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Fruit Ninja Kinect

(Microsoft Studios; US: 11 Aug 2011)

Here we go again. The ultra-cheap fancy-phone games market is quickly turning into a proving ground for releases distributed on a wider scale. Plants vs. Zombies showed that crossing platforms into more strictly games-oriented spaces was indeed possible (if not always desirable), but it worked largely because of its genre—tower defense.  While commonly lumped into the “casual” set of genres, tower defense is typically a meatier play experience than, say, flinging birds at walls or tapping a screen/button to jump at a given time. The most popular iPhone games are often popular because they are so, so simple, not exactly a recipe for success on other platforms. It’s easy to imagine something like, say, Infinity Blade on a console or even updated versions of things like 100 Rogues or League of Evil, but that’s because they fall into genres already proven to work in the console space.


Fruit Ninja? How could that possibly work?


Here’s how to play the iPhone version of the game. Fruit pops out of the bottom of the screen. Slice it by swiping the screen avoid the bombs. Get high scores by slicing a bunch of fruit at once.


...And that’s it.


Speaking strictly in terms of “the things that are done” in the game, the Xbox 360 take on Fruit Ninja adds nothing to the game. It is still a game in which the entire point is to slice the fruit as it appears on-screen while avoiding the bombs. Despite the presence of three single-player modes and two local multiplayer modes, this is what you do. “Classic Mode” is just like the iPhone version. “Zen Mode” ditches the bombs to allow for a less tense, less frustrating experience. “Arcade Mode” has power-ups, bombs that don’t end the game, and a whole mess of fruit at once. The cooperative mode is basically a two-player Arcade Mode, while the competitive mode features the fistfight-avoiding mechanic of only being allowed to hit a subset of the fruit that appears.


While there are subtleties in the approaches that must be taken to truly succeed in each of the given modes, it’s still slicing the fruit and avoiding the bombs, unless there are no bombs to avoid.


And yet, Fruit Ninja Kinect may well be the best game the Kinect has seen since Dance Central.


There are three major upgrades that Fruit Ninja Kinect offers over its far more portable progenitor. The most basic, of course, is being able to see the Fruit Ninja experience on a big screen. Watching fruit get sliced in HD on a big screen television allows you to experience the… well, the violence of slicing fruit in an oddly visceral way. The “splorch” sound that the fruits make is more pronounced, the innards of each fruit more clearly separated from the skin. It’s a strangely fascinating thing just to watch.


Still, that doesn’t even come close to the experience of playing it with the Kinect. Since the Wii arrived in late 2006, the idea that people could look like absolute fools playing a video game has been a common one, but there’s a certain pull to this take on the “ridiculous in real life” group of games. Namely, you can’t help but try and look like a ninja. You’ll ball your hands into fists or the all-too-familiar knife-hand position of every martial art that features board breaking, and you’ll try to look elegant while you take out the flying fruit. Your shadow, the one on the screen that Fruit Ninja Kinect uses to give you an idea of what it’s seeing, may even look sorta badass as you chop, punch, and windmill the fruit. But rest assured, you and the friends you inevitably draw in to this game will look ridiculous.


This is not a bad thing, especially when you realize (as my children quickly did) that using your feet to kick the fruit out of the air is at least as fun as using your hands.


This, of course, leads into the third advantage that the console Fruit Ninja has: local multiplayer. Competitive and cooperative modes ensure hours of quick-hit gaming, the sort of activity that could easily be turned into a drinking game or a quick tournament at a party.


If this all seems terribly superficial, that’s because there’s nothing deep to analyze here. You’re slicing fruit by making ridiculous punching, kicking, and slicing motions. That it actually translates from the phone to the big screen may well be the most remarkable thing about it. By adding enough console-exclusive options and functionality to actually justify paying 1000% of the original price, it even marks what may be the first time that owners of the phone version will be utterly satisfied with a purchase of the console version as well.

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Mike Schiller is a software engineer in Buffalo, NY who enjoys filling the free time he finds with media of any sort -- music, movies, and lately, video games. Stepping into the role of PopMatters Multimedia editor in 2006 after having written music and game reviews for two years previous, he has renewed his passion for gaming to levels not seen since his fondly-remembered college days of ethernet-enabled dorm rooms and all-night Goldeneye marathons. His three children unconditionally approve of their father's most recent set of obsessions.


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