If you happen to own a modern smartphone then you’ve probably already sampled the delights of Halfbrick’s amazing Fruit Ninja. The game has now registered over 20 million downloads across mobile formats, and rightly so — it’s one of those unique titles that takes a very basic premise (in this case, the slicing and dicing of fruit) and makes it totally and utterly captivating.
If you're one of the few people yet to be ensnared by its charms, allow us to explain. The objective of the game's 'classic' mode is to slice fruit and achieve the best score possible. Bagging three pieces of fruit or more in one slice earns you a combo bonus, and should a fruit should fall off the bottom of the screen without being hit, you lose one of your three lives. To make things really interesting, you also have to cope with bombs falling onto the screen - make contact with one of these and it's game over. Other gameplay modes tinker with the rules, but the core appeal remains the same.
In many ways, Fruit Ninja’s transition to Kinect is somewhat unexpected — this is a game that in its original iteration relies heavily on precise finger input — yet it only takes a few seconds of play to realise that it’s perfectly suited to Microsoft’s motion-sensing technology.
That’s not to say that the development has been straightforward. The first issue that the team at Halfbrick has had to deal with is the interface. With the mobile versions, you used a single digit to execute your slashes. With the Kinect edition, your entire body is superimposed onto the screen, and your hands become your trusty weapons.
Initially, it takes a bit of getting used to — making sure you’re standing in the middle of the screen is a must. The game will even adjust the pitch of the Kinect sensor if it feels you’re not in the correct position. If you’re unfortunate enough to have particularly small living room then you may experience problems — we had to stand quite far away from the TV to get the optimum set-up.
However, once you’ve found that sweet spot, chopping flying foodstuffs becomes second nature. Because your ‘shadow’ is always on-screen, you can gauge where to land your blows. There’s minimal latency between your movements and their replication on-screen, and Fruit Ninja Kinect does an impressive job of recognising your karate-style chops (with optional shouts and yells, naturally) and ignoring the other parts of your body that are also in motion. Although the game is recording all of your actions using the Kinect’s camera, only rapid arm gestures are registered as slashes.
All in all, the controls work wonderfully and do a commendable job of translating the instantly gratifying gameplay of the mobile original. The big difference over the touch-screen version is that you can now perform two attacks simultaneously - one with each arm.
Fruit Ninja purists may scoff at such a feature and feel that it cheapens the challenge. In reality, that’s simply not the case. Granted, being able to slash twice helps you avoid dropping fruit and losing lives, but at the same time it makes it more challenging to register score-boosting combos (which require a single, clean slash through several pieces of fruit) and effectively doubles the chances of you accidentally hitting a bomb and ending your game prematurely. There’s a risk and reward element to the new interface, and learning to refine your gestures becomes an incredibly satisfying experience. There's arguably a larger scope for skilful play than in the original mobile edition.
Although the version of the game we tested isn’t completely finished, there’s still an impressive amount of content available. As well as the ‘classic’ mode, you have a time-based ‘arcade’ mode where the objective is to score as many points as possible before the clock runs down. Hitting bombs doesn’t end your game, but instead subtracts points from your overall tally.
The ‘zen’ mode from the mobile edition also makes an appearance, and is focused solely on combo scoring. There are no bombs to avoid and fruit falling off the edge of the screen doesn't end your game; instead you need to perfect your timing to ensure you capture as many fruits as possible in each slash.
The magical bananas are also present (these create different effects such as slowing down time and triggering the pyrotechnic frenzy mode), as are some particularly ripe pomegranates - which is impressive, as this fruit was only recently added to the iOS version. When one of these bulbous orbs appears on-screen, a quick slash will cause the camera to zoom in while you inflict a massive combo of rapid slashes until it exposes in a shower of juice, adding a massive chunk of points to your total.
The ‘challenge’ mode is entirely new for Kinect and features various objectives spread across all of the game's various modes. As you beat the tasks — which range from scoring over a certain total or playing against the clock — they become increasingly difficult, and the later examples will sorely test both your skills and patience. This mode is going to be perfect for quick-burst play, but by far the most exciting new addition to the Kinect version of Fruit Ninja has to be the two-player 'party' mode.
Going head-to-head with a friend in a fruit-destruction challenge is a unique experience, although it goes without saying that you’ll need a wide area to play safely. The prospect of flailing limbs connecting with vulnerable areas of the human anatomy is very real, although mercifully Kinect’s controller-less set-up means you won’t be holding a hard plastic object when you occasionally make contact with your fellow player’s face.
Like the mobile editions, Fruit Ninja Kinect contains unlockable bonuses that encourage you to keep playing. These include new coloured blades, different backdrops and the ability to alter the texture of your on-screen shadow. There’s also the usual raft of XBLA-based achievements to discover.
Although it was born on mobile phones, Fruit Ninja feels surprisingly at home on Kinect. After a rocky start, the motion-sensing format finally seems to be hitting its stride and getting games that show off its true potential. With the sublime Child of Eden already thrilling gamers worldwide, the forthcoming release of Fruit Ninja Kinect is going to ensure that those oft-ignored Kinect sensors are brought out of their dusty slumber once and for all. Did someone say killer app?
Fruit Ninja Kinect will launch on Xbox Live Arcade this year.