Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC
Boss battles in video games can be tricky. For every game with good boss fights is another game with terrible battles. Even games that are mechanically sound have been known to have bad bosses. So you can imagine the tall task that Furi, a game comprised of nothing but boss battles, might have posed for The Game Bakers. As it turns out, the studio did a fine job pulling it off, even if there are some glaring flaws in the overall package.
Doing Hard Time
You play as a sword-wielding prisoner whose only goal is to reclaim his freedom. Blocking your path are jailers, and it's your job to kill 'em good! For as simple as the premise may be, at times it seems as if the game is aiming for something bigger. It never quite gets there, and all you're left with is a basic story with a few interesting hooks that never really go anywhere.
This is especially true in terms of the characters. Though the protagonist is your typical silent type, all of the bosses are quite chatty. Some are more interesting than others, but they're all kind of a mixed bag. In addition, a strange man wearing a giant rabbit head follows you around the entire game, and his lines and delivery are largely uninteresting and add nothing to the story.
Now, you could argue that the story shouldn't even matter in an action-heavy boss rush game. It seems odd to consider that aspect such a big gripe but, at the same time, you know when a story in a game isn't supposed to matter. And in Furi, there's definitely a feeling that it was meant to be important to the entirety of the game. Sadly, it fails in its execution.
One Versus All
Whereas the story of Furi lacks direction and inspiration, the gameplay is very much a focused affair. It's clear what The Game Bakers tried to do and, for the most part, the game succeeds. That said, be forewarned that this is the type of game that's made with a very specific type of gamer in mind. If you're on the fence when it comes to intense games with brutal difficulty, you should probably just stay away.
You've got multiple battle techniques at your disposal in Furi. Using your gun, you can shoot rapid-fire projectiles and charged shots. With your sword you can dish out fast-paced hits and charged strikes. You've got a dodge roll, as well as a parry. And if you time it to just the last millisecond when your opponent attacks, you can perform a perfect parry which opens the window of opportunity for you to deal a high-damage combo.
Every battle in Furi has multiple phases that get more challenging as you inflict damage on your enemy. These phases are usually split into two distinct parts. First is a panned out, slightly isometric bullet hell sequence where you can use your gun to inflict light damage. Hundreds of shots are fired your way, and you have to do your best to evade them. There's a learning curve, but figuring out how to deal with your enemies' offense is part of the fun.
The second part of every fight zooms the camera in on the action, and you're then locked inside a close combat circle. These sequences once again have a learning curve that usually revolves around learning the villains' attack patterns. You need to have precise, near-perfect reflexes and parry attacks in order to deliver some offense of your own. Furi is not a button masher, so if you try to just brute force your way through the bosses you'll get wrecked in no time.
After you defeat a boss, you have to make a lengthy trek before you reach the next enemy. These moments serve as much-needed downtime after you've exhausted so much energy learning attack patterns and coming out on top in hellacious encounters. They also let you see some beautiful scenery while your bunny head-wearing companion talks your ear off.
Wait, What Happened?
As previously mentioned, Furi is the kind of game that's made for a specific audience. Unfortunately, that comes as a hindrance to the game because, a lot of the time, it can feel too overwhelming and even unfair. And that's coming from someone who typically enjoys these types of devilish experiences. The problem is that there's no attempt at meeting the player halfway. You either tough it out and deal with the difficulty, which can be frustrating and annoying at times, or you just avoid the game altogether.
There is an easy difficulty setting, but it's actually kind of insulting. Switching to the easier setting — which you can do mid-campaign — turns the bosses into pushovers. You're given more health while several of their phases are stripped away, so you don't get to see what they're all about. And I get that maybe the game wants you to try to play it on the default setting, but it almost feels as if it's punishing players for not being “hardcore” enough.
Furi could've included a lower difficulty option that still challenged players but perhaps granted them a slightly better fighting chance. Sadly, all it does is let you breeze right through dumbed down versions of its bosses. This setting isn't fun to play and, if the developers really wanted to cater to a specific crowd exclusively, this easy difficulty shouldn't have even been included to begin with.
Eye-Catching Art, Hypnotic Music
Despite some solid action game trappings, the strongest aspect of Furi is very much its visual style. The game looks so good that it's worth dealing with the talkative bunny chap as you witness glorious stretches of land that would fit perfectly in an epic space opera setting. The characters, which were designed by Takashi Okazaki of Afro Samurai fame, are also great and range from bizarre to disturbing.
The sound design of Furi is also quite strong and features an impressive collection of hypnotic electronica themes. These songs are catchy and help build tension around each battle. The only issue I really had with the sound in the game was the subpar voice acting, which adds nothing to the game, especially in terms of story.
Prepare to Die
I enjoyed my time with Furi, but I also found myself enraged when I'd get stuck in a get far-die-retry loop. When I’d finally succeed, though, I was rewarded with a feeling of unparalleled bliss. If you like brutal games that are entirely unrelenting, you should probably check Furi out. It's disappointing that there's no option for people who maybe want something slightly less demanding yet still challenging, but it's clear that this game was made with a niche audience in mind. If you consider yourself a part of that niche, by all means, feel free to enter the danger zone.