Let me say this right off the bat: I’m not somebody who does the whole “rage quit” thing when I play games. It doesn’t come naturally. Of course, I should admit right away that I’m an emotionally-repressed weirdo (middle-class English), but nonetheless the urge to throw controllers across the room when somebody gibs me online always felt like a massive overreaction. In that respect, we can say to ourselves that it is “just a game.” When put in that situation, I do what any normal person would do and spend the afternoon quietly fantasising about what might’ve happened if I had that person tied to a chair in my tool shed.
But I won’t say that I didn’t get close to that point of total meltdown whilst playing Furi (full marks for title accuracy, low marks for title spelling), the recent hacky-slashy-shooty-bullethell-thingie by indie dev company “The Game Bakers.” And causing that red mist to descend is certainly no small feat. I’m a guy who can drift through Dark Souls without my heart rate ever exceeding that of a dead tortoise, but Furi actually managed to get me to the point where it’s a good thing there were no weapons nearby, and I’m as-of-yet undecided if that’s even a good thing.
Furi is available on Steam for £14.99.
Furi’s plot is actually rather peculiar, not because it’s bad or confusing (it’s not), but because it’s remarkably simple when stripped of all its trappings and baubles. We play a silent protagonist with poorly-managed hair only referred to as “Stranger,” who is being held and tortured within a large, high-tech prison for a charge that is not immediately made clear, possibly crimes against dress-sense. Meow, fsst fsst, allusions to kitties and their claws and so on. I can move on now.
Well, I say it’s a prison, but the whole structure actually looks more like a series of conceptual science-fiction-fantasy nightclubs and surrealist East-Asian locales cribbed from the hopeful fever dreams of Daft Punk and the Wachowskis respectively. But I guess there’s that bit at the start where you get held in the restraining machine that kept Mr. Incredible captive, so yeah – prison, I suppose.
And clearly this whole “locked up for eternity thing” doesn’t sound great when the Stranger really needs to get to his appointment at Toni & Guy, so up pops the Joker (badly cosplaying as shopkeeper Ravio from Link Between Worlds) to give us a sword and laser pistol for an exciting escape! Again, this isn’t explained for a while, but there is something rather compelling about an introduction sequence that makes our primary goal very clear an relatable (get out of space-jail) whilst leaving us enough questions about the circumstances of said jailbreak to provoke some real intrigue.
And Rabbit-Joker isn’t the only unintentional cameo in this game. I actually made quite a fun hobby out of seeing what other characters the various bosses reminded me off, a list that included Mercy, Lucio and Mei from Overwatch (one of which has aged terribly since their superhero days), Ned Stark in power armour, a Bioshock Big Daddy preparing for a rave, that robotic female God-Face from the I, Robot movie and even the Pixar Lamp undergoing some sort of psychotic breakdown.
And it's impossible not to meet these very colourful characters as you proceed through the game. Each one is another jailer who’s keeping you there and will fight to the death to stop you, but this does make me wonder what they do to kill time when we’re not attempting an escape. Is there a social network for futuristic prison wardens? Do they all go out for drinks every weekend? Do they share Stranger-torture tips and take selfies of themselves among the improbable geometry of the landscape?
Honestly, I’m not too concerned about this nit-picking stuff. I do like the story, even though it suffers a little from the kind of simplicity that means that all the relevant information is basically given only at the very start and very end, with a few cryptic clues drip-fed by our floppy-eared friend between boss-fights. But there’s some nice visual storytelling, some good bits where gameplay is used to convey important details, and the intrigue is enough to carry me through the more infuriating boss fights, so it’s basically worth the price of admission on plot alone.
Like many games with an original soundtrack, Furi finds it rather hard not to shove that soundtrack in your face, likely in the hope that you’ll download it separately off the Steam store after playing. Frankly, I wasn’t massively overwhelmed by its intentionally-artificial-sounding funkiness, but it’s not my kind of music to begin with, so I’m probably not the right person to judge. It's all electro tunes that lean heavy on bass and pounding rhythm, but that just gave me flashbacks to that disastrous time when I accidentally wandered into a nightclub and was forced to speak with actual people, and I found myself looking for old blues music on my iPod when it became too repetitive.
But the visuals are certainly quite nice, featuring vibrant colours in the cel-shaded style. This is what I mean about the problems with modern visuals, people. Furi knows it doesn’t have the budget for completely perfect graphics, so it goes a little experimental with style and consequently we get something that’s much more interesting to look at than Call Of Duty’s or Gears Of War’s photorealistic (yet utterly boring) brown, blitzed landscapes and military gear.
And whilst I did find myself noticing that Furi’s cel-shaded graphics did clip through each other with embarrassing frequency, the designs are memorable and engaging enough that I was willing to let it go, especially when the camera pulls back far enough that it's hard to notice that issue in the first place. The world geometry is certainly very Escherian (is that a word?) and there’s a lot of smooth, clean-looking science-fiction visuals and structures set in simple, subtly Asian-inflected environments – Oh, let’s just wrap up and talk about killing people with swords, yeah? Aces.
Here's a question that’ll make or break your opinion of this game – what’s your personal tolerance for brutal, teeth-grinding difficulty? The kind of difficulty that bellows angrily: “what do you mean, you didn’t hit the block button within one nanosecond of the attack triggering? Bailiffs, take that man’s health bar away right now, and hit him a few times for good measure!”
Furi revels in that absurd level of challenge, turning what should be a two-hour game into something closer to fifteen. For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure I’m not very good at it, but I don’t think anybody’s going to have a picnic on the first playthrough, as the first time you try each fight you’re basically learning their attack patterns in preparation for the next attempt, Batman-style.
The strange thing is that the game is never easy, but the difficulty is unpredictable and tends to spike when you’re not expecting it to, which I’m not sure was always intentional. There’s one fight near the end where it suddenly gets oddly easy, but makes sense, as you find yourself acting like a slasher-movie villain and the alleged boss spends the whole thing tying to escape. But generally there was something rather disconcerting about going from “pretty hard” to “no chance in hell” to “shouldn’t be too tricky” in rapid succession, over and over.
In terms of actual gameplay Furi is just a series of extravagant boss fights and nothing more, with the gaps between them used for showcasing the environment and delivering exposition from the fella in the Bugs Bunny costume. During each boss fight you see things from a top-down perspective, dashing around in bullethell gameplay where you parry projectiles, melee strikes and time your attacks to hack at whoever is rude enough to be throwing eight million energy orbs at you per second.
And there’s stuff about it that works, and stuff that doesn’t. I like how timing your parries perfectly regains health or stuns the enemy, giving you good reason to engage in actual combat rather than just taking the easy option and dashing around the arena, and I also like how the fights develop and change as you wear down the enemy’s health, working through different stages that change the fight drastically.
But there’s stuff that I feel a bit iffy about. Most enemies are untouchable until the contextual “god, I’m really tired now and could really use a breather” animation after they launch an attack, meaning that the pacing of the fight is dictated entirely by them, and that the only productive thing you can do between these opportunistic moments is just going on pure defence, which feels unproductive.
I also think the game is pretty bad at explaining the finer nuances of its combat system. For example, there’s a weapon-charging ability that's never properly tutorialised, yet can be extraordinarily helpful when you want to land the kind of damage that could bisect a small mammoth. But because it’s hard to pull that move off without getting hurt and it’s not immediately apparent what it does, I found myself reluctant to use it and ended up three-quarters of the way through the game before I worked out that it was actually worth the risk.
I would also add that the bits where you stroll from fight to fight seem to be very poorly managed, for here it is revealed that the true nemesis of the Stranger is not the jailers, but the game’s camera, which switches between static positions as you progress in order to try and look as artsy as possible. But because your movement is orientated to that camera, it's all too easy for a sudden cut to have you rotating awkwardly in place and meandering clumsily in the wrong direction. John Cleese might’ve approved, but after a few minutes of spinning around the intended path like a drunk goose on roller skates, I began to understand why the Furi gives you the option to let the game take over and have the Stranger just auto-walk to the next fight for you. Try doing it yourself and he’ll leave stoic-faced imprints in every rock along the away.
Furi walks a very tight line in the noble attempt to be tough-but-fair, and I would say it’s probably pushing that line a little more than anybody could wisely recommend. Maybe it would be better if the boss fights were shorter, because getting through your enemy’s first five forms by means of blood, sweat and tears, only to get killed by the sixth and told to redo everything with no shortcut can get rather aggravating. That being said, you could lower the difficulty, but personally my pride wouldn’t let me, which is perhaps why I found myself stuck on the last enemy for about three days and chewed through a mattress in the attempt.
But the stuff I approve of certainly outweighs the stuff I don’t. The gameplay is fundamentally fun and will certainly appeal to those who like their games rough and ready, the decent storytelling manages to dance around being pretentious without ever actually falling into that trap, and anything that is both somewhat experimental and rather low-priced is always going to earn a thumbs up from me, big hauteur indie snob that I am. Happy to recommend, just keep those blood pressure pills close to hand.
You can buy the game on Steam for regular price $19.99.
|+ Engaging story threaded around good intrigue||– Difficulty curve looks like a rollercoaster track|
|+ Exciting gameplay built on twitchy, reflexive action||– Occasionally gets coy about useful mechanics|
|+ Attraction visuals and creative landscapes|