Preview events offer only brief glimpses at very big games. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.
Developer: Through Games
Platform: Xbox One
Release date: 2014
It is not the best of times for Kinect. Microsoft opted to decouple the pricey motion controller from the Xbox One bundle recently, and then the company followed that up at this week’s E3 conference by ignoring Kinect almost entirely. Not that the silent treatment is unwarranted. Dancing games aside, no studio has found a way to use the peripheral in a way that holds the public’s imagination. Instead, the majority of Kinect developers squeeze dumbed-down versions of existing games into a motion-control framework or try to imitate the mild successes of motion-centric Wii games.
But the existence of Fru suggests that creating an essential Kinect game may not be such a quixotic task after all. It was developed by a small team of seven in just 48 hours at the Global Game Jam earlier this year under the vague theme “We don’t see things as they are, but as we are.”
The goal of the game is straightforward: Use a standard Xbox controller to guide a tiny man (who looks a bit like Sigmund Freud) to an exit somewhere on the screen by jumping on platforms. Understanding the premise is much easier than the execution, though, as only some of the platforms needed to reach your destination are visible. The others are uncovered by standing in front of the Kinect, which casts a colored silhouette of your body on the screen in real time. This new silhouette layer uncovers previously hidden terrain, which your character can then traverse. Your “shadow” can also make obstacles disappear. The game’s designers relate it to two pieces of paper on top of each other, with each one containing its own platforming level.
Your body can prove to be a hindrance just as much as a help because it can also conceal places you need to reach—the ones that are part of the game’s “top” layer. The ridiculous dynamic that emerges in Fru is one where players stretch, pose, and dance while still controlling the on-screen character with the gamepad to solve each puzzle. Fru gets even more interesting and complicated when you play the cooperative mode, which slaps a third alternate reality onto the screen and forces two players to collaborate, moving their bodies together in hilariously contorted ways that resemble Twister.
Fru may not end up saving the Kinect from burial in a New Mexico desert (to replace all those unearthed E.T. Atari cartridges), but it does prove that it’s possible, and perhaps necessary, for studios to do more with less when they set out to make a compelling motion-controlled game.