Spoiler alert: in the ending credits, Furi developer “The Game Bakers” includes classic Japanese developers such as Hideki Kamiya, Shinji Mikami and Hideo Kojima in their “special thanks” section. It is unsurprising, considering the whole game preceding the credits is one huge homage to the boss fights of yesteryear.
But although it is a worthy, beautiful homage, there are points where it is apparent that Furi’s developers would have done well to study the master’s work closer.
The start sees Furi’s silent, unnamed protagonist freed from his high-tech shackles and immediately thrown into an arena against his jailor, a fight that doubles as a tutorial, methodically taking you through “the stranger’s” move set and introducing you to the base structure and pace of most of the fights to come.
Each boss has several double health bars; the first part of each is spent in mostly ranged combat, where you try to get shots in while navigating a bullet hell, and maybe occasionally managing a parry and counter if the enemy gets greedy and comes in for the kill.
Once the first half of the health bar is down, the enemy goes vulnerable for a few seconds. If you then manage a melee hit, you switch to melee mode. If not, it’s back to a full bar and the ranged combat mode. In melee mode, the arena tightens considerably, and you alternate between dodging unparryable attacks, and parrying and riposting. You can also charge attack, a high risk/reward move, but missing will often leave you vulnerable to punishment.
Once the second half of the enemy’s HP bar is down, your own bar refills, and you switch to the next phase of the fight: a fresh double HP bar to drain, this time with further mechanics and patterns layered on top. And of course, if the enemy manages to drain your HP bar, his/hers refills, restarting the current phase. This goes on up until your nemesis is at the last bar, whereupon he or she will–in most cases, as the game does mix it up from time to time–unleash an overcharged bullet hell while in invincible mode. If you survive this, you will be granted a shot at a one-hit finish.
This base structure is enriched by each boss having his or her own mechanics. Some fights are more ranged-centric than melee. Others demand more of your parrying and hand-eye coordination. Some are more like puzzles where it’s more important for you do discover how and when to take the shot, over simple dexterity. Furi is a game that thoroughly tests the whole breadth of your skills as an action game player.
It is, at times, merciless, and it sometimes feels that a more nuanced difficulty curve–or indeed, more difficulty levels–would have been warranted. As it stands, you get to choose between baby-mode and nail-biting hard, with the ability to unlock an even harsher difficulty–a proposition for the truly mad and masochistic.
It doesn’t help that Furi occasionally drops the ball on some key mechanical factors.
The camera tends to get all cinematic during the melee phases, often to the detriment of your sense of positioning and making split-second dodges all the more difficult to execute.
An overuse of bloom and saturation on some levels, meanwhile, makes certain bullet hells much harder as you can’t parse out what’s happening on the screen properly. You can always adjust your TV’s/monitor’s settings to make up for it, but you shouldn’t have to. And finally, there are the occasional cheap boss moves, and even the dreaded trial-and-error instant death attack.
These flaws are the exception rather than the norm, though. For the most part, Furi is mechanically solid, and when it’s good, it is fantastic. What is similarly fantastic is the whole audiovisual setup. Takashi Okazaki’s character art is striking, but the environments are truly the stars of the show–beautiful, alien worlds with a slight steampunk vibe that bring to mind the works of Moebius.
They are mostly artful corridors, and while you can wander freely and explore within their bounds, there’s usually nothing to be found. It proves a much better mood-building option to press X and have your character snap on to a pre-determined path, walking in stoic silence towards the next boss, while you drool over the scenery and take in the incredible electro soundtrack–a soundtrack that took me back to the days of the old European videogame scene.
Furi’s story, in the meantime, is nothing to write home about.
You–the player–spend the whole game being the person who knows the least about what is happening, and as such feel oddly disconnected from the one choice you get to make in the game–and only in the outro, past the ending credits. While your mysterious companion and guide through the game occasionally provides some background on your foes, or cryptic hint about the state of the world and your place in it, the writing falls flat more often than not.
This shouldn’t deter you from playing Furi, though. Cliched as it may sound, it truly is all about the journey. Furi’s story is told in last-minute parries that recover you the sliver of health than wins the match; in a successful charge attack that drains a third of your opponent’s final health bar; in your character’s leisurely but determined pace as he walks across a chasm to the tune of beautiful electronic music, the bridge being built before him by hovering, mechanical platforms.
Furi’s got the style, and it’s got the game mechanics to back it up. If you’re willing to put up with the occasional cheap death and frustration that comes with it, you’ll have a game that you’ll find yourself coming back to over and over again.
Furi was reviewed on PS4, with a copy downloaded via the PS+ subscription service, paid for by the author.
Publisher/Developer: The Game Bakers | Genre: Action Boss Rush | Platform: PS4, PC | PEGI/ESRB: N/A | Release Date: July, 5 (International)