It might not yet boast an Angry Birds-like level of visibility, but Fruit Ninja has been one of the truly remarkable mobile smashes of the last couple years, spawning well over 20 million downloads and continuously ranking near the top of the App Store sales charts. Halfbrick's colourful produce-slashing simulation has since spread to other mobile devices and is soon headed to Facebook, but the first iteration to shed the familiar touch-screen interface won't be on your computer screen -- it's on Xbox Live Arcade. And Fruit Ninja Kinect is exactly the kind of game the motion-tracking hardware was built for.
Many Kinect owners still bemoan the lack of meaty, core experiences, but the act of waving your arm -- or even launching your foot towards the screen -- to bash flying pieces of fruit to bits is a strangely satisfying one, much as it was on the iPhone and iPad. Apples, bananas, oranges, and more are tossed into your field of vision on the screen, and it's your task to slice them in half before they disappear out of view. Combos add bonus points for swipes that net three or more juicy victims, and bombs and power-ups appear in select modes to really shake up the experience.
It's a simple concept, and the vibrant aesthetic and straightforward design will no doubt push away players that still consider "casual" a dirty word. But like any great quick-hit experience, the introduction of limited lives and omnipresent friend leaderboards turn this cute juicing sim into one tense and surprisingly frenetic experience. Timing your slashes to net the most points in a limited span of time -- or avoiding bombs and dropped pieces to keep playing indefinitely -- requires skill and coordination, and Fruit Ninja Kinect is one of the most rock-solid uses of the Kinect hardware to date. When you miss a piece of fruit or accidentally trigger a bomb, it never feels like the device sold you short; which is a lot more than can be said for several previous Kinect releases.
While Fruit Ninja Kinect may feel like a glorified mini-game to some, the distinct play modes really help keep things lively and varied. The Classic mode allots three missed pieces with no timer (and loads of game-ending bombs), making it the most precise and challenging option in the bunch, while the Zen mode sheds extraneous hazards and power-ups, making skillful combo swipes your best bet at racking up hefty point totals in a limited timeframe. On the entirely opposite end is Arcade mode, which offers just 60 seconds of play but fills those moments with power-ups that bombard you with fruit or multiply your score. And with friend leaderboards seen before and after each session, plus a Challenge option that focuses your efforts on dethroning chums and other lofty milestones, it's tough to deny that prevailing need to trounce your buddies' best efforts.
The Kinect version also introduces same-screen multiplayer modes, which let you work with or against a pal to notch sizeable point bounties. I found the competitive option -- in which you man half the screen and only slash your own-coloured or neutral fruit -- a bit confining, as you only have a split-second to react to anything on your portion of the screen. But the co-op mode is absolutely golden, and aside from occasionally smacking your partner in pursuit of flying fruit, it's a blast to just let loose and smash scads of produce in each bite-sized session.
Fruit Ninja Kinect isn't a remarkably deep or long-lasting experience, but it's a smart adaptation of the mobile hit that delivers intense, albeit short-lived bursts of enjoyment. Plus, it provided me the sorest Kinect-related limbs I've had since the launch, which should be read only as a compliment (I'm fine, really). Games like Dance Central and Child of Eden use the Kinect to help deliver involving and immersive play experiences, which is fantastic -- but for rapid-fire bursts of silly fun, Fruit Ninja arrives unparalleled.