure’s method of gamifying exercise in an RPG format is a brilliant concept, but one of the big problems that occurs comes in battle mode. Attacks can only be deployed when the player does a certain exercise like a squat or overhead press. What if the player can only do one or two of the four possible exercises that triggers an attack? This issue needs to be rectified so that all attacks are available to players, no matter their ability.
Although you can level up and swap attacks activated by exercises more conducive for you, the first level up can only be accessed by performing a squat, overhead press, chair pose, or knee-to-chest maneuver. You also gain XP in multitask mode, which allows the player to do any exercise they want, at their own pace, while the Joy-Con registers the movement for your next gameplay session. Still, Nintendo needs to add a free update where disabled players can obtain the required XP in-game just like able-bodied gamers, instead of playing catch up during their free time.
Create more diverse skins
Finally, representation matters. If Nintendo wants to sell more systems and copies of Ring Fit Adventures, the company should provide more character skins that look like its differently-abled clientele. This should come in the form of prosthetic limbs, mobility aids, and a character in a wheelchair.
The chair could either move along an automatically generated path or the character could pump the wheels in order to move. And, if a player uses a mobility aid, Nintendo could create a cane and walker graphic that replaces the ring the main character shoots with. People are much more likely to purchase and play a game when they see themselves on screen.
If Nintendo wants to succeed in this category and beyond, it needs to release an updated Ring-Con alongside DLC that is more eye-catching for the visually impaired so it doesn’t blend in with furniture. Put some 3.5-millimeter jacks on the rim and a couple of buttons on each grip, and Nintendo could have its own version of the Xbox Adaptive Controller–bolstering sales and encouraging exercise.
After celebrating its fourth birthday, the Nintendo Switch is already one of its best-selling consoles, and with titles like Breath of the Wild 2 slated for release, there is no sign of it slowing down. But if Nintendo wants to send sales into the stratosphere by attracting every hospital, rehab clinic, and family, it needs to properly update Ring Fit Adventure. Nintendo could greatly grow its user base if it made a few tweaks to make the title even more accessible.
In our post-Covid reality, people are already exercising in front of screens, but Ring Fit could become its own genre for Nintendo if it worked on it. A player could use the Ring-Con with games that have various settings. This has already been done in mods where players use the Ring-Con to play games like Mario Kart and the original Breath of the Wild.
All of these options might sound like overkill or as though they’re defeating the purpose of the game–a challenging workout–but they are important to offer because no two disabilities are the same. Once Nintendo’s developers realize this, everyone in our increasingly health-centric world can exercise while having fun.