A little after starting Furi I found myself staring at the loading screen symbol. It was the silhouette of my rabbit-masked (tor)mentor. Its warped and nightmarishly misshapen ears gave me two distinct impressions. It was either the rabbit I would chase down the hole (and out of the cyber prison I was confined to) into a dream-world of possibilities, or it was like the twisted Frank from Donnie Darko, leading me to my inevitable demise. Now, after completing the game, I still can’t decide between the two – not that it detracts from how fantastic Furi is.
Furi is a cross between a FromSoftware game and Shadow of the Colossus, but this comparison does it a disservice, because while it may give people a speedy and useful reference point, the resulting game is utterly its own.
Furi lures you in with a unique mix of frantic swordplay – all parries and dashes, twin-stick shooting – think Geometry Wars with a focal adversary, and peaceful walking – the calm sections before each lengthy storm, vital for meditation between fights. The neon aesthetic is gorgeous to look at, and the synthwave soundtrack has you mesmerised into a hypnotic rhythm – vital for surviving the game’s frenetic boss battles. Takashi Okazaki, the creator and writer of Afro Samurai, is responsible for much of the game’s unique look – having designed all of the guardians you fight against. It really is like nothing else, and the moments between fights are a treat, allowing you to take in the world and piece together the game’s subtle plot.
“Don’t overthink it; that’s what they want you to do,” says the bunny, and he has a point: whilst Furi does a good job of setting the tone, there isn’t an epic yarn for you take in, only some hints at an interesting backstory and a curious ending. “It’s what a man does that counts,” he jabs, and this carries the most weight, as most of your time with Furi will be spent enjoying its frenetic mechanics; I started it again straight away after finishing because I wanted to see how fast I could get through it a second time.
By game’s end you’ll have full control over your own faculty – able to nimbly dodge laser beams, parry effortlessly, and deftly punish opponents. This is the very essence of replayability: it isn’t about adding new content to keep people busy; it’s about making the core mechanics fun and rewarding enough to make people want to keep playing. Furi sets you off with all the tools you need to succeed; the only variable is you. You will get better, and that process is worth the price of admission (especially if you have PlayStation Plus, where it’s currently available at no extra charge!). The pleasure at the heart of Furi is this: your time investment rises in sync with the game’s excellently scaled difficulty, and by the end you will be hungry for more – that’s true replay value.
It’s because of this, too, that getting killed was never a big problem for me. Sure, after twenty minutes and a hard-fought war, getting offed by a stray laser or a clumsy dash off the precipice does sting, but that restart button is a temptress. A game is doing something right when failure is fun; Furi has this in heaps. I was excited to get back on the horse with what I’d learned about my opponent, to see how quickly I could get back to the point at which I died, and how many hits I could avoid along the way. At one point I became obsessed with making my win look as stylishly as possible – I lost an afternoon. Once the campaign is over, you will have the option to play through on heightened difficulty (it’s manic), go for a speed run to see how efficiently you can perfect your technique, or just play through again at your own pace to check out the alternate endings – of which there are three.
There are several very important little gaps in Furi’s armour: once I remember a single and brutal frame rate skip that directly caused me to die; another time a wall was raised beneath my feet which stuck me in place indefinitely, causing me to restart. These things are tiny little bugs, but within the context of the game, they can mean the difference between life and death, and in a game where a single fight can take twenty minutes or so, losing large chunks of progress by no fault of your own becomes very potent indeed. There are also small niggles that don’t have an effect on gameplay, but that make the overall experience less than slick. Your character’s hair is very poorly animated, and there is a lack of polish in the cut-scenes that could have been given more time and attention. These are blemishes on an excellent canvas, and whilst they are ultimately only superficial, they stand out all the more for being surrounded by impeccable design.
The ability to instantly restart and the lack of any loading whilst doing so is not only of gargantuan merit; it’s vital, and it’s something that FromSoftware could take heed of. I know, I know – blasphemy, right? The game that takes so much from the Souls catalogue could also teach FromSoftware a thing or two. (I can hear a million-strong collective of Dark Souls fans quivering in anger, hovering above their keyboards ready to blast me.) If death is such a vital part of the experience, of learning your opponent’s attack patterns, and of growing your skill, then why punish players with back-tracking and lengthy load times? Trial and death gameplay needs to have no loading; if death becomes vital to progress, then it can no longer be punishment – at least not punitive punishment.
If you’re a fan of bullet-hell, synthwave, neon, the eighties, samurai swords, or creepy bunny masks, then you owe it to yourself to play Furi. If you’re a fan of none of the above, but you like masterful game design then you should play Furi. It respects you; it doesn’t pander to you, it’s subtle, and at the best of times it will make you feel like a skilled and masterful warrior, because by the end of it, you will be.