I am not a proud man. I don’t mind looking silly from time to time, especially if it is in the name of gaming. My time with Fruit Ninja Kinect, though, puts every other embarrassing gaming moment to shame. I was described as looking like a “high school girl in a slap fight” and “Wolverine on so much caffeine that even his healing factor couldn’t keep up.” That was after I had refined my Fruit Ninja form a bit.
When Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade was announced, many were surprised to see a downloadable Kinect game in the mix (especially since the only way to take advantage of the special offer was to purchase all five games). Even more surprising was that we found out that The Gunstringer would be coming with a free copy of Fruit Ninja Kinect. So, is Fruit Ninja Kinect worth your $10? The answer, as with so many other games is, “it depends.”
In order to evaluate the changes from the mobile version of Fruit Ninja, which has sold over 6 million copies, I picked it up for my iPhone. All of the modes, music and sound effects from the original have safely survived their journey to the XBox 360. You can turn the music and sound effects off, if you choose, as the entire soundscape becomes extremely repetitive quickly.
Fruit Ninja Kinect features the Classic mode, which continues until you miss three pieces of fruit or hit a bomb; a Zen mode, which features no bombs or powerups and challenges you to achieve the highest score possible in 90 seconds; an Arcade mode that also lasts 90 seconds, but features powerup bananas that freeze time, trigger a “fruit frenzy” or award a 2x multiplier for a limited time along with bombs that cost you ten points for hitting; and a Party mode for two-player competitive or cooperative play.
In addition to all of the modes featured in the mobile version, Fruit Ninja Kinect also features challenges that are increasingly difficult. Triggering a challenge from the main menu sends you right into the relevant mode. Leaderboards are present to keep track of your friends’ progress and there is even an achievement for landing on top for the week. The game features a number of avatar and gamerpic awards, so don’t be surprised if you see your Kinect-owning friends sporting Fruit Ninja gear soon.
There are also cosmetic unlocks within the game that are earned during play. These include different sword effects and backgrounds. The swords come complete with new sounds, but I can almost guarantee that you won’t want to change them often due to the absolutely miserable menu implementation.
Fruit Ninja Kinect carries over a similar menu structure from its mobile predecessor. To activate a menu item, you have to slice it. This works very well on a touchscreen. The implementation for the Kinect is clunky and imprecise. That’s when it actually works. Often the menu options are so close to one another that you’ll hit the wrong one. Worse, you will be moving your hand in position for the one you want and the Kinect will interpret it as a slash. This happened nearly every time we wanted to change game types.
The worst is the Sensei’s Swag menu, where you change swords and backgrounds. You have to slash to move up and down the list, but every time your hand moves, the Kinect things you are trying to scroll. I had the hardest time highlighting the item I wanted. If there is some trick to getting the Kinect to not interpret a subtle movement as a slash, I didn’t figure it out.
In game, the Kinect sensor was mostly reliable, but those expecting the precision of the mobile game are in for a surprise. When using your finger on the touchscreen, it is a fairly simple thing to deftly navigate around bombs to slice fruit that are close by. This is simply not the case in the Kinect adaptation. You will often resort to flailing in order to make sure you hit every piece before it disappears from the screen. It isn’t that you can’t improve your form or your scores. It’s just that the input mechanism creates a much steeper climb in improvement that is often heavily predicated on luck and the forgiveness/inaccuracy of the Kinect sensor.
If you play Fruit Ninja Kinect as a skill-based endeavor, you are likely to find yourself frustrated. Where the fun comes in is getting a group of people together to laugh at the crazy flailing that is inevitable with this game. We were all laughing and sweating as each of us took a turn (or more) swiping at fruit and cursing at accidental bomb hits.
Clearly, if you are planning on picking up The Gunstringer, you are wise to wait until that game releases to play Fruit Ninja. For those that are planning a pass on Twisted Pixel’s upcoming retail Kinect title, Fruit Ninja will entertain as a party game that can be played in short bursts for quick turns. As long as you are careful to allow one person to step out of the frame before the next enters, you’ll be OK. Otherwise, we ran into problems with the sensor completely failing to recognize hand motions, even with only one person in focus. We also noticed that the recalibration of the Kinect was inconsistent, leading to problems with consecutive players of significantly different heights. In so many ways, this felt like this generation’s “cartridge blowing,” as we tried different things to get the Kinect sensor to respond properly.
Fruit Ninja Kinect isn’t a horrible game, and I would be flat out lying if I said I didn’t have fun with it. However, where the original succeeds with a quick load time and short-burst play, the Kinect version simply can’t hold up. For most people it takes a bit of doing to set up their space for Kinect play, load up the game and ensure the right profile is recognized for score tracking. In addition, the game’s technical problems, poor menu implementation and repetitive play are a hard sell, even at $10 (800 msp).
Fruit Ninja Kinect is the perfect game for the right setting, but even if you decide to pick it up for party play, you aren’t likely to return to it for any other reason.
Review copy provided by publisher. Both versions played through completion.