Halfbrick Studios E3 Previews

As a huge fan of Halfbrick Studios‘ previous iOS games, I definitely had high expectations headed to their meeting. Fruit Ninja has received countless hours of play time on my iPhone, and its successor stands to do the same on my browser. The sequel to the popular fruit slicing simulator will be titled Fruit Ninja Frenzy, and will take the form of a free-to-play Facebook game. Frenzy will consist of 60-second rounds in which the player slices as much fruit as possible in an attempt to earn power-ups for use in future sessions.

The other Halfbrick obsession I have been coping with over the past few months is Monster Dash, which introduced the studio’s current mascot, Barry Steakfries. Barry went on to star in a much more involved mobile title, Age of Zombies, and now he returns guns blazing in Machine Gun Jetpack. I was given the chance to check out both of these offerings, as well as a secret, previously unannounced game.

Fruit Ninja Frenzy plays exactly like you would expect a PC translation to play. Hold down the mouse button and swipe. The game is almost identical to the arcade mode of the iPhone Fruit Ninja, but there are a few significant additions to make Frenzy its own unique experience. The most visible of these is the clean integration of Facebook connectivity. As a fan of Zuma Blitz, I was impressed by how well Halfbrick had managed to implement the social networking aspect of the game without intruding on the game experience.

Fruit Ninja Frenzy E3 Screenshot

There is a countdown timer at the top right of the screen that consistently counts down to the end of the week. At the end of countdown, the player with the highest score on your friend’s list will receive a gold medal, and the two below the winner will get silver and bronze. I could see this competitive aspect of the game increasing the amount of fruit-slicers significantly.

The other new feature of Frenzy is an upgrade system revolving around smoothies. There are twelve of these smoothies, three of which the player is able to use during each 60-second game. Two of the smoothies I was shown allowed me to add 7 seconds to my time and made bombs transparent (and therefore inactive). These smoothies all have to be unlocked by accomplishing certain goals during playthroughs and racking up as many points as possible. There will be some paid content, but Halfbrick didn’t get into any specifics.

The next game I was shown, Fruit Ninja Kinect, was just as fun and embarrassing as it sounds. I stood in front of the Kinect, and my figure was transformed into a shadow in the back of the familiar Fruit Ninja environment. The developer mentioned that there will be unlockable shadows, including an 8-bit shadow. All of the modes from the iPhone game will make an appearance in Fruit Ninja Kinect, along with new ones taking full advantage of the movement of the Kinect. After I flailed around enough to reach the end of my single-player session, a “boss” fruit popped up that allowed me to slash it as many times as my weak arms could manage. The developer was unimpressed with my 30x combo.

Fruit Ninja Kinect E3 Screenshot

After the single-player game, I teamed up with another E3 attendee for a cooperative match. We managed to hack our way through twice the amount of fruit without slapping each other in the face, which I consider a major achievement. This could definitely make for a great family game, and the developer pointed out that they had let very young children play the demo, ensuring everyone could enjoy the experience. Expect to see Fruit Ninja Kinect during the Summer of Arcade on Xbox LIVE.

My Halfbrick meeting concluded with a demo of Machine Gun Jetpack, easily my favorite title shown. Barry Steakfries takes control of the titular jetpack and must avoid incoming obstacles from the right side of the screen. Static objects, like electric barriers, littered much of the screen, causing the player to balance Barry’s upward and downward movement very carefully. Other flight-hindering issues arise, including laser beams and rockets, making the journey from one location to the next rather challenging.

Machine Gun Jetpack E3 Screenshot

Barry has the opportunity to pick up vehicle power-ups along the way. These vehicles are a little harder to control than Barry’s jetpack, but the risk vs. reward scenario can allow the player to move forward at a much faster pace. The developer assured me that I could keep the vehicle until I was hit, in which case it would be back to the machine gun jetpack. I managed to get a hold of an upset bird vehicle, the motorcycle from Monster Dash, and a teleporter during my time with the game.

The perturbed bird (although the developer did refer to this bird as “angry”) was controlled by a flapping mechanism. Every touch to the screen was equivalent to a wing flap, and every time the bird flapped its wings, money shot out from its rear end. Clever, Halfbrick, very clever. The motorcycle rocketed along the bottom of the screen, while Barry pulled out a shotgun to massacre the enemies making a mad dash away from the hog.

The teleporter was the most interesting of the three, drawing a line across the screen that bobbed back and forth. Wherever the arrow at the end of the line was pointing, that’s where I would teleport when I touched the screen. At the end of every session, I was allowed to spin a slot machine which could give me certain last second perks. Machine Gun Jetpack is a fast-paced game with a good chunk of content, and according to the developer I spoke with, should see the light of day within the next 6 weeks.

Halfbrick Studios has managed to impress me once again. Everything they demoed was fun and simple, but also clearly for those of us that love video games — precisely what I am looking for in the casual gaming market. Be sure to check out each one of these Halfbrick titles over the coming months.

Stay tuned to Game Rant for more news and updates as E3 2011 continues through the week.