Boss battles are an iconic staple of game design. They test the player and their knowledge of the game, and from a narrative perspective they also test the protagonist/s. Despite their prominence, games comprised solely of boss battles are surprisingly rare, with titles like Shadow of the Colossus and Titan Souls being standouts. Furi is the latest addition to this roster, and it focuses nearly all of its attention on single combat.
Designed by Takashi Okazaki, creator of Afro Samurai, Furi takes the action genre and distills it to a series of one-on-one boss battles. You play as a warrior called “Stranger”, who escapes from his prison cell and must fight his way out of the facility holding him. To do so, he must cut his way through a series of powerful foes called the Guardians.
It’s divided into three phases: twin-stick, bullet hell-style shooting, third-person melee combat, and walking. Most boss battles begin by taking shots, dodging attacks and whittling down their health gauge until it triggers the next phase. Melee combat shows the greatest polish and is effective in its simplicity. Players use three buttons to attack, dodge and counter. That’s it, no fancy combos to remember, no choosing load-outs and fussing over stats – just brutal, simple combat at which you have to git gud.
Boss battles play out in a tug-of-war fashion. You and the Guardians have multiple health bars. Each time you deplete one of theirs you regain one of your own, and the battle progresses to the next phase. When the player loses a bar of health, the boss regains one and slings a few taunts your way.
Another key aspect of the game is the soundtrack, featuring artists like Carpenter Brut and The Toxic Avenger. Each battle plays out like a music video, and tracks change and play new loops as fights progress. Visually, the game is striking and stylised, featuring a neon-heavy aesthetic. Characters are well-designed and unique, and the colour palette lets each attack and shot contrast and “pop”. Long story short, it looks and sounds terrific.
If Furi had to be described in one word, it would be “inconsistent”. Not every boss is as memorable, not every combat technique is as applicable, and not every battle plays by the same rules. The best fights in the game are the ones that layer themselves, where a boss uses increasingly powerful versions of their attacks and move-sets. Unfortunately, most of the battles end in a phase completely unlike anything the boss threw at you before, and you’re dead and restarting before you’ve had a chance to learn it. This leads to an odd difficulty curve. Furi is massively challenging even without this mechanic, but because of the inconsistency between fights, the tactics and strategies you’ve built up can seldom be applied in future fights. This makes it feel as if you’re not getting better at the game, but rather getting better at the individual battles.
This does lead to some excitement as you figure out a Guardian for the first time, but it also leads to repeatedly bashing your head against a wall as you invent new tactics. Furthermore, the pace grinds to a halt between fights as you slowly walk to the next arena. This allows some backstory to develop and for the next track to ramp up, but the static camera will have you blundering in the wrong direction and fighting the joystick more than once. The developers clearly knew this was a problem and implemented an auto-walk button instead of fixing it.
All that said, Furi is the kind of experience that will stick with you. The music will replay in your head, the unique character designs and visuals are memorable, and you’ll probably find yourself revisiting the title.