Wait what? Fruit Fusion? What kind of game is this? Some Match Three tablet game that nickel-and-dimes you with in-app purchases? Wait, is that the Insomniac logo?!

Fruit Fusion is the latest game from renowned studio Insomniac Games, creators of Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, Resistance and opinion-splitter Sunset Overdrive. This game came right out of the blue, so some explanation is in order, I feel, as to what the game is. Fortunately, Tim Salvitti of the Insomniac Forums has been kind enough to explain the game’s history.

While Fruit Fusion seems like a quick cash-grab from IG to capture some of the mobile market pie, it actually predates 2012’s Outernauts. “We had a prototype of this before we decided it was not right for Facebook and we went all in on Outernauts (the browser version).” Vitti said. “Now that we have Outernauts out on iOS and Android and we have a better understanding of mobile, we decided to just release this game for people to play. We have been having a blast with it internally.”

Fruit Fusion is definitely what I would call a “Train Game”, in the sense that you play it on the ride to and from school/work and not something that you would play like a traditional console game like Call of Duty or GTA. As such, it has next to no replay value; the single game mode is literally all you get. Don’t come in expecting anything remotely approaching a fleeting glimpse the depth of Insomniac’s usual output.

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That said, the game appears to have a unique concept (although with mobile games you can never tell). The idea is that you have fruit around a ring, and tapping one will send it to the other side. If you match up three or more of the same fruit, you’ll collect points. The gameplay actually has surprising hidden depths: combos can be made by moving fruit away, for example, and fruit that would form a combo after another is cleared will automatically be combo-ized, kinda like the Cascade variation of Tetris, saving you time on the clock and racking up more points. If you’re quick you can also move two or more fruit at once before a combo is banked, allowing greater scoring possibilities. The game overall is very benevolent in that way.

Grabbing points and long fruit combos will fill up a Reactor Meter that, when topped up, you can press to get an effect, such as adding bonus time or giving you Coins. The effects of the Reactor Meter is one of the game’s strengths for me; if you play well and cleverly you’ll be filling up the meter often and thus will have many bonuses applied in the course of a round. This sense of reward helps keep the game from feeling too repetitious and encourages skillful play. Using the Reactor Meter will also expand the size of the ring, add more fruit, and change what the exact fruit are. It can get pretty complicated:

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This allows for some enormous combos, but unfortunately by the time you get there the game will be almost over. This is a shame as the late-round complexity is quite challenging in a Rubik’s Cube sort of way, but you have a very limited amount of time to experience and get good at it. Having the ability to pick the starting difficulty would help give the game more depth and allow more time to play in these brain-testing situations. Plus you’d get to spend more time with the kiwifruit and those Destiny Island stars.

Another downside is that the effects from the Reactor Meter are chosen via slot machine, meaning the results are completely random. High scores are therefore often determined more by luck than by skill; I once got just under three million points one round, then spent the rest of the day struggling to get close to just one million. Boosts can also be bought between rounds using Coins you earn via gameplay, which have effects on the game to give you an edge. The five Boosts you can buy will change every week, and are also unique from the ones you unlock with the Reactor Meter.

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But, it’s a mobile game that costs zero dollars and nada cents, so surely it must have some sort of time limit, in app purchases or a Pay-to-Win mechanic, right? Like, $100 for 500,000 Coins? As it turns out, no! The only way Insomniac earns any sort of income is by the occasional ad which pops up between every ten rounds or so, but they’re easily clicked away and are never frequent enough to get annoying.

There is also a “Get Coins!” button in the between rounds menu which asks you to watch an ad for another iOS game in exchange for 1,000 Coins. If you play the game a lot it really isn’t all that much to earn if I’m honest; three good rounds could easily snag that amount. Significantly though, Fruit Fusion doesn’t contain any means for you to pay real-life cash, meaning it is in effect a Shareware title like in the DOS days.

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The biggest downside overall is the visual and audible feel of the game: it’s incredibly generic of iOS games, using a gradient-with-sheen art style and glossy reflections, which you’ve no doubt noticed in the screenshots. It’s an appearance that went out of style years ago, and makes Fruit Fusion feel like almost every other iOS game on the market. Glossy saturated mini-bobs who constantly smile at you even in the cover art? It’s not uniquely Insomniac in any way.

The size of the buttons are also enormous on iPad, likely because they were originally scaled for use on a phone. And yet the fruit are sometimes so small that I tap the wrong one, which makes me wonder how the game would play on an iPhone. More frustrating? I’m guessing more frustrating.

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Overall the game is enjoyable. If you’re wanting a deep title with hours of unique experiences like Resistance or Sunset Overdrive, then the simplicity of the game will come as a shock, but the fact that the game costs nothing but your own time makes this more excusable for me, and the core gameplay is unique and a good time-waster on the bus if nothing else. And if you’re a Google user and want to give it a shot, an Android version is also in the works!