Furi’s excellent soundtrack may feature a collection of synthwave luminaries like Carpenter Brut and The Toxic Avenger, but in terms of game design, developer The Game Bakers seem to be taking their cues from the evolving iterations of musical minimalism. Each of its brutal boss fights (the game’s primary form of meaningful interaction) opens by establishing a couple of simple attack patterns from your adversary—for example, using drones or reflecting your projectiles back at you—which expand and develop into increasingly complex sequences with each successive round. Surviving the final stage of the game’s duels looks humanly impossible, but at least you’ve been covertly training for it during all the previous phases. That is to say, victory is not likely but merely conceivable.
A structure based on a series of protracted boss fights with bits of sightseeing in between is not the only aspect Furi borrowed from Shadow Of The Colossus. Its elliptical narrative also strikes a familiar chord, especially as the story of our protagonist’s escape from an otherworldly prison where he’s incarcerated for crimes unknown comes with a heavy dose of moral ambiguity. Your enemies seem more like tormented partners in captivity than heinous villains, and most of your hard-earned victories come with a pang of guilt. The main character’s design (by Afro Samurai creator Takashi Okazaki) injects more self-doubt into the proceedings: A whirlwind of color and fabric when he fights, his expressionless half-hidden face and cold blue eyes cut a dehumanized figure even at peace. Yet we press on toward freedom, ever prompted by the cryptic musings of our rabbit-faced companion, a creature that’s half Lewis Carroll, half Donnie Darko.
A series of nine lengthy duels is what separates players from that goal. These play out over a number of rounds of increasing difficulty, each of which is divided into two distinct phases, usually a long-range bullet-hell shoot-out followed by a tense close-combat session. Breaking down each fight to short, differentiated chunks was a shrewd decision by The Game Bakers, as it’s the only way to stave off the frustrating monotony resulting from recurring failure. Successful fights may last only a few minutes after players have become accustomed to an opponent’s tactics and are able to react to the audiovisual cues announcing each attack, but it may take hours of getting repeatedly crushed in order to reach that point.
Thankfully, the combat system that provides the foundation for the whole ordeal is wonderfully precise and responsive, making each connecting strike and timely block a pleasure in itself, regardless of the fight’s outcome. There is an intriguing symmetry between your offensive and defensive options: The long-range missile attack is a relatively safe choice, just like the dash that’s used to dodge out of harm’s way, but it deals minimal damage. Melee attacks are riskier but reward you with heavier damage, just like a successful parry restores a fraction of your health. Thus a constant shift between close and ranged combat is encouraged, which keeps duels from feeling stale even after multiple attempts. Enemy variety is also particularly welcome, as Furi throws new mechanics at you with every quirky character that rises to stand in your way. Boss #3 is perhaps the most memorable of a largely ingenious bunch: an elderly gentleman with time-manipulating powers and a fondness for bulky headphones who’s protected by a series of concentric circular barriers that have to be destroyed before he can be dealt with.
The problems start when, near the end of the journey, Furi seems to have exhausted all of its best ideas. The seventh duel has you aimlessly running around a fairly large playing area while waiting to be shot at by its near-invisible boss, at which point you may be able to deduce her position and close in. Worse, if you do manage to locate her and try to approach directly, she will vanish to another position, starting the uncharacteristically toothless process over. On a more general level, while the long walks between duel locales may be forgiven as opportunities for respite, along with some vague exposition and a chance to gawk at the eerie beauty of the prison world, there is no excuse for the cutscenes following each defeat, however brief. A short piece of dialogue to provide a bit of characterization for your enemies might have been harmless elsewhere, but in a game where attack plans are made, revised, and executed in lightning-fast succession and outcomes are decided within a fraction of a second, the interruption runs counter to Furi’s own basic premise.
It’s not those finer points that will decide individual responses to The Game Bakers’ infuriating and brilliant—if flawed—work but that basic premise itself. Furi is not a game for those whose patience is strained after four or five successive failures. The demands it makes on your time and energy are voracious for a game that can, theoretically, be completed in little more than an hour. Yet there is a type of player, one that draws pleasure from honing their skill to perfection and for whom mastery of a game’s systems is a reward in itself, that will see Furi as a gift, even as it mercilessly tries to break their will over and over again.