There's not much to Kinect title Fruit Ninja: Fruit gets tossed into the air. You slash it in half by waving your arms like a samurai sword. The end. But that very simplicity is what makes the game such an immediate success. Watch someone play for a few minutes and you'll have a firm grasp of the basics, and while practice certainly improves your reaction time, a total newcomer to not just Fruit Ninja but to gaming in general can step up and have fun immediately. It's ho hum as a solo venture, but get a group of people in front of Fruit Ninja and hilarity is pretty much guaranteed. So are bruises.
All of Fruit Ninja's game modes boil down to the same basic flap arms/slash fruit mechanics, but you'll need to apply at least a bit of technique if you hope to best your friends on the leaderboards. You'll net a point for each fruit you hit, but swiping through several fruits at once will earn you combo points, and if you can manage to cut several of the same kind in one move, you'll get bonus points for that, too. In classic mode, easily the least exciting of the game, missing three times or accidentally swatting a bomb will bring your slicing and dicing to an end. For real zing, fire up Arcade Mode, which encourages you to score as high as possible in 60 seconds. This is where Fruit Ninja begins to reveal its goofy appeal, as kiwis, apples, oranges and limes go hurling across your screen like a wayward car crashed into a fruit stand. Hitting a bonus bananas - a phrase I never thought I'd use in my professional life - will slow the action, give you double points, or start a Frenzy, which will toss even more fruit around. Shouting "FRENZY!" whenever you tag that particular banana is optional, but certainly recommended.
Most of Fruit Ninja's modes are single player, but for pure fruity chaos you need only fire up Party Mode, which lets two players whack fruit either cooperatively or competitively. Co-op is a great way for parents and kids to game together, but Versus is where you'll discover how cutthroat your friends really are. One player is red, the other blue; cutting fruit outlined in your color nets you points, and every so often, an up-for-grabs white fruit will sail across the screen, fair game for either competitor. Hacking up your opponent's fruit will cost you valuable points, but that doesn't mean you can't, for example, "accidentally" shove your buddy out of frame or just sort of smack him with a stray arm slash. Oopsie! Oh, yeah. Fruit Ninja Versus is where citrus demolition gets real.
Improper Kinect calibration can make your blade swishing random and ineffective, but even in the best set-ups, navigating Fruit Ninja's menus is a nightmare. Completing certain combos unlocks new blades, backgrounds, and shadows; to select them, you must vist your Dojo and select them from a long list. Should be simple enough, but the upward and downward slashes necessary for navigation aren't exactly precise or reliable. The list might nudge up one entry or jump down 10, so reaching the item you're trying to select is as much a matter of determination as it is luck. The game also seems to want to interpret every hand gesture as a slash, which leads to constant misselection of menu options. Scratch your nose and you'll suddenly find yourself firing up a new game mode instead of quitting like you intended. Hmm ... perhaps that's all part of Fruit Ninja's cunning plan to keep you playing. Which you likely would, so long as your arms didn't fall off. Prepare to be sore after going a few rounds with your pals.
It's also worth noting that Fruit Ninja is just a buck on the iPhone, but ten times that much on your Xbox. The handheld version can't match the fun of the Biggie-sized version - handing a phone back and forth and flicking your finger simply can't compare with watching your friends flail their arms around - but parting with a buck for some silly, shallow gameplay is a lot easier than coughing up a ten.
Bottom Line: Like all good party games, Fruit Ninja is a bit bland by yourself, but add some friends into the mix and it becomes a goofy good time. You won't spend a lot of time with it when you play, but it'll be a surefire hit at your get-togethers.
Recommendation: If you have a Kinect, friends, and arms, you should definitely add this to your party roster. If you're lacking any of the above, you can safely give it a pass.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.
Susan Arendt's arms hurt.
Game: Fruit Ninja
Developer: Halfbrick Studios
Publisher: Halfbrick Studios
Platform(s): Xbox 360