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Games of the Year 2019: Ring Fit Adventure and the Sherlock Holmes of walking

Over the festive break we’ll be running through our top 20 picks of the year’s best games, leading up to the reveal of Eurogamer’s game of the year on New Year’s Eve. You can find all the pieces published to date here – and thanks for joining us throughout the year!

Earlier this year I met the Sherlock Holmes of walking. I had been referred to a neurophysio by my MS nurse, after a few months in which I felt like I was being stalked by the prospect of a calamitous fall – a Thompson Twins tumble into a flower bed or ornamental fountain. I turned up at Brighton General one spring morning ready to be told that I was wasting everyone’s time. I think I have an unusual walk, perhaps, but nothing to be concerned about, and maybe the falling thing was all in my head. When I was introduced to my physio I apologised in advance for not being a more interesting case.

She made me walk across the room. Halfway through I thought, Man, I am acing this. Then she made me stop. Did she steeple her fingers? Maybe not. She might as well have anyway. Did I know, she asked, that my feet crossed each other’s paths as I walked? Did I know that I wobbled whenever I changed direction? Did I know how much I sway when I’m just standing still? Did I know that the front of my shoe regularly clipped the ground by accident?

The front of my shoe? I was pretty sure this was not correct and I said so. “Your shoes,” Holmes replied, “tell a different story.”

Five years of MS has left me with balance problems and an unusual gait, all of which I am fine with. I am doing very well overall, touch wood. (Five years of MS has also left me with superstition.) But I am constantly being told that I should be exercising more, because of balance, sure, but also because of spasticity and fatigue and all that jazz. I have tried to exercise, I really have. But I have never stuck with it.

Until Ring Fit Adventure came along.

Now, please note up front that I am not saying Ring Fit Adventure is helping with MS. I would never ask that of it in the first place. I’m not looking for it to make me walk in a different way or to deal with my balance issues or spasticity. What I want from it is something that will make me remember regularly to do a bit of exercise. Ideally I’m after something that makes exercise part of my weekly routine.

And so far, it’s delivering in glorious fashion. The thing about exercise is that I get distracted. Then I start to sort of slip a bit in what I’m doing. If I’m jogging I start to think, “Oh man, this is boring. What’s that thing where you cook down carrots and celery and onions called? Is that a magpie over there?” and pretty soon I’ve stopped jogging entirely. In Ring Fit Adventure I jog on the spot for ages, it seems, without ever giving in to distraction. That’s because while I’m in my living room, I’m also moving through this magical Nintendo fantasy land, using a funny exercise ring thing to draw in coins, to jump over logs, to move a minecart and to smash crates.

It is astonishing that Nintendo can get such a range of activities out of a leg strap and an exercise ring. But what’s more astonishing is that Nintendo can wrap the whole thing up in a quest scenario that has me coming back, three or four times a week, and exercising for thirty minutes or so each time. This probably isn’t changing my world – I still feel like I am due that fall – but it’s a start. And it’s habit-forming, I hope. It’s a start!

The genius, of course, is that while this is an exercise package, it’s also Nintendo to its core. It’s filled with surprises and jollity and quirk and all kinds of cleverness. And it delivers feedback with a wonderful sense of connection. Nintendo has always been brilliant at squeezing hardware and software together until they are completely meshed. On this occasion in particular, I cannot thank them enough.

(And personal thanks to the NHS, which I hope goes without saying.)

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