When it comes to games that came out of nowhere, Furi has been one of the biggest surprises this year. We had the chance to go hands-on with it last month at E3, and walked away with anticipation for the full release. Our time with the game was limited, but it’s fast paced action and emphasis on tight, responsive controls sat well with us. What we didn’t expect however, is that the final version would excite and surprise us even more.
Furi prefers to keep the story light and vague, but it works well for an action-focused title of this type. You take control of a mysterious samurai named The Stranger, whose driving goal is to escape the prison he finds himself in. The Stranger’s journey through the prison world he inhabits is an interesting one; rather than working your way through level after level, Furi is entirely composed of boss fights, with post-skirmish cutscenes bookending each encounter.
If there’s one thing that’s blatantly clear, it’s that the developers behind Furi were clearly inspired by the resurgence of difficult games in the last decade or so. Unlike most AAA titles of our generation, which feature lengthy tutorials, plenty of prompts, and liberal use of checkpoints, Furi hearkens back to an age where gamers had to earn their victories. Regardless of your own skill level, you have been warned. You will be challenged, and you will fail at some point. While I managed to beat the tutorial without dying outright, I barely scraped by, and that was just the first boss mind you.
As I detailed in my preview, Furi doesn’t pride itself on complex control schemes or combos that require rote memorization and careful controller inputs. The Stranger has a deadly sword at his disposal, which can be charged for a more powerful attack. He also has the ability to fire a gun (with unlimited ammo I might add), and much like his sword, his shots can be charged.
To be honest, charging attacks are a large part of Furi; rather than relying on different sword swipes or ammo types, Furi derives its complexity by providing you with a relatively simple control scheme, then demands that you practice and master it, one boss at a time. Outside of attacking, you also have the ability to dodge, which, as you might have guessed, can be charged to increase the distance you travel. Dodging also has the benefit of retaining your weapon’s charge, which becomes key when you’re trying to find the perfect moment to attack between evading enemy fire. For those who can nail down the timing, there’s also a parry move which can help restore your own health.
Speaking of which, Furi handles both the player’s and boss’s health in a rather interesting way, which is akin to a tug-of-war match of sorts. During each boss fight, you are given three lives, while the boss usually has four or five lives. Depleting your health meter will both cost you a life and reset the boss’s current phase (and health), but if you manage to take a life from a boss, you will gain one back, though you can never exceed more than three. Of course, every time a boss loses a life, they enter their next phase, which usually consists of more powerful and tricky attacks, but on the other hand they can never replenish lives.
This back and forth health system is very reminiscent of something like the original Punch Out, though that extends to the boss designs themselves. Without divulging too much about their specific tactics and surprises, bosses come in a variety of different shapes and forms. Sporting names that draw parallel to the Cobra Unit from the Metal Gear series, each boss is centered around a central theme, often forcing you to switch up your tactics on-the-fly.
For example, one boss requires only one hit to go down, but he blocks most of your shots with shields, and often positions himself outside of your range. Another tries to eliminate you through sniping, dropping you into a larger-than-average stage, and tasking you with tracking her down by following the laser sight from her gun.
Honestly, it’s kind of amazing how developer The Game Bakers manages to extract so much depth from a few simple mechanics. While it did take me a few minutes to get the hang of it, it wasn’t long before I was chaining dashes, shots and slashes together with precision, filling the screen with a ballet of attacks and a flurry of gunshots. It’s easily one of the more rewarding games I’ve played in the last year, as well as one of the most difficult.
The main story mode clocked in at around eight to ten hours, though your own playtime will vary depending on your skill level. However, beating it unlocks an additional difficulty dubbed ‘Furier Mode.’ Not unlike some of the Punch Out iterations, this mode not only ratchets up the difficulty level by an insane amount, but each boss is outfitted with a whole new set of attacks and patterns. To paint a better picture, I have yet to beat the tutorial boss on this mode, and I’ve been playing the game for the better part of a week.
It will come down to personal preference and taste, but Furi‘s presentation was a bit of a sore spot (for me at least). Visually, the game features a very strong aesthetic design, reminiscent of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, in terms of color use and surrealism. Coupled with character designs from Takashi Okazaki (of Afro Samurai fame), Furi can look stunning at points. At the same time, its bold visual identity is brought down by low-res textures, odd lighting, and framerate dips.
Still, these technical shortcomings do little to hamper an otherwise excellent game. While the emphasis on player skill and quick reflexes might not sit well with less invested gamers, Furi is a tour-de-force when it comes to combat. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a similar title that balances challenge and reward, and the most diehard of players will find a wealth of content to chip away at.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Simply put, Furi stands out as one of the biggest surprises of the year. Few games manage to be this stylish and deep, all while crafting the perfect balance of challenge and reward.