Screenshots courtesy of Through Games
When Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One back in May 2013, its Kinect was touted as a mandatory part of the system, something you literally couldn't use it without. High on the success of the original Kinect, which sold over 24 million units in its lifetime and has held the Guinness World Record as the fastest-selling consumer electronics device, Microsoft made the executive decision that everyone obviously wanted a new Kinect, and therefore everyone was having one.
The problems with this plan were numerous, but the novelty-sized spanner in the works was that there was no good reason to have a Kinect at launch. Voice commands were pretty cool and the camera was useful for Skype and whatnot, but ultimately the Xbox One was a video games console. And what games did we have to show off the power of the Kinect? Just Dance 2014 and Fighter Within, the latter a gaming turd so enormous that it'd make Randy Marsh blush. Now all of this would have been fine if the Kinect was just an optional extra, but instead Microsoft decided to ram the peripheral down people's throats and expected us to say thank you for the pleasure of choking on it.
When Xbox One sales started to lag behind the PS4, the culprit was obvious. The Xbox One was less powerful and more expensive than its competitor, and while there was nothing Microsoft could do about the former issue (or can do really, until Project Scorpio), they unbundled the Kinect in June 2014 to bring down the entry price. Stateside sales doubled almost immediately, but unfortunately the company threw the baby out with the bathwater and since that moment the word Kinect has been on the banned word list for Microsoft's executives and marketing team.
People don't hate the Kinect, and they never have; they just wanted to be able to choose whether or not to own one. By deciding what was best for everyone, Microsoft poisoned the well and drove public opinion of the peripheral into the floor, a situation now exacerbated by their complete silence when it comes to Kinect and the few games that still use it. Which is a crying shame given that one of those titles is the just-released and, frankly, amazing FRU.
FRU is a bizarre little platformer from a Dutch indie studio called Through Games, in which your silhouette is captured and transposed onto the screen by the Kinect, revealing an alternative version of the world wherever it falls. Players must correctly position themselves over the screen while simultaneously controlling the avatar in order to navigate platforms, gaps and hazards that otherwise are not present in the world. In practice, FRU plays like a strange hybrid of simple, Mario-like platforming and an intermediate-level Tai chi course down at your local community centre. Oh yeah, and it's bloody brilliant.
'FRU', release trailer
A couple of levels into the action and I fell madly in love with FRU's gameplay hook. Skip ahead to the later stages and I was absolutely beat after the game forced me to execute a maneuver akin to a crouching, one-legged swan with spread wings, all the while controlling my character with the gamepad held tentatively in one hand. Despite the chaos that will inevitably ensue as your brain and body struggle to contend with the increasingly fiendish challenges that FRU throws at you, its controls never feel clumsy or cumbersome, a feat few Kinect games can claim. You move through the world with either stick and jump with either trigger, allowing you to play one-handed if you're required to pull off a particularly ridiculous pose. And you will be, often.
Sadly, Microsoft's complete abandonment of the Kinect now means that FRU finds itself released into relative obscurity with nary a mention from the high flyers in Redmond, despite the fact that it's been receiving fantastic reviews from reputable sites like Destructoid and Eurogamer. What could genuinely have been one of the games of the year is now resigned to modest sales at best, thanks to a complete lack of advertisement from Microsoft around its launch.
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But despite seemingly being doomed to obscurity—you never know, perhaps some people do buy games after reading positive press for them—FRU is not an experience to be missed by anyone clinging onto a Kinect. If you have the device still, collecting dust beside your Xbox One, grab a cloth, clean it up and buy FRU. Play it, tell your friends about it, and loan them your Kinect to play it (once you've finished the game, the camera will go back to being a big, black paper weight anyway). In fact, if you don't have a Kinect, go and get one just for this. You can probably pick one up for dirt and beans these days, and you can always sell it again once you're done. It's unlikely you'll regret it.
It might have surfaced three years too late, but FRU is a brilliant, innovative and exciting game for a console that so badly needed more of its kind to convince its audience that the peripheral bundling was a good idea. It is the Kinect's first, last, and quite probably only killer app.
Find out more at the game's official website.
Follow Ian Stokes on Twitter.