The addictive IOS game comes to Microsoft's Kinect - but are 10 fingers better than one?
I wonder if in a few years people will talk about ios games being consolized. If they did, would they use the term in a good way or would it still have the derogative connotation that's attached to it now? Whatever the case ends up being we've got one of our first true case studies in Halfbrick Studios Fruit Ninja Kinect, the popular ios game that's been adapted for Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor. It's a strange choice for the Summer of Arcade and people might wonder why they'd pay for a game they can already get on their phones, but the most surprising thing is that it's actually a great showcase for the Kinect and hopefully a model they can learn from going forward.
Ten Times The Fun?
Fruit Ninja is a game for mobile devices where you use your fingers or thumbs to slice fruit. You might have to avoid bombs mixed in with the pineapple and papaya or you may be tasked with getting as high of a score as possible in a short time limit but for the most part that's really all the game is. Fruit goes up and you have to slice it before it falls. It's a simple game but it more than earns its 99-cent price tag. Fruit Ninja Kinect isn't 99-cents, though, it's 800 MS point ($10) and that's going to be a hard thing for a lot of people to ignore. I can't really justify a game that's ten times the price on one platform when it adds very little. Fruit Ninja Kinect adds some, but not necessarily enough. The good news is that it's still a highly addictive and enjoyable game.
When you start a round of Fruit Ninja you'll see an outline of yourself on a background. At first I thought this was just a cute way to try to implement the Kinect but I quickly realized that it's also the most important part of the games feedback for the player. When you swing your arms or kick your feet tiny slashes run along the screen where your limbs are on the shadow, and as long as there's fruit in the way they'll be split apart in gloriously squishy fashion. Your shadow tells you where you are and how you line up with the objects on the screen. It's a really smart design choice because it eliminates the lack of spatial awareness a lot of other motion control games are guilty of. While it isn't a form of true tactile feedback it goes a long way to making you feel like you're always capable of cutting every fruit on screen and never the victim of a skittish sensor.
Players will surely want to know whether the Kinect works like it should or if it cuts out. The answer is actually really odd. During my time with the game I never once encountered a single problem with the Kinect not registering a swipe with my arm or foot*. Outside the game is a whole other matter. Navigating menus is done by slashing the names of modes which circle around a stationary fruit on the screen. You still see the same type of shadow as you would in game but for some reason it'll often cut in and out, and when it comes back it takes time to calibrate. It's shocking how often this happens and it's sure to give people a really bad impression out of the gate. I hope Halfbrick Studios sends out a patch to fix this because once you get by the menus the game runs great.
Anyone familiar with the series will know already that it's not just a matter of slicing a couple of fruit and watching the points tally up. High scores depend on your ability to split apart multiple fruit at once, awarding extra combo points for any swipe that connects with three fruit or more and the odd critical hit. If you expect to get anywhere in Classic Mode you'll need to make the most out of these combos. There's also a strict three strikes and you're out marker that ends the round if you happen to let three fruit fall unscathed. Along with the fact that there's an instant round over if you slice a bomb, the three fruit penalty makes this the hardest mode out of the bunch.
On the other hand, Arcade Mode is a lot more hectic but puts a time limit on things. Here there will be special fruit that you can cut that falls down or flies across the screen. If you manage to cut one of them in the short time they pass by you'll be given a power up. These include things like Freeze which makes everything go slower, Frenzy which litters the screen with a ton of fruit at once and Double Points which gives you, well, double the points. To make it high on the leaderboards in Arcade mode you're going to need to master both the combos and the powers ups, doing your best to string together all three of them at once.
Rounding out the single player is Zen Mode and Challenge Mode. Both are unspectacular. Zen Mode takes away the power ups and bombs and gives you more time to play (but not much more) but I think it would have been better if it was an endless mode without the three strikes rule. Challenge Mode is the same as all the rest but with specific goals in mind. So you might have to get 150 points in Classic or 300 in Arcade but the rules of those modes apply just the same. It's hardly worth calling it a mode and I think they would have been better if they had just elaborated on the unlock system or even added a leveling system to the game.
My Shadow Slices Better Than Your Shadow
You will unlock a few goodies as you go but these aren't overly noteworthy either. You can change the design of your shadow or alter the color of your blade so that your swipes do different things. I suppose it's not something worth being critical over but it feels like this stuff doesn't go far enough to warrant the higher price point for the game. I would have liked to see some cross-promotion with other titles so you could change your shadow into other characters, maybe, or even changed the blade into something ludicrous or funny.
The biggest addition to the game, by far, is the party mode that lets two players play at once. Players play at the same time on their own half of the screen and compete for best score. To keep things clear each player gets his or her own color. Even still, things get really hectic with both people whipping their arms about and I definitely had a few occasions of smacking my better half in the face accidentally. She, too, managed to hit me a few times, decidedly less on purpose. It goes without saying that (safety issues aside) this is the perfect mode for anyone with kids who's looking for a game to play together.
It's difficult to score Fruit Ninja Kinect without considering the importance players put on cost. This game can be had for a lot of people at one tenth the cost of this console version. But with that said this is undoubtedly the best version of Fruit Ninja. It plays spectacularly well on the Kinect while retaining the same short-burst, leaderboard hunting, addictive gameplay and adding an immensely fun multiplayer mode. But it's still a mini-game that you can't play for longer than thirty minutes to an hour at a time and no matter how many times you come back there's no real form of progression. Fruit Ninja Kinect is then probably best summed with the phrase "what you see is what you get". What you see is incredibly shallow and limited, but what you get is a lot of fun.
Final Score: 70%
70-74% - "Strong" The upper echelon of average, this game has sufficient technical prowess and/or fun, but lacks the depth or polish for it to excel. Some will swear it’s the best, others will say the opposite. Most of us will be perfectly content with it.
Note: *I play in a 15' x 15' room, so I may have an optimal play area for the Kinect - Players should be mindful that the Kinect works best in open, well lit spaces.