Hath no Furi.
There’s something almost paradoxical in calling something “original”... then comparing it to other things. After all, if the thing you’re praising is truly original, wouldn’t there be nothing else like it? One would think. And yet with The Game Bakers’ fantastic Furi, it’s a paradox I find myself guilty of partaking in. Because while the developers wear some clear influences on their sleeves, from the woefully underplayed El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron to the entire oeuvre of Suda51, their final product is one of this year’s most gleefully original titles, and entirely unlike anything I’ve ever played.
Taking on the role of a stylish mute prisoner, players are tasked with slashing and shooting their way to freedom. Seemingly suspended in Earth’s orbit, the player-character’s prison consists of a series of strange floating worlds, and at the end of each is a glowing doorway to a lower level. But between each doorway stands a “jailer,” a super-powered boss who has full intent to take down the prisoner with extreme prejudice. With only a talking bunny-man who may or may not be a bad guy as your guide, you have to wage a one-man battle against this motley crew of supernatural prison guards to ensure your escape.
Furi has been pitched as a whole game based around a boss rush, and that’s not a stretch. The only thing you really do outside of fighting jailers is walk, and you can even press a button to make the game do that for you. A majority of your time will be spent trying to figure out how to whittle down bosses’ health, avoid their attacks, and deal enough damage to escape with your life. There are no other enemies aside from the main roster, making it feel like a super pared-down riff on something like No More Heroes.
But where Furi diverges from other “here’s a list of people to kill” setups is its intentionally oblique and murky delivery. Even going through the title once, there are things that I didn’t totally pick up on and things that are very clearly open to interpretation. It’s still kind of a rarity in gaming to have a title that doesn’t just spell its plot out for you, and the myriad ways in which players are intentionally misled through this narrative is impressive to say the least. Players need to work a little to parse a story, and The Game Bakers have done just that with a work of narrative fiction that challenges as much as it entrances.
Luckily, that compelling yet complicated tone is carried over to the gameplay. While Furi could have very easily been a hack-and-slash title, the developers took the mechanical high road and gave players something substantial to chew on. Essentially, this game is a hybrid of different genres that shouldn’t work in tandem, and yet somehow come together perfectly. Twin-stick shooters, bullethell schmups, melee action games, and even “walking simulators” converge during the game’s runtime, resulting in something that feels rich, diverse, and substantial.
Mastery of the fundamentals of these genres (well, maybe not the walking simulator portions) is a must if you hope to see the ending credits. This is because Furi, being composed of entirely boss battles, isn’t too concerned with hand-holding players through the basics. You’re told the controls, then cut loose to fend for yourself. If that sounds a bit harsh, well, it is.
This is not an easy game, and is definitely one where you should expect to die a lot before you even start chipping away at a jailer’s health. Timing your dodges just right, learning how to “perfect parry,” figuring out the exact moment to release a timed blast—these are just a few of the keys to a successful run of Furi, and they vary from boss to boss. Luckily, players are given three chances to fight a boss before they wipe, and can regain chances by beating one phase of the fight. It’s a novel system, and one that lends itself well to tense, back-and-forth duels.
The only problem is that not all duels are created equal. While most boss fights are punishing yet balanced affairs, there are one or two that just don’t hold much weight. In particular, the basic layout of the fourth jailer's boss fight felt contrived and poorly thought-out. On top of that, despite every fight having a different gimmick and pattern, the methods with which you fight each jailer boil down to roughly the same structure. While an argument could be made for this having a sort of rhythmic effect, I’d argue that it’s a bit repetitious.
Yet, this feels like a relatively minor complaint in the face of everything Furi does right. From its inventive gameplay to its intentionally obfuscated narrative, The Game Bakers’ surprise gem is one of this year’s most radically inventive games. It is a visually astonishing title with an excellent soundtrack full of licensed techno jams, and one that has the mechanical heft to back up its beautiful aesthetics.
Despite a niggling complaint or two about the overall structure, there is very little to dislike about Furi. It is, no doubt, a truly original title. I won’t soon forget my time with its anthropomorphized desk lamps, time-bending old geezers, and deceptive bunny people. I suspect other people craving something new and unique will feel the same.