A charming little platformer where you move your whole body to solve its puzzles
Puzzle games like Braid or Boxboy, and you don't mind breaking a sweat
Poor, poor Kinect. You seemed like such a good idea at the time, with your Minority Report-inspired hand gesturing gameplay possibilities and your ability to recognize voice commands. Unfortunately, the reality of this science-fiction dream is far more depressing. Most Kinect games were crap, either hampered by poor implementation of the tech or hamstrung by the device’s own limitations, and the few that got through were summarily ignored by the public. The Xbox One was going to be its time to shine, with enhanced specs and a system design that integrated it into the core Xbox experience. But faster than you can say "Xbox, go to Netflix… no, Netflix. NetFLIX. No, not Kalimba, GOD!", it was dropped, the Xbox One re-envisioned as a traditional games machine.
And it's a damn shame, because so many people are going to miss out on Fru; a delightful little puzzle platformer and quite possibly the best Kinect game ever made.
The core of Fru is unbelievably simple. You play as a little girl with a fox mask who is trying to make her way deeper into a mysterious temple, and you do this by positioning your body (your actual, human body) in front of the Kinect camera while using the controller to move the little girl on screen to the right. Your body, though, acts as a sort of portal to an alternate dimension, and this little girl can interact with both dimensions as if they were in the same space.
This opens up a ton of puzzling possibilities. In one level, you'll need to make a series of platforms appear for the girl to hop across - but certain platforms will only appear if you're standing in the right spot while others will similarly disappear when your body is covering them. This invariably leads to situations where you're (quite literally) bending over backwards to make invisible ledges appear in the right spots so you can hop across.
The moment I was completely sold on the concept was early on: there's a big gap in the middle of two tiny ledges when you're not standing there, and impassable wall when you are. What to do? My solution was to get down on my hands and knees and streeeeeeeeetch my arms out to my sides, effectively creating a bridge across this chasm. But there's also a special collectible above me - how do I possibly get that? I began poking my head up slowly, noticing that the little girl stayed still on the platform as I raised up. Using my noggin as a makeshift elevator, she was able to grab the collectible and then jump over to the other side.
Fru is filled with ingenious moments like that, whether it's busting your brain to properly figure out how solve its puzzles, or instantly knowing what to do but then figuring out how to make your body move into a position to make it work. And unlike other Kinect games, it doesn't try to shoehorn in voice commands or imprecise hand gestures; it's merely reading the presence of your body, and so the tech just melts away into the background (as long as your play area is unobstructed, of course, which might be difficult for those with tiny living rooms).
Fru isn't a long experience by any means, taking only a couple hours to see everything it has to offer (though there is an unlockable co-op mode - a prototype that the devs showed off at press events a couple years ago), but at under $15, that's all it needs to be. It's simply a delightful little puzzle game that uses the Kinect in all the ways we were promised - enriching the interactive experience by giving us something that couldn't be done without this oft-maligned piece of tech.
The Kinect may be dead by all accounts, but Fru is one hell of a send-off. If you've got one lying around and you've only been using it to pull up re-runs of MasterChef, show it some love, and pick up Fru. It's great.
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