Originally Written on July 12, 2016
The end credits to Furi include a thank you to legendary game creators including Hideki Kamiya, Hideo Kojima, and Hidetaka Miyazaki. None of these people worked on the game, and it is hard to imagine that anybody from the France based indie studio The Game Bakers has had meaningful contact with any of these great developers. However, it would be clear without the special thanks that the team has played some of their games. That is not to say that Furi matches these developers heights or that it is incredibly derivative of any of their works. But there are clear design lessons that can be learned from playing great action games, and Furi displays knowledge of these. Furi, while not ambitious in scale, is a game that could have gone completely wrong. It is a game that had to strike the right balance in terms of design and difficulty because any faults would be enumerated by its lack of content. A bad boss fight is something that you come to expect out of a lot of games and just learn to deal with. In Furi, a bad boss fight would ruin your experience.
That is because Furi is, in essence, a boss rush game. There are segments in between the fights, but the gameplay ultimately boils down to ten boss fights. Boss rush games are a genre that is oddly maligned by the gaming press. The developers of Cuphead recently felt the need to add platforming sections due to the overwhelming criticism of the game’s boss rush nature. But the sad truth is that the platforming sections in Cuphead do not look very engaging or fun because the game was not built to support them. This aversion strikes me as odd in an industry where both Punch-Out!! and Shadow of the Colossus are regarded as timeless classics, but I digress. The boss rush genre is one that does not need justification for its existence. When people recount their favorite memories from Souls games, character action games, or even some platformers, these often tend to be boss fights. When a team has a smaller scale and smaller budget, they should focus on getting one thing right. That is what The Game Bakers did with Furi, and I applaud them for it.
But while Furi comes from a studio I had never heard of headed up by developers I was unfamiliar with, it packs a major punch when it comes to aesthetic prestige. The characters in the game were designed by Afro Samurai creator Takahi Okazaki, and the soundtrack consists of music from fairly well known electronic artists such as Carpenter Brut. This comes together to create a game that is a joy to look at and listen to. The environments are stark, the characters are bizarre, and the music is sublime. There are games which have an intangible sense of “stlye”, and Furi has that in spades.
The uniqueness of Furi carries over into its gameplay. Furi is a combination of bullet-hell twin-stick shooters and melee-driven character action games. You have four abilities in Furi: slash, shoot, dodge, and parry. And while the former three all have charged versions that you can use, these four mechanics are pretty much it. There is no progression or leveling up. This is not a Mega Man game where you absorb the power of each boss, and you never get a health or damage boost. Furi tries to keep things simple, and it is within this simplicity that the true complexities of the combat are able to shine. Discovering the ways these moves work, memorizing boss patterns, and adapting to the situation at hand is the fun of Furi. Every time you die to a boss, and trust me you will, you should ultimately learn a lesson. The lesson that never stops being frustrating yet satisfying is the one that you are being either too aggressive or too conservative with your attacks. The decision to either trust in you ability to dodge/parry and wait for a quiet moment or to rush attack the boss in the hopes of getting to next phase and restoring your health is a tense one that I had to make multiple times while playing Furi.
This is because of the way the boss fights are designed in Furi. Each boss has a set number of phases that varies between them. For the most part, these phases consist of two parts. The first is the more bullet-hell style gameplay where you are running around an arena, and the second is the melee driven combat in which you are constrained to a much smaller area and have to master the art of the parry. While I personally found myself preferring the intimate, intense feel of the close corridors combat, both of these modes work well. The twin-stick shooting is more than servicable, with the only real issue being a slight delay on the dodge mechanic that you have to get used to.
The rules of these phases could be very confusing, but a well designed UI stops that from happening. Your health bar is placed in the top left corner of the screen while the boss’s is in the top right. Underneath these health bars is a number of small boxes. You will always have three, while your enemy’s number will change from boss to boss. For you, these represent the lives you have. If you die once, you will start from the beginning of the phase. If you die three times in one phase, you will start the entire boss fight from the beginning. This strikes the right balance between being forgiving and being punishing. If you make one mistake, you then have the opportunity to right it. However, if you don’t learn your lesson you are forced to start over from the beginning. You also have the ability to gain health by parrying and re-fill your health by completing a phase. This is a smart way to reward good play and makes the parry/dodge decision a risk/reward one. The boxes under the enemy’s health bar represent the phases. Like I said, these phases can, but don’t have to, contain two parts. It is a good way to see just how much of the battle you have completed and makes you feel like you are making progress. The bosses also have two health bars, one for the bullet-hell phase and another for the close-quarters one. This let you to see how much longer you need to hold out before moving on, especially in some of the bullet-hell sections. Smart user interface design makes Furi a much easier game to grasp and allows the player to focus on learning the combat and boss patterns.
The visual and audio cues within combat can be less clear. The parryable melee attacks are well presented with a distinct sound and visual effect, but a lot of the stuff in the bullet-hell portions is poorly conveyed. It is always unclear which projectiles can and cannot be either parried or shot through, some change direction without warning, and I never fully understood how to time my dash to reach the exact distance I was aiming for. This didn’t make any of the bosses unplayable, but it did lead to some frustration.
But what makes the bosses in Furi impressive is how different they are. Some feature predominately bullet-hell sections while others focus more on the combat. There are some that take place in wide open areas while others occur in more confined ones. There are mechanics unique to each boss fight. My biggest concern early on was that the boss fights would get repetitive, but once I reached the third one I realized that was not the case. Some are obviously more unique than others, and that uniqueness is not inherently a good thing. But I was impressed at the games ability to keep things fresh without introducing any new abilities.
That is not to say that there is no repetition in the game or that all of the bosses are great. The third and seventh bosses both have excruciating beginning phases that are a slog to get through a second time if you die. This is part of your punishment for dying, but the seventh boss specifically has an incredibly annoying start and a difficult end. There were multiple times during that fight that I walked away from the game and I contemplated putting it down for good. It wasn’t the kind of difficult that made me feel satisfied after beating it either. I’m glad I stuck with it though, because Furi is a game worth seeing through to the end.
Between each fight are sections where all you do is walk forward. These seem to exist for three reasons. The first is to give you a much needed breather for the next boss, the second is to drop a bunch of exposition on your head, and the third is to expose you to some impressive visuals in a new environment. The camera switches perspectives often here, so I recommend pressing ‘x’ in order to have the character automatically walk. However, doing this will cause you to miss out on some extra dialogue. The dialogue in these sections is more of a monologue with your rabbit companion telling you about the world or “prison” that you are in as well as the next boss you will face. His motivations and overall role, as well as you own, are left a mystery until the very end, but there is a satisfying payoff to the story. In fact, I was surprised by how intrigued I was in the world by the time I finished. I found the story to be overly cryptic and uninteresting at first, but once you realize what is happening a lot of the dialogue makes sense. It isn’t the best story ever told, but it at least isn’t a bunch of nonsense. One thing that I really appreciate is that there is a point about halfway through where the story could conceivably end, and the game allows you to end it by just not progressing forward for two minutes. I wish this was the case at a later point as well, but I generally love when games allow this. Although it did bother me that I could not then continue the game from that point and make the other decision. I had to start a new playthrough and work my way back to that point. But hey, I made the choice and I had to live with it; I can respect that as a design decision.
Furi should take you about five hours, give or take a few depending on how good you are, but if you still have the itch to keep playing after you finish there is plenty to do. Beating the game on Furi difficulty unlocks Furier. As opposed to just raising the health and damage of your foes, Furier actually gives them new attacks. I don’t think that I’m ready to go back and learn ten new bosses, but it is great that playing on the harder difficulty offers a new experience. There is also a speed run mode, your typical action game ranking system, and online leaderboards if you really want to become a Furi master. But even if you don’t want to dive that deep, Furi is still worth the asking price.
I went into Furi with almost no expectations, and there were times where I started to hate aspects of the game. But the story comes together in a satisfying way, and I found a high percentage of the bosses to be exhilarating. There are gameplay quirks that bothered me, but the combat is incredibly satisfying. Furi makes a strong case for boss rush games and works as a hybrid of two popular genres. It will not be a game for everybody, but I can’t hesitate to recommend it to you if it’s up your ally.
Final Score: 4 Stars