‘Fruitmatter’ Review – Warning: Contains High Levels of Fructose and Nostalgia
Solo developer Markus Kallio’s Fruitmatter is an arcade-style action puzzler for the PC and Mac that takes gamers into the recent past of gaming in order to experience the distant future of intergalactic discovery.
Taking place in space sometime in the distant future, the basic plot of the story is relayed at the start of the game through a fun Star Wars-esque scrolling exposition. According to the creepy robotic voice reading the text aloud, anomalies have been discovered near a black hole at the edge of the universe. An exploration mission to learn more about these anomalies resulted in violent conflict – which our intrepid explorers were apparently ill-prepared for, as “someone forgot to pack the ammo.”
Luckily there happens to be a food surplus on board. Using fruit matter, an industry mining laser and time altering technology, players must protect their health sectors and fend off the anomalies for as long as possible. From the beginning you are told that this is an unwinnable scenario – with each level increase, the game difficulty rises until it becomes impossible. The goal isn’t to defeat the anomalies, but rather to make your last stand last as long as possible.
Fruitmatter is an amusing interstellar romp down memory lane. While not a direct remake, the game does draw heavily on many a classic arcade trope in order to recreate the atmosphere of old favorites like Space Invaders and Asteroids with 21st century technology.
The result of this is an odd blend of old and new – the graphics in particular perform a strange balancing act on the timeline tightrope, somehow managing to look similar enough to the old games to incite severe nostalgia attacks while simultaneously achieving a smoother and more visually pleasing aesthetic than what the classics were capable of in their day. The playfield and the ship are beautifully and intricately designed, which creates an unusual tension between the elegant surroundings and the much more simplistic and geometric designs of the enemies, power-up bars and fruit matter.
Graphics aside, the interesting and original design of the playfield makes it stand out from both the classics and the newer arcade-style releases. Rather than the typical aerial view and straightforward up-down left-right movement, the black hole that the plot of Fruitmatter centers around forces players to navigate in a circular fashion. Left and right movement lets you travel around the circumference one sector at a time, while the usual “up” function now allows you to jump 180 degrees to land on the opposite side of the circle. This gives movement a much more dynamic feel than the old style – plus it’s just darn fun to play a round of high-speed ring-around-the-black-hole.
The sound design is a real blast from the past, with high-quality laser noises and fun spaceship effects that make you wonder if you’ve been sucked through the other side of the black hole and back to the early years of gaming. The electronic voice-over narration, however, is almost too old-school. The extreme distortion gives it an unfortunately grating effect that may make some players reach for the mute key or even skip the intro entirely and miss out on the story.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Fruitmatter is on-target. The controls have an unfamiliar set-up but are easy to get used to, particularly if players take advantage of the exceedingly helpful tutorial option. A full game manual can be accessed via the main menu, which lists controls as well as enemy and weapon types, and pausing the game also brings up a brief description of the control set-up should you need a quick reminder. Combat is as simple or as complex as you decide to make it, depending on whether you like to go for those high-scoring combos, and the difficulty level rises at a user-friendly pace.
There are four types of enemies in total, each of which can be taken out easily with a fruit of corresponding color – except for the mysterious black anomalies, which require a combination of lasers and fruit matter (and woe to anyone whose lasers aren’t primed when one appears). In a slower game, enemies that basically look like oversized marbles would get boring fast, but once the pacing of Fruitmatter begins to pick up, attention is quickly diverted away from the simplicity of the anomalies and focused instead on protecting the health sectors and surviving for as long as possible.
Fruitmatter is pretty impressive for a solo endeavor. If you’ve been craving a little old-school fun with a futuristic twist, Fruitmatter might just hit the spot. Available for download from the official game site and currently on sale for only $5, the full game is fairly priced, and a short free demo is also available for more cautious space travelers to try out first.