E3 2011 – Fruit Ninja To Hit Kinect This Summer, Facebook This Year

In the movie Hook, there’s a period during which all the Lost Boys think Robin Williams is a total schmuck. But Williams proves himself to be the one true Pan over time by completing various Pan-like tasks: fighting, flying and crowing, as well as disparaging Rufio. And it all starts with one singular moment, when, while standing on the table filled with make-believe Neverland food, Williams stops a coconut from colliding with his head by slicing it perfectly in half in mid-air.

Fruit Ninja is kinda like that. Not the Peter Pan part, but the vicious dismemberment of fruit part. If you own a smartphone, chances are good you’ve played it — it’s a simple touchscreen game in which fruit flies across the screen and you have to draw a quick line through it with your fingers to slice it. The more fruit you hit at once, the higher your score. There’s an added layer of hectic craziness created by the inclusion of bombs among the flying fruit, which cost points earned, and additional points that have power-up effects like multiplying score, slowing fruit down so that it’s easier to hit, extending time and so on.

Excelling in simplicity and challenging but fairly mindless fun, Fruit Ninja has made quite a splash for its developer, Halfbrick, in the mobile space. Halfbrick has other successful games, but none seem to approach the simple joy of Fruit Ninja — which is likely why the game is starting to creep onto other platforms.

Fruit Ninja Kinect is the biggest move Halfbrick is making with the Fruit Ninja franchise. As the title implies, it’s a Kinect-enabled version of the game, where You Are The Controller. I got a chance to get hands-on with Fruit Ninja Kinect, so to speak, at E3 2011.

Obviously since it’s a Kinect title, there’s no touching with Fruit Ninja Kinect. Instead, the Kinect camera track’s the players’ movements by projecting a shadow on the screen, helping players to stay oriented as they use their hands, rather than their fingers, as their razor-sharp fruit-destroying weapons of choice. Without the touch interface, it was a bit awkward at first — a little more like Fruit Ninja Pretend Judo Chop! or Fruit Ninja Awkward Robot Dance than I was used to from my time with the iPhone game — but after a few minutes, I was able to get the hang of it and dice flying fruit almost as well as I can on the small screen.

Adding Kinect to the Fruit Ninja universe opens up the game quite a bit. The title is an Xbox Live Arcade downloadable, so it gets the full XBLA treatment, including Achievements. It also carries new game modes — a Battle mode, in which players compete each other for a high score, and a cooperative mode where scores are added together — and “heaps and heaps of unlockables,” according to Halfbrick Executive Producer Ben Vale, including new blades and aesthetically different shadows. Fruit Ninja Kinect also packs online leaderboards that get reset weekly in order to foster competition among players.

“This the first XBLA Kinect game, so it’ll be available for about half of what a normal Kinect game goes for,” Vale said. “And it’s the most responsive Kinect game we’ve seen.”

Fruit Ninja Kinect is being released as part of Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade promotion, so Vale said he wasn’t sure what it would cost or exactly when it would be released: “Really soon, I guess.”

It only took one round to get a feel for Fruit Ninja Kinect, and one more to foster a serious sense of competition with someone else who was also receiving the demo. Games are short — just two minutes or so — but they’re both highly active and perfectly small-scale: pretty much exactly what you’d expect Fruit Ninja to look like if you were playing it by waving your hands at your TV.

The other platform receiving a new Fruit Ninja title is Facebook. That game is called Fruit Ninja Frenzy, and it’ll offer some different gameplay from other versions of Fruit Ninja, although it’ll be closely tied to an upcoming iOS title of the same name.

Frenzy is a Flash game played with a mouse with quick click-and-drag motions, right in a browser window, like other Facebook games. And like other Facebook games, it’ll allow players to unlock much of its content by paying for it. Frenzy works in a pay element by presenting players with three “slots,” which can be unlocked through by playing the game extensively or through purchases. Each slot allows players to add a power-up or a modifier to their game — for example, a player could plug a “no bombs” power-up in one slot to disable any danger in a playthrough, or use another slot to extend the time on a Fruit Ninja round by seven seconds to rack up more points. Like Fruit Ninja Kinect, there will also be additional blades, seasonal content, and other things that can be purchased.

I played a few rounds on Fruit Ninja on Facebook in a beta version, and it’s not bad. The mouse interface isn’t nearly the same as the touch slicing or even pretending your hands are swords when using Kinect — there was a lot of errant clicking, although I was also trying to play a computer game standing up — but after a round or two, I can see the short-term Facebook embedded appeal.

Players aren’t required to purchase the content they want in Fruit Ninja Frenzy on Facebook, but it is quicker than earning it. It’s also possible to rack up premium currency in the game a number of ways, such as by earning achievements. That currency can then be applied to unlocking new items in the game.

The whole idea is to foster competition and leverage the massive community on Facebook and the friends that most people are already interacting with using the social network. Like Kinect, Frenzy carries leaderboards that are reset weekly, basically creating a new weekly tournament in which players can take part. That sort of competition, coupled with the ease of playing Fruit Ninja (which is part of why it’s popular anyway), should do a lot to draw people into Frenzy.

The Facebook title goes into a closed beta this summer, and it’ll launch alongside the iOS Fruit Ninja Frenzy sometime later this year. The iPhone/iPad title will include all the same content as the Facebook game, and holiday updates and the like will hit both versions at the same time. The iOS version and the Facebook version will also share a leaderboard, so you can play while on the go and compete against Facebook friends.

So fans of Fruit Ninja, of which there seem to be many, will have some new ways to dominate fruit this summer, and they’re all pretty fun. We’ll keep you up to date when more information, like pricing and release dates, become available in the future.

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