Few games boast the audacious style of Furi. The wildly colorful visuals and retro/sci-fi soundtrack immediately establish a world like no other, grabbing you and refusing to let go. Like a digital pied piper, Furi brought a steady stream of intrigued coworkers to my desk to watch over my shoulder while I played. Once they got a sense of the gameplay, however, they didn't stick around long. While Furi has some substance behind its style, the unforgiving difficulty takes its toll.
Furi pits an unnamed, silent protagonist up against 10 bosses in a bid to escape from a surreal, sci-fi prison. In between the one-on-one battles, players watch the prisoner slowly walk through lush, dreamlike landscapes for far too long. A mysterious figure in a demented rabbit costume spouts a stream of exposition during the walkabouts while sprinkling in details about the next fight. I would have loved to explore these strange worlds, but with linear paths and no points of interaction, they function as little more than glorified cutscenes. Furi is primarily about boss fights and nothing else.
With such a singular focus, Furi lives and dies by its combat, and you can expect to do a whole lot more dying than living. Plenty of games revel in their own difficulty, but Furi pushes the "git gud" concept beyond the breaking point. Elements from the twin-stick shooter, hack-and-slash, and fighting genres are mashed into a single Frankenstein's monster. While the core mechanics are tight, the blistering speed of combat and duration of the fights are sure to test your patience as much as your skill.
Most of Furi's boss fights contain between four and six stages, serving up a gauntlet of attack patterns that must be figured out through trial and error. Whittling down a boss's health bar only to have them spring back to full health is never fun; having it happen five times in a single fight robbed me of any sense of satisfaction from the eventual, hard-fought victory. This isn't simply a matter of skill, since figuring out when bosses are invincible, when they instantly dodge or counter, and when certain attacks are useless requires rote memorization. You get three attempts to pass each stage, but many boss attacks take huge chunks off of your health bar, so you can expect numerous restarts as you try to reach the later stages.
I enjoy challenging games like Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls. Even so, I was baffled by Furi's default difficulty. The developer does a good job of layering in new mechanics and wrinkles for each fight, but when the difficulty is ratcheted up as high as it is, it just feels like you're discovering new ways to get kicked in the groin. Even more perplexing is Furi's only easier setting, which renders most of the fights ridiculously simple and brief, allowing you to breeze through the campaign – a fact the game warns you about before choosing it. Including more difficulty options would have given more players a chance to appreciate the responsive combat, but even if the challenge were to hit the sweet spot, I'd still be left wanting more.
Much of my disappointment comes from Furi's success in creating such intriguing landscapes, and subsequent failure to do anything engaging with them. While the story is mostly bluster, later encounters introduce some much-needed nuance and muddy your role in the narrative. I'm sure some masochistic players will enjoy bashing their head against Furi's towering wall of difficulty, but with little else to go on, I was questioning my reason for fighting long before the protagonist started to.
While Furi has some substance behind its style, the unforgiving difficulty takes its toll.