Review: Comparing Zynga’s Zombie Swipeout to Halfbrick’s Fruit Ninja

Zynga has long had a reputation of releasing games that are “strongly inspired by” other company’s titles and then using its considerable marketing clout to dominate the market and overshadow its rivals. The company’s latest release Zombie Swipeout, developed by GameDoctors (aka Zynga Mobile Germany) is no exception to that model, being a title that bears a striking resemblance to Halfbrick’s Fruit Ninja.

Zombie Swipeout features the antagonist zombies and protagonist Joey from the developer’s previous title ZombieSmash. The player is armed with a machete and challenged to cut up as many zombies as possible against a strict time limit by swiping their finger across the screen. At the same time, the player must avoid hitting Joey, as this ends the game, with one caveat — if the player has any “medpacks” in their possession, they can “rewind” to before they hit Joey and try again. The player is provided with a few of these items upon first installing the game (more when installing the paid version) but must acquire further ones via in-app purchase.

Since the comparisons to Halfbrick’s Fruit Ninja are inevitable with this title, it behooves us to directly compare the two and determine whether Zynga’s offering actually offers a step forward for the genre or is simply a clone of Halfbrick’s well-established game.

First up is the obvious thematic disparity. Fruit Ninja is self-consciously ridiculous, being based on the concept of a ninja slicing fruit under the watchful eye of his sensei. Zombie Swipeout, meanwhile, despite its cartoony graphics, takes itself far more seriously with a heavy rock soundtrack on the main menu screen and blood splattering everywhere on a successful hit. This makes Fruit Ninja a lot more kid-friendly — though in a nod to inclusiveness, the option to turn off the blood or switch it to green goo is provided in Zombie Swipeout. Ultimately Zynga’s title is still about chopping up humanoids rather than fruit, however, making it inherently less suitable for children. This puts Fruit Ninja’s universal appeal out on top here — not to mention the fact that zombies are one of the most overused antagonists in the video games industry as a whole — particularly in the mobile/social games sectors.

Secondly comes exactly what is offered to the player in terms of things to do. Fruit Ninja features four different play modes — Classic, Zen, Arcade and Online. Each of these provides a distinctive twist on the fruit-slicing formula, with Classic requiring players to score as many points as possible without hitting three bombs; Zen being a “score attack” mode in which players must score as many points as possible in a risk-free environment against a time limit; Arcade providing numerous additional bonuses and powerups allowing players to shoot their score up considerably more than in the other modes; and Online offering competitive live multiplayer action against an online opponent. Zombie Swipeout, meanwhile, offers just a single game mode, which is somewhere between Fruit Ninja’s Classic and Zen modes — players have a time limit in which to score as many points as possible but must also avoid the “instant fail” items. Another win for Halfbrick, then, with its diversity of play styles.

Thirdly comes the games’ respective progression and user retention systems. Fruit Ninja ties its unlocks to in-game achievements — to acquire differently-colored blades and backgrounds, players must simply complete various in-game tasks such as slicing a certain number of a specific fruit, or playing every day for 5 days. Zombie Swipeout, meanwhile, makes use of an experience level system, whereby a player’s final score in a game is added to an experience bar, with new features such as additional weapons unlocking as the player levels up. Two different approaches, with one not necessarily “better” than the other in this case — Zynga’s game rewards persistence with gameplay-altering items, while Halfbrick’s title rewards skill with cosmetic items and, in the most recent update, some power-ups and in-game currency.

Fourthly comes the social aspect. Fruit Ninja allows players to compete against friends using Game Center on the iOS version and OpenFeint on the Android version — this is seamlessly managed and requires no additional setup on the player’s part, assuming they already have an account with the respective services. Zombie Swipeout, meanwhile, uses Facebook as its primary means of managing leaderboards, but also allows non-Facebook users to set up a username to share with friends. Zombie Swipeout features no Game Center support at all.

Finally comes the monetization question. Fruit Ninja comes in paid and free varieties, with the free version offering a limited version of the paid edition’s features. Zombie Swipeout, meanwhile, also comes in paid and free varieties, but the only differences between the two are the fact that the free version is ad-supported while the paid version provides players with a one-time bonus of in-game soft currency and medpacks. Both editions of Zynga’s offering also feature an energy system to limit how much can be played in a single session — this may be topped up by spending soft currency earned through play — and in-app purchases of soft and hard currency, the latter of which may be used to purchase additional medpacks. The energy system in Zombie Swipeout will also affect how much the player is able to use unlocked special weapons, as each carries its own corresponding energy cost.

It’s this latter issue which carries the biggest risk of driving players away. Fruit Ninja doesn’t require any additional monetary outlay on the part of the player once it is installed. Zombie Swipeout, meanwhile, has incorporated several monetization schemes in order to convert players.

Ultimately, Fruit Ninja seems to be a more enjoyable game than Zombie Swipeout. Zynga’s considerable skills at marketing and user acquisition will likely ensure that Zombie Swipeout enjoys a good degree of success on the App Store, but in the long-term, Halfbrick’s classic is likely going to be the one that players will remember and keep coming back to.

Zombie Swipeout is available now in free and paid versions from the App Store. The free version is currently ranked at No. 4 in Top Free Apps, No. 195 in Top Grossing Apps, No. 2 in Top Free Games and No. 136 in Top Grossing Games. The paid version, meanwhile, is ranked at No. 56 in Top Paid Apps, No. 206 in Top Grossing Apps, No. 32 in Top Paid Games and No. 144 in Top Grossing Games. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.