July 11, 2016 11:20 PM | Christian Valentin
Once you're several bosses deep into The Game Baker's Furi, you realize its name has so many meanings that weren't immediately apparent. There's the rage-quitting fury as a boss fells you again, for the third, fifth, tenth time; a fury tempered by the satisfaction of coming back with a battle-forged mastery and succeeding. There's the fury of your foes' attacks, as they flood the screen with bullets and beams and pounce with relentless blows. And there's the fierce furious nature of your own assault, as the nameless pale-haired ex-prisoner cleaves the air with his blade and dodges with incredible speed.
Whatever meaning you ascribe to the title, Furi's appeal remains unchanged: a stylish and challenging hack-slash that slices away gameplay fat and filler to focus on the thrill of the boss fight.
Furi's beating heart is its simplicity. Sure, the bosses you face are divided into myriad complex stages, and they throw psychedelic waves of bullets at you, but at its core, Furi is a simple game. No other enemies. No combos to remember. No gear to equip, no stats to improve, no levels to explore. Every encounter is you, your sword, your gun, and evasive dodge against a boss. Stripping away all the extraneous aspects reveals a lean game where combat is king, where you don't tear through enemies like a force of nature but face a single combatant in lengthy battles of attrition.
Your moveset seems paltry at a glance, anemic compared to the Devil May Cry's and Bayonettas of the genre. A string of sword strikes, a laser gun, a dodge, and charged versions of each. A timed parry that can leave an enemy open for punishing blows. But then you start to master the controls and come to realize that you don't need the complicated combos and multiple weapons. Each move here has a distinct purpose, to damage, evade, counter, to slice through bullets or return them to sender, to stun, to flank and strike. Skill comes not from learning elite moves and button combinations, but rather which attack to use when, how to maximise the effectiveness of each attack and maneuver to overcome your foes.
The stylishly simple action wouldn't be so effective if those foes weren't so diverse. While each is essentially a blend of bullet-hell mayhem and close-quarters dueling, the variety in attacks, the different forms of a single boss, and the arenas in which you face those bosses - from rain-swept platforms to technological cages - make each feel like a unique challenge to master. One turns your own attacks against you, each bullet shot from your gun crowding the screen in a bullet hell of your own making. Others face you in arenas that morph and shift, or cover the screen in concentric waves of energy and screen-shredding beams, or divide into multiple copies to overwhelm your solitary hero. Defeat all nine on the easy or normal difficulties, and a "Furier" difficulty makes those bosses even more varied, introducing new attacks that can overwhelm even the most skilled fighter.
Characters designed by famed Afro Samurai creator Takashi Okazaki means each boss is a distinctly hyper-stylized warrior clad in neon and armor and cloth, each design informed by their backstories and attacks. Those histories are told to you by your odd rabbit-helmeted companion as you walk through linear surreal paths between bosses. These walks act as respites between the many minutes and many attempts of tense relentless combat, but can become repetitive and oddly extraneous in a game so lean and shaved down to such a tight focus. Thankfully, you can press a button to auto-walk, turning those moments essentially into cutscenes to admire until the next battle.
If anything, Furi's greatest strength can also be its greatest flaw for some: that brutal challenge, those many attempts that might end in victory or defeat after defeat; those aspects might wear down the slick sheen of the game's action. But perhaps when you finally achieve that hard-fought final strike, propelled by Furi's pulsing soundtrack of Carpenter Brut, Danger, and others, all those defeats just might feel worth it.
Furi is available for $24.99 on PC and PS4. You can find the game on Steam, Humble Bundle, and the Playstation Store. For more details on the game and developer The Game Bakers, visit the game's site, as well as their Twitter and Facebook pages.