Indie Wonderland: Furi

A few hours in

I fought some more prison wardens. Like this one:

Yes, that is in fact a bound woman on a Segway with a spotlight for a head.

Or this one:

A master of time, so they say. Looks like a harmless old man to me.

Or… well, let’s stop there. It wouldn’t really do to spoil each and every one of them, would it. Discovering each new and interesting boss is a pretty big reason to keep going with this game, I feel. That I’ve shown you three already just barely borders on the ‘uncool move’. But they’re three of… I don’t know how many. Lots. At least eight. I beat seven and I’m not done yet, hence. I have no idea how close I am to ‘done’. There could be dozens.

I can show you this boat, though!

As I’m sure you’ve picked up on by now, Furi is a game singularly about one-on-one fights with powerful, unique enemies. A ‘boss battler’, if you will, except that the term ‘boss’ feels meaningless in a game where you don’t fight anything below that power level. An easy immediate comparison is Shadow of the Colossus, and it’s hard to not see Furi as at least an homage to that classic. A large magical world, terrible enemies seemingly much more powerful than you, fighting for survival and progress even if the moral value of that progress is often questionable… But mechanics-wise, the actual gameplay is much more akin to reflex brawlers and bullet-hell shooters. Or if you want a dark-horse comparison: Pokken Tournament, which features a similar far-off close-up shifting mechanic. Maybe that would be a good tagline for Furi: the game that you’d get if Pokken Tournament and a bullet-hell shooter got on each other’s shoulder and wore a Shadow of the Colossus print trenchcoat.

But is Furi good at sneaking into R-rated movies?

The disguise is convincing, at least. Look at that swagger!

I’m going to say yes. For the very most part, Furi is a pretty good game. It’s competently put together, it has an interesting and consistent visual aesthetic and good sound design, and it knows and plays well to what it wants to be — a skill-focused duel-brawling game, a game about beating up weird colourful jailkeepers using only a small toolbox of options and your personal growing mastery. It’s not flawless, and I do understand the criticisms: I question the value of some of the design decisions regarding mechanical implementation and flow. But for the most part, I enjoyed my time with Furi. Whenever I wasn’t yelling at the bosses for being bullshit and sending me all the way back to the start, that is.

You’re damn right I don’t belong here — I should have cleared this goddamn stage two tries ago!

A big Your-Mileage-May-Vary disclaimer at the start, though: Furi is a game very heavily rooted in practice through repetition. I hesitate to put another dollar in the jar, but it’s similar in design aesthetic to Dark Souls that way. It’s more forgiving and less grind-heavy than Dark Souls, that’s for sure; Furi doesn’t even have grinding, or resources, or upgrading in any way. And bosses do allow you to fuck up, and learn through fucking up, to a degree. But if you lose to any given boss too many times in a row, you will be sent all the way back to the start. The only checkpoints that exist, exist right before the very first round of any fight. If that’s the sort of thing that infuriates you, then Furi will infuriate you. It infuriated me at several points. Looking at you, The Edge, that one boss that deals tons of damage if you don’t approach him perfectly in his final wave and forces you to battle through an annoying extended sequence just for the privilege of trying to learn his patterns.

This fucking guy. That’s another boss spoiler, I guess, but it was important I focus my hate on him.

If you can stand repetition and occasional bullshit, though, Furi is really good.

Furi‘s biggest strength is its mechanical simplicity. Here is a game that eschews power curves and upgrade systems in favour of giving you every move you can do, right out the gate. Shot, charged shot, slash, charged slash, dodge, charged dodge, parry, perfect parry, sword-charge. That’s it, you’re done. You’ll never unlock new moves, or new options for these moves, or power boosts or anything like that (as far as I’m aware). Every fight is fought with these tools alone.

It’s a clever design decision that focuses Furi on procedural mastery and quick learning instead of grinding or power creep. Not only do you have only this small arsenal, but (almost) every move in your set has a clear place and unique use. Shooting is for distance damage and destroying projectiles. Slashing deals more damage up close, useful for after you dodge. Dodging prevents damage. The charged variants are all more powerful: charged shot clears paths, charged dodge evades large attacks, and charged slash hits critically for increased damage. And parry, of course, good reliable friend parry. That one’ll keep you alive through the game.

But Furi‘s mechanical cleverness goes further. Not only do you have a constant set of predictable moves, but so do your enemies. They’re all unique characters, of course, with unique designs and arenas and attack patterns and special moves. But the core of any ‘boss’ is made of the same building blocks. Blue bullets, purple homing bullets, yellow unbreakable bullets. Area damage waves that you can dodge past and shoot over, area damage moving walls that block shots. Red area attacks that mean you should dodge. And the ever-present melee attack, and its clear audiovisual ‘parry now’ signal.

Which boss does this attack? Just kidding, it’s all of them.

I can’t overstate how important this is. One mistake that these sorts of spectacle-focused fighters sometimes make is making their memorable boss encounters too unique. Looking at you again, Dark Souls. It can be tempting to equip your fancy boss battle with powers and moves that the player has never seen before. It makes some intuitive sense: what better way to keep the game fresh than by introducing a really new element? But in practice, for games like these, all that it does is introduce a second, unpreparable learning curve. If your boss has a second phase wherein they transform, or they’re the first enemy with an instant-kill grab attack, or all of a sudden their attacks can’t be dodged or their projectiles home, or anything like that — I always feel it makes the fights worse. A challenging boss fight is a contract between player and game: I show you on what I’ve learned and mastered, and you test me on only those skills. Introducing whole new things out of the gate only serves to trip the players up. It breaks the contract.

In contrast, Furi‘s bosses all play by more or less the same rules. Every boss‘s blue bullets move straight and can be shot. Every boss‘s melee attacks can be parried. Every boss only regenerates health if they defeat you. You get the picture. And this is an important good design decision, because it allows players to intuit things. Sure, every boss is new. And every boss has their own attack patterns and special attacks! But you won’t have to spend your valuable life and dodge time parsing entirely new things. If the new boss fires three expanding circular energy walls and then makes most of the floor flash red, you immediately understand what that means: time your dodges to get past all those walls, and then make it to the non-red area before the big attack lands. And then probably move in to retaliate, because that it what you do.

Seriously, though. If you take away one thing from this review, take away how good this design is. It shifts the focus of playing and mastering Furi to skill training. I beat one boss on my first try in a high-octane side-view mode, because the charge attack it did used the same sparks effects as an earlier boss. This allowed me to quickly understand what was happening, and react accordingly — I would have lost if I’d had to wait for the attack to appear before starting to think. It makes the game fair.

Well. Fair-ish.

Every boss does have their own unique shtick, or fight progression. These are usually still not new rules, though, but rather, adaptations of existing rules. For instance: the time wizard (‘The Line’) can temporarily freeze all projectiles in midair. When that happens, your own projectiles are frozen too. You can keep shooting, but you’ll just run into your own still bullets. It’s an interesting twist, something that takes a single rule and upends it — for a little bit. And, importantly, it’s introduced in such a way that you’re allowed to stumble, fall, and learn, without getting kicked to the curb immediately.

Unless you keep shooting, like an asshole, and cursing out the game for ‘damaging you for no reason’. Not that I did that, of course.

Furi is a harsh game. Fair, but harsh. You will likely get your ass kicked multiple times. Even on bosses I beat without losing at least once — there were more of those than you’d think — I’d never get any good ranking. Furi uses an (entirely optional) ranking system, the common brawler kind: D-C-B-A-S. It doesn’t impact game flow at all, and you won’t even see it unless you go look for it in the Practice mode. But you can unlock cool boss concept art by doing well, so that’s a neat incentive.

Still not *quite* good enough to get that last piece of the puzzle.

Oh, and speaking of visuals: have I highlighted how pretty a game Furi is at times? The environments in particular range from functional, to nice, to pretty, to downright gorgeous.

The game has a style all its own, and it does interesting things with it.

So, in summary: Furi is well-designed, interesting, harsh-but-fair, and pretty. Sounds like a good list of traits. What are the flaws?

I count two worth talking about. One, on the mechanical side: the controls aren’t always as tight as they should be. I’ve heard complaints that it’s more difficult to chain dashes than it should be, because there’s a cooldown between button presses that doesn’t feel correct. I haven’t had much trouble with that myself, but I definitely felt it when I tried a chain-dash approach: there’s the feeling that you should be able to react quicker than you actually can, and you get punished for not doing that. What I myself ran into is the issue that the length of the dash can be hard to intuit. Particularly when you’re charging it. More than once I tried dodging past an obstacle, only to either run straight into it, or overshoot the obstacle entirely and hit something else. There’s no indicator of how far you’re going, and relying on visuals and memory is an inexact science that leads to low level ratings. Similarly, in the isometric view, I’ve swung my sword into mid-air on more than one occasion. These are all relatively small things in isolation, and I never ran into them enough to feel like my experience was impacted much. But in life-or-death situations, it’s Definitely Uncool to lose when you read the situation right, but then have the game not translate your input as-wanted.

And two, on the flow side…

Well, let me ask you this. Furi is made up of high-octane boss fights, right? That’s all I’ve been talking about. But what do you think is in-between the fights?

If Furi cleaved more closely to its Shadow of the Colossus roots, the space between fights would be filled with a traversable path or overworld. You’d move from fight to fight, taking in the scenery, exploring hidden paths, and even finding new vantage points and powerups for your trouble. But if Furi cleaved more closely to its brawler/Pokken Tournament roots, the space between fights would be filled with absolutely nothing. There would be no space between fights. Why would there be? Fighting is the whole point.

Furi decides to split the difference between approaches by having a large, traversable area between each fight, filled with absolutely nothing.

I mean, not *nothing*, strictly speaking. There’s always something to look at.

Every Furi fight takes place in its own environment, each with a different aesthetic and layout and colour pattern. And that’s all very cool. But after you defeat each boss, you have to ‘manually’ move to the next area. This involves trekking from the boss fight area to a nearby portal (while the rabbit-headed man talks). Then you go through the portal, and see the new area (while the rabbit-headed man talks). And then you have to walk through that entire area, often a five-minute-or-so trek, to get to the new boss arena — while the rabbit-headed man talks.

Understand that this isn’t exploration. It’s a linear path. All you do is move from point A to point B. There is some optional deviation, in that you can walk off screen edges and activate different camera angles. And those sometimes show you cool new vistas of the cool new place you’re in. But mechanically, all you do is walk from point A to point B. There are no powerups to find, because there are no powerups. There are no cool secrets to unlock, as far as I can tell, because there are no secrets. Only once have I found a small optional conversation — by the rabbit-headed man — on a small optional side path. Every other time I tried manually exploring, it… just felt like a massive waste of time. Literally all I’m doing is increasing the length of time between now and my next fight.

Pictured: the only worth-while side-trek I’ve *ever* found.

And Furi knows this. It knows it so much that it offers to take the manual walking control away from you. Press A, and your character will casually saunter to the next fight on his own. Slowly. While the rabbit-headed man talks. Don’t think you get to escape the rabbit-headed man talking.

I… guess I don’t understand why this exists? I mean, I can see the value of a cool-down moment between fights. These fights are (intended as) adrenaline-builders, and I understand that you wouldn’t necessarily jump straight from one fight into other. But the transitions as they are so long. They take bloody ages! And there’s so little interesting to see, or do, or hear. Furi tries to fit its low-key storytelling and worldbuilding in these segments, and on some level I can respect that. But all the same, the slow walking pace, the automatic control, the soft music, the rabbit-headed man’s droning voice… it was almost enough to put me to sleep, several times over. I tried my best to keep up and follow, I really did! But there’s only so much stern willpower stuff I’m made of. And it’s pretty tempting (and possible) to get some quick shut-eye while Furi slowly ‘loads’ its new area. With all the cool visual shots and tricks I’m then missing.

And then the fight proper starts when I’m still dozing.

Probably leave that out of the collected anthology, I guess.

Final thoughts

Furi is probably intended to be a game about the rabbit-headed man. He’s clearly the driving force behind events. He talks, he introduces, he contextualizes the world. He’s the human face on the player’s struggle. The player character, in contrast, is nothing but a walking Swiss army knife, a violent hammer for the latest nail du jour. It’s small wonder he’s referred to as ‘The Stranger’. I fully expect some form of heel turn at the end of this game. And I intend to get there myself… eventually. Not soon, perhaps, but maybe before I turn 30.

If you like this sort of game, Furi is a pretty good instance of the spectacle-focused boss-fighter genre. It’s well-designed both mechanically and flow-wise, it’s easy to learn but hard to master, it looks beautiful, and I’d be lying if I said the strange side-show story isn’t at least some form of engaging. At 25 Steam euros or equivalent, I won’t deny it’s a pricey indie game. But if what I’ve written here appeals to you, on some level, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find a better implementation of this kind of challenge.

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Jarenth invites all challengers to guess how much time he still has left for his self-imposed Furi deadline. Offer suggestions in the comments, or on Twitter or hang out with him on Steam. And if you dig Indie Wonderland and Ninja Blues in general, why not consider supporting our Patreon campaign?

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