Get so mad it drives you rad
The unfortunate truth about swords, when it comes to the nasty albeit sometimes necessary business of armed conflict, is that there are very few reasons to use one in a world where guns exist and no longer require a letter in advance to ensure they’re reloaded in due time. They’re heavy, unwieldy in cramped spaces, impossible to hide, ineffective in the hands of the physically frail, prone to getting stuck in your adversary’s squishy bits, and of course, totally useless if you are more than spitting distance away from someone. As a matter of fact, unless you’re looking for something extraordinarily tasteless to mount above your mantelpiece, there are very few reasons to own one at all. This presents a unique problem to video games that decide to incorporate both archetypes of weapon, especially those that need to present them as equally viable options. How do you create a combat space where both choices can coexist without gimping one or the other?
Furi, bless its heart, might have a few ideas up its sleeve. You are a nameless laser-toting katana-wielding mute who looks like something Hideki Kamiya would’ve doodled on the back of his maths textbook, a transgression apparently so severe that your punishment is to be imprisoned in a nightmarish abstract prison dimension for all eternity. In truth, it’s far from clear why you’ve been brought to this strange purgatory, nor why you’ve been freed by a man who has evidently just stepped off the stage of an eccentric electronic composer’s live routine, but such questions are little more than curious asides to the much more important overriding premise: here are some bosses with funky designs, go dice them into a million pieces. Yep, we’re in for a boss rush, and what a rush it is.
Given that the protagonist seems like the kind of person who would have a full-sized pinup of Raiden from Metal Gear Rising hanging up in his bedroom, you probably already have a vague idea of how Furi plays, but if Metal Gear Rising was an electric glowing carbon-fibre space-katana full of nanowhatsits, Furi is a discreet Bowie knife: simple, sleek, to the point, but no less capable of tearing your face off. The five pillars of Platinum-style character action—shoot, dodge, attack, parry, watch a canned animation full of improbable acrobatics—have been honed down to their most fundamental elements, sharpened to razor points, and carefully fitted to a twin-stick bullet-hell shooter with all the restraint of a rabid dog.
“So how does that work?” you might ask, faint creases forming upon your brow. “You can’t just smush a couple of combat formulas together like two handfuls of cold mashed potato.” Right. Furi’s marriage of mechanics isn’t quite as elegant as I’d like—then again, nothing really meets those standards with the possible exception of Devil Daggers—but it’s a much more comfortable coexistence than I ever thought possible. Right from the start you’re able to plink away at your adversary from afar or go toe-to-toe with melee attacks, and not only are both approaches balanced to make them feel equally viable, but the boss designs also deliberately push you towards using a healthy mix of the two whenever possible, though sometimes a little heavy-handedly. Every fight goes through a number of phases, some of which naturally encourage one style over another—say, by having attack patterns that make it safer to be closer or further away—while others enforce harder, more artificial constraints, like simply surrounding the boss with an impenetrable circle of Lego bricks and thumbtacks so your only option is to shoot them from afar. Quite a lot of the boss phases have a second sub-phase that traps the pair of you in a small ring and forces you to both only use melee attacks, and quite apart from it not having any real explanation—other than possibly both characters simultaneously experiencing horrific cramps in their trigger fingers—it also forces you to move with a painstakingly slow crab walk while in it, presumably because it was the only way they could make sure that the dodge button’s feelings weren’t hurt from being left out and neglected.
But yes, other than one or two things like that, the core combat is a perfect meeting of simplicity and nuance. There are no real combos—which I’m fine with, frankly, since I’m part of the 97% of the population who would rather have fun hammering on the attack button than burn away hours practising arbitrary button sequences—and, for that matter, no weapons or abilities to unlock. This is no hero’s journey, no sir; you start at full power, and your progress is not marked by your growth as a character, but by the delightful array of guardians you vanquish on the path to freedom. The learning experience feels very Platinum-esque in the sense that the tutorial will technically tell you what all the buttons do, but does it in that very particularly tight-lipped way that still leaves the subtleties of the mechanics up to you to discover. “Press B to parry,” it’ll say, and sure enough, you’ll deflect the tutorial boss’s mighty staff and save your shins from a bruising. What it won’t say is: “did you know you can parry projectiles as well? Did you know that you’ll parry certain attacks correctly you’ll get a smidgen of health back? Did you know some attacks can’t be parried at all? Did you know that if you parry juuuuust right you’ll stun them and get a pre-animated sequence that gives you a couple of free hits?” It sounds deliberately opaque, which might be true to a certain extent, but ultimately it feels like a tight, well-crafted, self-driven learning process, and that makes bits of my brain go all giddy with satisfaction.
And learn you must, at least if you fancy beating the game before your hard drive wears down its bearings and disintegrates into a fine, metallic dust. Furi is a rare game in the sense that it’s able to be legitimately really hard without puffing out its chest and falling into the masturbatory sinkhole that the Dark Souls marketing team has been stuck in since about 2012. It doesn’t strut around yelling “come have a go if you think you’re hard enough”; it’s tough but fair, never resorting to spiteful traps in an effort to make the YouTube men strain their vocal cords. Every attack is telegraphed, even if the telegraph in question is “think fast!”, and while there are one or two instant-kill moves spread throughout the game, they exist more as a potential threat to pressure you into behaving a certain way than as something that’s conceivably going to hit you. The only time you’ll even get a whiff of attitude is in the difficulty selection screen, which concedes that the default mode’s level of challenge isn’t for everybody and offers a cut-down tourist mode for those of us that just want to mash our thumbs against the gamepad and see some pretty lights.
Still, just because it doesn’t kick you in the teeth the moment you press ‘start’ doesn’t mean Furi can’t get a little abrasive here and there. When a boss can have six phases, twelve health bars, multiple mini-cutscenes, three commercial breaks and a half-time show, it's easy to see how the fight might start to drag on a little after multiple attempts, especially when you can get through five of those phases only to be batted into the wall like a fly against a screen door by their super-duper final form. The game remedies this (sort of) by refilling your health at the start of each phase and giving you a set of (for lack of a better word) knock-downs, allowing you to fail the phase a certain number of times before it actually boots you back to the beginning. In practice it works out sort of like a temporary mid-boss checkpoint, and yes, having multiple attempts eases the tedium of starting from square one a little, but I’m less enthused with the full heal, since it means each phase exists more or less in a vacuum; it doesn’t matter how the rest of the fight goes so long as you arrive with all your knock-downs intact. What’s the incentive to improve in those earlier stages? A better rank at the end? Puh-lease, don’t delude yourself; you’re getting a D on your first successful run through, guaranteed.
I suppose I probably wouldn’t be quite so up in arms about this if some of the bosses weren’t so fond of dragging things out. Alright, I get it, sometimes you want to tighten your grip on the pacing, but there’s something really distasteful about forcing me to sit around going through the same routine over and over while the boss dons their invulnerability hat. Some bosses just suddenly become improbably good at dodging your every move until you sit back and let them do their song and dance, while others just outright leg it. There’s one lady in particular who spends the first half of the fight playing like The End from Metal Gear Solid 3 with a drip-feed of pure adrenaline—running away, taking up vantage points, then blasting at you with a ludicrous laser rifle—and yes, it’s all very thematically appropriate that she’s as slippery as a soap-sud slalom, but that’s small consolation when it’s still incredibly unclear exactly what piece of fruitloop moon logic determines when you’re allowed to get a hit in.
As per usual with this sort of game, the weakest part of Furi is probably the spaces in between the boss fights, but that’s not quite the echoing condemnation it might sound like. Where Titan Souls padded itself out with a rather empty, pointless overworld, Furi sticks to a brief leisurely walk so unashamedly linear that the game will actually just do the walking for you if you press the A button. In their own way, these moments of respite are quite stylish, peppered with dramatic camera angles that show off the synthwave pocket dimension you’ve been confined to, but I do wish they weren’t so quite obviously used as funnels to stick in our mouths and shovel exposition through. Your companion—the one who freed you and has “KEEP CALM AND MANIPULATE A MUTE KILLING MACHINE INTO DOING TERRIBLE THINGS FOR YOUR OWN BENEFIT” written all over the front of his shirt—certainly delivers his lines with plenty of flair, but there must be more subtle ways of introducing the next boss than him just straight-up telling you what their deal is.
It all seems kind of pointless when Furi doesn’t need somebody talking up the next fight. Alright, maybe it doesn’t have the raw, overblown, anime-is-real spectacle of something like Metal Gear Rising—I’ll stop extolling its virtues when we get a sequel, mmkay?—but it still radiates that ever-so familiar air of unshakeable coolness, the product of one designer overdosing on sugar and spouting out their juvenile power fantasies while another designer tried to marshal their words into something that could be sensibly presented. Alright, so graphically it has a few rough edges when you get up close—the protagonist’s hair looks like a cloud of party streamers being held up with garden ties, which seems strangely appropriate given that his walking animation has all the weight of a cluster of balloons the morning after New Year’s Eve—but when the music kicks in and you’re racing around dodging a crisscross of laser beams, all the rough patches disappear in a whirlwind of noise and particle effects. I’ll fully admit I picked up Furi primarily because I wanted to fight dudes while Carpenter Brut played in the background, and not only did I get my wish, the game’s dynamic music touches made that picture more complete than I ever thought possible.
So there you have it: an entire review, and not a single opportunity to tell you that the game made me Furi-ous. Perhaps it’s for the best, because on the contrary, Furi made me very happy indeed. Instead of foisting you with a myriad of weapons, combos, and gimmicks, it instead focuses on giving you just a handful of tools, putting you on the spot, and asking you to pick the right one very, very quickly. It’s the traditional brawler challenge of split-second decision-making, stripped of all its excess and cloaked in ice-cool presentation instead. Some might turn their noses up at it because it looks simple, even undersized, but in truth it’s neither of those things; it just gets straight to the point, and cuts like a knife.