Fruit Ninja Kinect represents a unique new vector for games that originally caught on--and in Fruit Ninja’s case, caught on pretty big--on Apple’s iOS platform. Though a few mobile-born games have graduated to the PC and other downloadable platforms, Fruit Ninja Kinect is the first to try to translate those touchscreen controls to the touch-free controls of Kinect, and frankly, I can think of few better candidates. The simple fingertip swiping motions of Fruit Ninja scale up to a full-body experience with ease, and while some might balk at the price difference between platforms, Kinect owners hungry for something, anything of quality will find plenty of curiously cathartic, fruit-annihilating fun for their $10 here.
The idea is simple, and, admittedly, kind of stupid, which is OK, since it’s just a silly contrivance for the underlying mechanics. Pieces of whole fruit--watermelons, apples, bananas, kiwis, pears, strawberries, oranges, lemons, limes, coconuts...wait, are coconuts really fruit?--are lobbed up from the bottom of the screen, and you perform strong, decisive swiping motions across them to slice them in half, ninja-style, before they’re reclaimed by gravity’s clutches. The game encourages economy of movement by awarding bonus multipliers for slicing multiple pieces of fruit with a single swipe, and depending on which mode you’re playing, you’ll also have to avoid score-penalizing or game-ending bombs that get tossed up along with the rest of the fruit salad, or go after bonus fruit that can slow down time, multiply your score, or turn the whole screen into a fruit frenzy for a limited time.
Fruit Ninja Kinect gives you a point of reference for where, exactly, you need to be swinging your arms around like lunatic being attacked by invisible assailants by casting your silhouette on the screen. Whether or not you’ve played Fruit Ninja on a touchscreen before, it takes some getting used to on Kinect, as it favors quick, forceful movements, and in my experience, it can be touchy about players being either too close to and too far from the Kinect. Really excelling at Fruit Ninja Kinect requires enough coordination to use both hands, though flashy, limber players can make use of their feet as well. I’ll admit, I found Fruit Ninja novel on my iPhone, and there’s something to be said for the increase in scale when playing it on the iPad, but going from using your fingertip to using your whole body in Fruit Ninja Kinect ups the level of engagement by an order of magnitude. Unlike other Kinect titles, the control feels relatively sharp and precise--just like a ninja should, fruit or otherwise.
Three modes make up the game’s single-player experience. Classic mode starts slow and slowly cranks up the number of pieces of fruit tossed up at once, with a three-strike system for fruit that’s allowed to fall off the screen un-sliced, plus game-ending bombs to keep you on your toes. Arcade mode does away with the three-strikes model, and replaces the nihilistic bombs with less-punishing bombs that just penalize your score, instead using a time limit to throttle your score, and introduces the bonus fruit to help you juice it up. Every Arcade session also ends with a pomegranate that, if sliced, causes everything to go super-slo-mo, giving you the opportunity to goose your score by rapidly and repeatedly slicing the fruit as fast as you can. It’s no coincidence that this is both the most physically exhausting and satisfying moments that Fruit Ninja Kinect has to offer, though that's not to say that the rest of the game won't make you break a sweat on its own. Zen mode uses a similar time limit, though does away with the bombs and the bonus fruit. Assuming you’ve got space in your living room, you can play local cooperate and competitive two-player modes as well. As you rack up more fruit executions, you unlock new, optional visual effects for your swiping motions, your silhouette, and the game’s background wallpaper.
Each of these modes is self-contained, in that once you finish a session, which usually lasts just a couple of minutes or less, your options are either to retry the mode you’re in, or hop back to the main menu and pursue another mode. There’s no fixed progression within any of the modes, though that’s a gap filled well by the game’s Challenge mode, which turns your friends leaderboard into a competition. If none of your friends are playing Fruit Ninja Kinect, the Challenge mode is admittedly kind of useless. If you do, though, it does a terrific job of incentivizing incrementally improving your score. Since you often have to beat the score of the player just above you on the leaderboard, success in small steps is easily obtained.
When you’re in the game, the simple motion of swiping your limbs through the air is generally quite responsive, though, as can be the case with Kinect games, it can be a little fussy about the calibration. In my experience, the only area where the swipe-based controls are consistently too touchy is in the menus, where it’s easy to accidentally select the wrong menu option with idle gesticulations.
While the stereotypical karate dojo sound effects can come off as a little canned and cheesy, the squishy splats when you successfully slice a piece of fruit add to the game’s inherent satisfaction, particularly when paired with the accompanying juicy splatters against the background.
More than just a simple proof of concept, Fruit Ninja Kinect is a competent debut for Kinect games on Xbox Live Arcade, and it’s such a good fit that I have a hard time believing it will be outdone anytime soon. Kinect owners who understand the strengths and weaknesses of the hardware shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this fun, spazzy title.