Microsoft’s grand vision for the Kinect clearly hasn’t gone according to plan. The few Xbox One games that supported the device for motion or voice controls were mostly forgettable, while the Kinect also largely failed to catch on as a way to navigate the console’s myriad menus. With the upcoming closure of Xbox Fitness, and the fact that the new Xbox One S gets rid of the dedicated Kinect port entirely, it’s safe to say the device is no longer a major focus for Microsoft. But don’t unplug it just yet: today sees the launch of Fru on Xbox One, the much-belated killer app that shows just how cool Kinect games can be. If only it had launched three years ago.
At first glance Fru doesn’t look especially notable. It’s a fairly simple side-scrolling platforming game, and while it’s very pretty — the lush graphics look almost hand-painted — it doesn’t seem all that unique. That changes when you step in front of the Kinect. Fru’s twist is that your silhouette is actually a part of the game, letting you interact with the world while also controlling the little jumping heroine. This works in a few different ways. At the outset, it’s pretty simple, as your body will uncover secrets. Standing in a certain spot might reveal a platform needed to reach higher ground, or it might remove a barrier that’s keeping you from progressing.
Things get more complex as you get further into the game. In certain sections, your silhouette is like a moving body of water that the game’s character can swim through, and in others you’ll need to touch switches in order to open up sections of the level. Eventually you’ll have to contend with a spiky, underwater creature that means instant death if touched. Often you’re doing many of these things at once; you might have to figure out how to hold your hand on a switch while also keeping your torso in an area that reveals a platform.
Often you're doing many things at once
It gets tricky fast, and I regularly found myself trying to contort my body in awkward, sometimes painful ways in order to get through a level. Fru’s stages are all short, consisting of just a single screen, but they’re still very challenging. I died a lot — before I got through the first chapter I earned an achievement for dying 30 times — but because of the small levels and quick restarts, death isn’t especially frustrating. That said, some kind of hint option would be welcome, as some of the puzzles can be especially tricky, and there’s no way to skip past a level.
Aside from the clever design, which spans more than 100 levels, Fru’s greatest achievement might be that it actually works as intended. Kinect games are notoriously finicky, with the camera often failing to register movements properly, resulting in experiences that feel more annoying than fun. I didn’t have any such problems over the few hours I spent with Fru.
You need to be very aware of your body
What you do need to do, though, is be very aware of your body, as sudden movements can often result in sudden death. There were quite a few times where I forgot to keep my legs together, causing the in-game character to plummet to her doom. The controls also take a bit of getting used to: while moving the character around is simple enough, doing so while also twisting your body in strange ways is a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach simultaneously. Luckily the difficulty doesn’t ramp up until a few levels in, once you’ve hopefully got the hang of things.
It’s hard to think of a more ubiquitous genre than the 2D platformer, but by utilizing Kinect in an inventive way, Fru manages to feel like something brand new. It’s the kind of game the Kinect really could have used at launch, an experience that blends the familiar with unique motion controls to create arguably the best game on the platform. Fru will make you sweat, hurt, and swear — but it’ll also make you love your poor neglected Kinect.
Fru is available now on Xbox One.