Bullet hell meets Bushido

The concept of a gauntlet against boss characters, or “boss rush,” has been around for almost as long as modern games. Franchises like Mega Man had you face all the game’s bosses again in quick succession before fighting Dr. Wily; Shadow of the Colossus was set exclusively against mammoth monstrosities; classics like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time added the mode in later re-releases; the idea has even permeated the Indie scene with games like last year’s Titan Souls. So, when I first heard about the latest boss rush Indie darling, Furi, I was curious to see if it could do anything that would differentiate itself from that crowd. And, after playing it, I can attest that it falls in line with other great boss rushes of the past—but also offers enough distinctions that allows it to stand on its own.

In Furi, you play as a man simply known as “The Stranger.” Imprisoned for crimes unrevealed, you spend your days in isolation and constant torment from a three-faced being called “The Chain.” After regaining consciousness one day, an odd man with a rabbit mask named “The Voice” loosens your restraints. Finally free, The Stranger reclaims his sword and must fight his way through each layer of the prison (each protected by a powerful jailor) if he, and in turn The Voice who follows closely behind, are to escape and reclaim their freedom.

TheVoice1160

The story isn’t the main draw for Furi. You’ll learn more about the world in-between each epic bout—and even the jailors themselves—from The Voice who seems to have a personal connection with everything around you, but these are easily the slowest moments of the game. The Voice’s dialogue is intriguing, but it comes during the only time players are given control of The Stranger outside of combat. There’s nothing to explore here—you simply walk along the world’s narrow path, from one battle to the next. You can even forgo the small amount of interaction you have during these scenes by pressing a button to make The Stranger walk on his own, saving you from having to control his progress with the analog stick. I can’t help but question why proper cinematics weren’t used to bridge the gap between fights, as it could’ve provided more artistic and focused moments for driving home the game’s few narrative points. A very weird decision for a game stylized in almost every other way. At the very least, this time gives you just enough backstory to hook you early on—revealing enough about why you were captive and The Stranger himself by the end to have made the experience worthwhile—but there are clearly more effective ways to tell a story.

Luckily, the star of the show makes up for this lackluster downtime: Furi’s aesthetic design. Furi is quite simply dripping with style. If boss names like The Chain, The Line, or The Beat weren’t enough, its neon-infused visuals and an original electronica soundtrack—provided by artists like Carpenter Brut and Waveshaper among others—should get the point across.

TheChain1160

And that’s just the opening. When the action truly starts, boss fights up the ante, constantly trying to find new ways for color to explode off the screen as every confrontation blends the high-pressure feel of a one-on-one showdown with the fast and frantic movements of an arcade shooter. Each successive boss not only brings new patterns for you to learn and attempt to overcome, but a new theme to the fight as well. The Stranger will go from fighting a battle akin to ancient samurai clashing swords on the beach, to taking on a medieval knight in a lush forest—all sharing in the purpose of trying to lock you away again.

As slick as Furi looks, all the amazing character and world designs would be for naught if the gameplay wasn’t there to back them up. Although not as powerful as the visual motif, Furi impressively blends hack ‘n’ slash melee with the projectiles and speed of a bullet hell shooter—but unfortunately fails to provide as much depth as one would hope.

BulletHell1160

Each boss has its own unique tricks in how they try to put The Stranger back in his cage, but gameplay all boils down to two phases. The first phase of each boss’ lifebar revolves around them flying around the screen, firing all manner of energy projectiles and waves at The Stranger, creating scenes reminiscent of busier shoot ’em ups. You can deflect some of these projectiles, but since your own lifebar is limited, dodging through or around them is a far more effective course. You counter with your own laser pistol, often having to chip away from far off distances as you flit around the screen like a dragonfly on a placid pond.

Once the boss has taken enough damage, the camera will shift from overhead to a more intimate third-person side view, with both The Stranger and the respective boss constrained to a small circle they must battle in. Here, besides continuing to dodge, parrying and attacking with your sword are your two primary moves, with a heavy emphasis on the former. Parrying is critical to not only opening up the bosses for short flurries of offense, but also is often one of the few ways to regain health regularly in these fights. A rare (at least for me) perfectly-timed parry not only gives health, but rewards you with a special animation and guaranteed hit from The Stranger.

FuriScale1160

I found combat overall to be very simple, considering the complex moves I was asked to constantly deflect or find ways to work around. There were some other options—like charged blaster shots, charged melee swipes, and charged dashes—but the time it took to actually charge them up often left The Stranger far too open, and provided too small a reward for using them. I ended up abandoning those techniques after the second boss, leaving me often wishing I could do more with the tools the game gave me.

This isn’t to say Furi wasn’t still fun, though. Learning the punishing patterns of each boss on the path to my eventual freedom became an obsession that I couldn’t walk away from. Each fight made The Stranger feel more like a legendary Ronin, sword in hand and looking to reclaim lost honor on the field of battle. With each defeat, I was only galvanized to push my thumbs faster on the next attempt. No fight ever felt the same, and what amazed me even more was the intensity each battle provided, as I whittled away each subsequent lifebar of the bosses. Some fights would feel like they lasted hours, and I’d be shocked when I would look at the clock and realize only a few minutes had passed.

SamuraiDuel1160

Furi will initially grab you with its visual style and original soundtrack, but it’s solid gameplay and decent narrative will be what keeps you coming back from every death in each punishing boss battle. It may need a little more depth in these areas, but if you’re a fan of action games, then Furi serves as a great summertime fix.

Developer: The Game Bakers • Publisher: The Game Bakers • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 07.05.16
8.0
Furi excels in some areas, serving as an audio/visual treat as you work your way through the game’s world. Its narrative and gameplay could use more depth, but both provide more than enough value to make this a worthwhile experience if you love action or boss rush games.
The Good Intense boss rush gameplay that pushes your reflexes and pattern recognition to its limits.
The Bad The long, boring path between boss fights.
The Ugly The agony from the narrow defeats is greater than the joy felt from the narrow victories.
Furi is available on PS4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by The Game Bakers for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
Advertisements