FRU the looking glass

FRU

HIGH The inventiveness of the core mechanic

LOW The narrative doesn’t fit the gameplay

WTF It’s amazing to see how far this game has come from its original prototype

 

The Xbox One’s Kinect has been on life support for years, and the future is looking even more grim for the once-mandatory peripheral. Kinects have been left out of most Xbox One bundles, Kinect integration has been removed from the OS menu, and the newly-announced Xbox One S has done away with its dedicated Kinect port altogether. What was once the defining trait of Microsoft’s third home console is now a relic of the past, quietly being swept under the rug by the decision-makers at Microsoft.

I mourn the decline of the Kinect, as some of my favorite games on the console make heavy use of the motion-tracking camera. From the brilliant Fantasia: Music Evolved to the now-defunct Xbox Fitness, developers showed some astounding advances in what the Kinect was capable of, and the level of inventiveness and novelty on display is yet to be matched on the console. With Kinect on the way out, though, one brave indie studio from the Netherlands thinks that it may have one more masterpiece left in it.

FRU, at its core, is a 2D puzzle-platformer with luscious graphics and a simple control scheme: use the thumbstick to move and the trigger or bumper to jump. Where it becomes interesting, though, is in its integration of the Kinect camera.

In FRU, the player appears as a silhouette on screen. Areas outside of the silhouette depict the landscape as it exists in the present time of the game’s unnamed main character, and areas within the silhouette exist in the distant past. Between the two time periods, objects may appear and disappear, areas may become flooded with water, and hazards can pop into or out of existence. Players must guide the character through these single-screen puzzles by angling their bodies and contorting their limbs to create platforms, trigger switches, bypass dangers, and cut paths through solid objects.

Despite minimal explanation the game becomes immediately understandable for players, and it isn’t long before FRU begins increasing the complexity of its puzzles. Tutorials and introduction of new elements are brilliantly paced, and puzzles are uniformly clever without ever feeling unbearably taxing—mentally, that is.

Throughout the game, I had to bend my body into all kinds of shapes to allow for the safe passage of my character. It is difficult to describe the connection I formed with the silent avatar, but there was something magical about hunching my body over to close a gap, watching the character swim up my arm, or letting the character run down my leg and jump off of my toes to safety. Carrying the character over pits with my own hands brought us both into the same physical space, in a way, and it made me feel like an integral part of the game in a way that I’ve never experienced before.

The magic of this experience never wore off for me. I can only compare the novelty of gameplay and slickness of execution with Super Mario Galaxy and The Unfinished Swan. Though not as cerebral as Braid or Portal, it’s the type of game that gripped me from beginning to end.

Performance-wise, the game runs incredibly smoothly, and its Kinect integration worked admirably, with my only annoyance being when it defaulted to my girlfriend instead of me when she was on the couch watching me play. Given how rough the demo of the original version of the game was (included as a series of bonus levels after nabbing all of the collectables) it’s impressive how well the final game is optimized.

Narratively, the game tells a very simple tale through lines of text hidden in the environment of particular stages. It’s ancillary to the main attraction, though, and serves as flavor text adding a sense of storybook wonder.

The primary complaint that I’ll level against the story is that it doesn’t comment upon or reinforce the themes established in the gameplay in any way—beyond explaining why the character wears a fox mask, the story and gameplay feel entirely separate. The story doesn’t reflect many of the prominent aspects of the experience, such as the degradation of structures over time, receiving help from other worlds, or the existence of windows between the past and present. As is, the game feels as if it only told half of the story that it wanted to and left many of the most important questions unanswered.

Though the game has factors in place to encourage ease of use, such as the simple control scheme, I feel it necessary to warn that the game requires a fair amount of gross-motor dexterity. Players with restricted mobility will likely experience difficulties which may not be surmountable. Though most levels have multiple feasible solutions, some levels, particularly towards the end of the game, were exacting and physically taxing for me, and I’m a young adult with no physical restrictions. If players are not able to physically engage in a yoga session, I have to recommend a hard pass on this game.

Overall, FRU absolutely delighted me with its ingenuity and elegance. It has gone on to become not only a surprisingly enjoyable indie gem, but one of my absolute favorite exclusives for the Xbox One, and one of my favorites of all time. I heartily recommend this game without reservation to anyone with a Kinect peripheral and the physical ability to play it. Though it falls a bit short in some niceties that would have made the experience accessible to wider audiences, it delivers a slick and well-designed experience that kept me smiling, stretching, and sweating throughout. Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Through Games. It is currently available on Xbox One. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately six hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completedNo time was spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: The ESRB does not list any descriptors in their E rating of the game, and I did not encounter anything in my playthrough that would cause me any concern when showing this game to children.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game is entirely playable without audio.

Remappable controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable

Colorblind modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

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