Being unique without leaning towards absurdity can be a tricky proposition in an industry that has made serious heroes out of hedgehogs and married octopi. It’s impossible to tell if a premise will be received as just the right amount of artistic expression or too much ridiculousness to handle, and so it’s always exciting to see studios like The Game Bakers bring something as clearly strange and exciting as Furi to the table. More gamers than usual will likely be exposed to the indie oddity of The Game Bakers’ bullet hell and swordplay hybrid, as Furi is one of Sony’s Free PlayStation Plus titles for July despite only being released this month.
Immediately going free could be a sign of strength or weakness, and it would be understandable for gamers to be anxious about the decision to release Furi for free to PS4 owners. Luckily for fans of 80s-inspired neon vibes and Samurai Jack-esque character design, Furi is the right blend of off-the-wall weird and polished mechanics. While Furi might be held back by some of its design philosophy and a few uninspired bosses, it’s ultimately an exciting addition to an increasingly crowded collection of demanding, difficult, and fulfilling action video games.
For those unfamiliar with the concept behind Furi, players inhabit the role of The Stranger as they are broken free of their prison cell by a mysterious, near-omniscient man in a rabbit mask, and the game gets much more bizarre before it starts making any sense. Furi is designed as a series of boss fights with small narrative intervals between each one, as The Stranger travels from area to area, and there are no smaller enemies to contend with. Furi is very much inspired by games like Shadow of the Colossus in its approach to making each fight feel meaningful.
Much like Shadow of the Colossus as well, Furi‘s narrative is purposefully oblique, as gamers are only given vague hints about the past of The Stranger and what caused him to be locked in what appears to be a trans-dimensional prison in the first place. This story-telling technique really works, though, and although The Stranger never speaks, his rabbit companion fills the silence in an anxious, angry manner. At first glance, it appears to be two prisoners against an unjust world, but not everything is as it seems, and before Furi is done gamers will question their actions more than a few times.
These feelings of unease and uncertainty are underscored by one of the strongest soundtracks ever found in an indie title. The music, scored by contemporaries like Danger, Carpenter Brut, and The Toxic Avenger among others, is the kind that will stay with gamers long after they’ve finished Furi‘s fairly short gameplay cycle. The Stranger doesn’t need to speak when the music that follows his every movement does such an excellent job conveying what he’s feeling, and The Game Bakers should be commended for such a wonderful addition to the gaming music annals.
It’s interesting that Furi manages to be so serious and brooding when it is trapped within neon purple and green visuals that wouldn’t be out of place in the Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon games. The character design is another serious strength in Furi, as each boss feels uniquely their own and seamlessly embodies both the environment they are found in as well as how they fight in each given battle. Furi packs a serious punch when it comes to aesthetic pleasure, and gamers would do well to check the title out on the strength of its visual and audio successes alone.
Yet, in games like Furi, so much of the way it will ultimately be received comes down to one thing by the nature of its design – does Furi have the memorable boss battles that have made other titles like Shadow of the Colossus stand out so brilliantly?
In short, yes. But the long answer is a lot more complicated, as Furi contains some of the most fun and nuanced boss battles available in an action game to date, while also containing a few incredibly frustrating, fundamentally unfair ones that sours the aftertaste of the game unproductively. In an industry where games like Dark Souls 3 have carved out a fairly straightforward blueprint for crafting difficult, anxiety-inducing boss battles that are still inherently fair, it is nearly unforgivable for a studio to still find itself needing to design combat the way some of Furi has been made.
Furi‘s combat is relatively straightforward, and players are given every power and skill they’ll ever have in the game from the very first fight. This is executed well enough, as a well-timed parry or dodge is often more than enough to adequately avoid nearly every early bosses’ attacks. Players are encouraged to learn timings and avoid repeating their failures, and it all functions very well. Playing the game on the PC, however, and not having a controller will severely impact players’ experiences with this game – even The Game Bakers warns players that Furi is best experienced with a controller in hand, and playing with a keyboard and mouse is truly miserable. It’s a shame there isn’t a better way of accommodating PC players in this regard.
Furi‘s endless parade of bosses starts out innocently enough. Players are sprung from their prison cell and immediately forced to fight The Chain, a first boss like Dark Souls 3‘s Iunex Gundyr that serves to introduce players to the mechanics they will need to save them from future fights while still presenting a worthy challenge. The next few bosses progress in a similar fashion, with each one feeling like a natural upgrade to the last and taxing different skill sets on the way to the player becoming more adept and comfortable with Furi‘s control scheme.
Then comes an angelic boss that ramps up the difficulty so unproductively and surprisingly that it is actively frustrating – she is not unbeatable, but she does not feel like a different boss the way others that come before her do. Rather, The Song feels like a bunch of abilities all stacked onto each other to create a more difficult boss fight unnaturally rather than introducing more new mechanics to watch out for.
The game does offer two difficulty modes, but that is also a sticking point for Furi. The average, difficult-by-design mode becomes the wrong kind of difficult – frustrating, unintuitive, and annoying more often than it is revolutionary or satisfying even in defeat. The easier mode, which comes with a condescending message once it’s turned on and revokes the ability to earn trophies in the game, is simply way too easy. For reference, The Song took about seven tries on the regular, “Furi” difficulty to understand – it took one try on “Promenade”, the easier difficulty, and it felt like an entirely different game.
Still, it’s hard to fault a developer too much for trying to create difficulties that appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers. It just feels as though Furi could have found a way to do it without creating two very different extremes and playing experiences. That, a few annoying and frustrating bosses, and the lack of keyboard and mouse support on the PC version of the game, prevents Furi from becoming an indie luminary like Enter the Gungeon. Gamers looking for a challenge, a beautiful world and musical score, and some truly memorable bosses will still be pleased at what Furi has to offer, however, and even though it’s not the absolute best of its kind, it’s worth a look from anyone willing to suffer through some frustration for what amounts to a hell of a five hour ride.
Furi is available now for PC and PS4. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.