The Game Bakers
5 July 2016
The Game Bakers may not be a well-known indie team, but they have made names in the mobile space with Combo Breaker, a solid beat-em-up for its platform, and several other mobile games working in conjunction with Activision and Capcom.
Furi is the French team’s first effort on consoles (currently a PS4 console exclusive) and PC with the aim of making a solid character action game, then marrying it with bullet hell shoot-em-up (shmup) mechanics and only have the boss fights. Essentially, Furi is a boss rush game, which sounds novel at first but other indie titles like Titan Souls and Jotun also share a similar space here.
But what makes Furi stands out is the vibrant aesthetic, a good choice of electronica songs that fits the theme, and a complete dedication to making the fights tough but fair with a focus on mastering the limited tools given. Gameplay purists who love a challenge and speedrunners will find Furi a delight, but it has some rough edges that may turn off the more casual fans.
Graphics & Sound
Furi has a unique look to it, with stark colours illuminating the various environment you will trudge through. Characters’ hairs looks especially nice in this artstyle, though oddly animated, looks nice as they flow by the wind. It has to be mentioned that character designs are definitely on-point, thanks to it being done by notable manga artist Takashi Okazaki, of Afro Samurai fame.
With gorgeous visuals, the soundtrack deserves a mention as it complements really well with the look and feel of Furi. The synthesizer-heavy electronica turns out to be a perfect match. With artists such as Carpenter Brut and Danger contributing, the songs help amplify the tense moments in boss fights and helps attenuate the tempo when in down times between the boss battles. Sound design is well done too, as attack cues are properly communicated with clarity despite the heavy action the boss fights tend to ensue.
However, it is by no means a perfect execution of audio and visual. Steady framerate dips happen from time to time, not major stutters that will ruin your tempo and gameplay, mind, but a significant and stable drop- say a steady 60fps to a steady 30fps. Colours can get a bit too bright when it reaches framerate-lowering level of chaos on screen. Graphical glitches tend to happen too, as lighting shaders flicker and hair animations gets wonky. Some animations look nicely done, but some lacks polish. The walking animation for example certainly needs some more love.
The plot of Furi is simple. You are the Stranger, and this is your task, assigned from your enigmatic friend that help you escaped from prison. As you progress, you have to defeat even more bosses until you can actually gain freedom. So how would a game entirely based on boss battles work? For Furi, it’s all about mastering the many phases of the fight.
You have all the abilities at your disposal at the get go. You have a dodge, a slash attack, a pistol for long-range attacks and a parry. That’s basically it, but each have its nuances. Shots can be charged for bigger damage, so is the slash which also has a basic 4-hit combo. The parry is certainly the most important of all as if you nail the timing, which is just a tad later than the sound cue of a boss’s attack, and you get half a pip of health back. Nail a perfect parry- just when the boss’s attack should connect, and it will cause a stun, a pip of health boost and a nice cinematic follow-up attack that’s worth a lot of damage.
Typical boss fights in other games have 2 or 3 different phases, but Furi ups the ante significantly. Most of the time, the phases split into two, a longer range battle where the camera goes overhead, avoiding clearly telegraphed projectiles like a bullet hell shmup, with some melee thrown in.
After whittling down the blue bar of the boss’s health, the fight can continue in a closer range ordeal, with a focus on slash attacks. Lose all your health and you will lose a stock of life and begin that phase again with full health for both you and the boss. Beat the phase and you will regain back one lost stock, a maximum capacity of three. The stock system allows back-and forth fights to happen. Instead of just giving up after a loss, it gives some drama to it and makes the comebacks sweeter.
However, lose all the stocks and you have to start from the beginning. This can be horrifying especially after going through a lengthy trial and error to figure out, say, the second last phase of the battle, only for the efforts go in vain as you got completely obliterated in the last one, and now have to repeat it again and now stuck in the first two phases.
But the game rewards you immensely once you figured it out. Sure, it may take you almost an hour to go through that one problematic phase, depending of how adept you are with action and shmup games in general, but after having a proper plan and a perfect execution of it, it can be breezed through in the matter of minutes.
Furi intentionally doesn’t have an upgrade system. You instead upgrade yourself, mastering the battles, becoming more familiar with the tools given and be more efficient after each fight. It’s a satisfying feeling. Another satisfying feeling is how fair the battles are. Made a mistake? That’s entirely your fault. One of the fights even relies that as a gimmick. Your attacks directly affects the attack pattern of that boss, so playing it cool and patiently is the order of the day.
Besides, all the attacks are appropriately telegraphed and some attacks have multiple ways to deal with it. You can deflect a bullet with a parry, or just time a good dodge to avoid it and punish the boss quickly afterwards.
Furi punishes sloppy play. Try to rush a boss with cheap attacks? Prepare to be punished hard. Even if you did managed to go through all the punishments via parries and dodges, the damage made is insignificant and you don’t even get health back from successful parries. Furi wants you to learn the pattern and exploit it rather than go gung-ho and and brute force your way to victory. It’s a nice attention to detail. Same goes to why dodge is mapped to both the X button and L2- the L2 is handy when you’re shooting using the right stick.
In between the boss fights, you will have some downtime where you slowly traverse the landscape to the next boss, while your friend in the bunny helmet gives plot exposition in a vaguely manner.
The walks are cinematic in nature, but uses fixed camera angles that changes a lot, so expect tank controls. While the intention of it is cool, the preamble here can be just tedious and not offer enough weight to it aside from brilliant visual and audio treat. Thankfully, you can press X and have auto-walk turned on, leaving it to be mostly a cut scene. a long, trudging, cut scene.
Content & Replayability
As a boss rush game, Furi is expected to not be a long game. Depending on your skill level, you should be getting at least 4-5 hours until the end of the game, which upon completion unlocks Furier mode, a harder difficulty. Speaking of difficulties, there is an easy mode here, but it’s very demoralising – no achievements/trophies, too easy bosses. Plus the story isn’t worth the admission alone, so it’s not an ideal way to experience the game even for lower skilled players. But high level players can expect a practice mode and a speedrun mode to really push your skills. Try and beat the designers best time of about 2 hours!
Also, there’s a ranking system for each boss battle. Though it won’t show when you’re progressing in the main story, heading to practice mode will unveil your score, and a chance to improve it. Nailing the boss battle in the quickest of time and the least KO and hits is key to getting the S rank, which unlocks some concept artwork of the appropriate boss.
Furi is a solid first go by the Game Bakers into the console and PC market. They nailed the gameplay mechanics to feel fair and satisfying. Aesthetics are on point, and the fights feel exciting and rewarding to figure out.
However, technical issues make it look rougher than it should and you need to be adequately skill (a.k.a. git gud) as it is not accommodating the lesser skilled folks. If you enjoy some adrenaline action from intense boss fights and love character action and bullet hell then Furi should be right up your alley. It certainly not for more casual players who enjoys some satisfying story and some simple gameplay, so be warned.
Game review is based on the PS4 version, free for PS Plus members for the month of July
Deliberately designed to award a specific playstyle
Nailing parries, learning boss patterns and mastering the limited tools available feel rewarding
Distinct and cool boss designs, both graphics and gameplay-wise
Requires a decent skill with character action and bullet hell games to progress
Animations can look rough here and there
Walking sections can be a chore if auto-walk is not used
A short experience if you're not into perfecting each fight to S-rank, speedrunning or ramping up the difficulty