That's likely to be my very dumbest thesis for the remainder of my games-reviewing career, but let's face it: Fruit Ninja Kinect is an astonishingly dumb game. Its unswerving singlemindedness sets a new standard for simplicity: The game oscillates between binary states of chopping fruit and waiting to chop more fruit, with little extraneous cruft to pad the two. There is fruit, and then you chop it, and then the fruit -- in a burst of citrus and points -- is gone!
Such a single-faceted premise would be a mark of death for any game, even a budget-priced downloadable title. Luckily for Halfbrick, it is good to chop fruit with your hands. If you're familiar of the mobile version of the produce-hostile casual title, you already know everything there is to know about this winning formula. As fruit is launched upward by an unseen assailant, players must slash each foodstuff before it falls out of sight. Bonus points are earned for destroying multiple vittles in a single slash, requiring a certain level of quiet contemplation as you flail about like the world's worst ground air traffic controller.
Oh, the flailing you'll do. The substitution of swift flicks of your fingertips with decisive thrusts of your entire upper body easily justifies the ten-times-more-expensive price of the XBLA title over the app. There is a level of satisfaction one achieves when performing a rising uppercut on a cluster of tightly-grouped watermelons that cannot be matched -- or even approached -- by a game that only requires you to move half of one percent of your body.
You'll execute these precise cuts across a myriad of game modes, most of which were imported from the smartphone-based original. Classic Mode tasks you with scoring as many points as possible before you drop three fruit, or chop one of the frequently launched, game-ending bombs. Arcade is set to a timer, and throws special bonuses into the mix, like fruit-freezing and score-multiplying bananas. Zen mode offers a much more straightforward, 90-second free-for-all.
New to the assortment is a two-player mode, which can either be played competitively -- fruits are highlighted red or blue, and can only be chopped by the corresponding player -- or cooperatively. The Kinect hasn't provided too many moments of raw happiness more pure than when I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow fruit chopper, slicing through panic-inducing swarms of produce, all the while trying not to deliver a fatal hatchet blow directly to my companion's real-life face.
There are some really great ideas in here for other Kinect developers to study: For instance, getting yourself into prime fruit-cutting position is a breeze by merit of the fact that your shadow is constantly displayed on screen. Also, if you walk too close or too far from the sensor, the game automatically calibrates within seconds, centering the game's field of view at the optimal slicing height. There is no reason why every game on the platform shouldn't do these two things.
The only bit of clunk which surfaces as a result of the new hands-free control scheme is the menu UI, which sees your every movement as an eager chop towards whatever menu option your hand is closest to. You can eventually learn to temper your movements to cut back on these false positives -- though attempting to swipe through the game's lengthy list of unlockable blades, backgrounds and shadows is an exercise in blinding frustration.
Perhaps it was unfair to call Fruit Ninja Kinect dumb. Its premise is as barbaric and unsophisticated as premises come, and yet its so chock-full of clever ideas and satisfyingly tight controls that it very nearly circles back around to pure genius. It doesn't just set a high bar for the flock of touch-based apps which will almost certainly follow in its footsteps to the Kinect platform -- it sets a pretty intimidating precedent for the platform altogether.
This review is based on final review code provided by Microsoft. Fruit Ninja Kinect will be available for $10 on XBLA starting August 10.