This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Furi and Song of the Deep.
July remains a rich month for indie games, ‘cos if you want to snag yourself some of that AAA dragon's hoard of plunder, probably best to do it when the dragon's all tired out from fucking me up the arse. So let's take a look at Furi; a game as unique as it is bad at spelling. I say unique; it very strongly reminds me of games like No More Heroes, Lollipop Chainsaw, God Hand and the like, but it's got no retro pixel art, no procedural generation, and large headed children don't get within seven leagues of a scary world, which, in today's indie circles, makes it jump out like a tarantula in a filing cabinet.
You play a mute albino Bob Marley lookalike, who everyone refers to as "Stranger". We never find out what his last name is, though; probably Thanfiction or Zinthenite. As the game opens, you're being held at the top of a magic space prison, and in order to escape, you must confront a series of colorful jailers and show them the true meaning of “stranger danger”. On the way, we learn bits and pieces about who we are and the nature of our impediment from enigmatic things said by our enemies and by an omnipresent pink man with the head of a cartoon rabbit, who might not be real. It reminds me of that time I took ketamine right before a job interview.
The initial thought from which Furi seems to have been developed is this: what if you took No More Heroes and cut out everything but the boss fights and crazy weirdos? Well, first of all, you’d have a fucking short game, but you'd also not have wasted hours of your life running down corridors murdering hundreds of random extras that are as much threat to you as a breadstick is to an industrial fan and shopping for t-shirts. And we'd now have all those hours spared to do something constructive, like stare at a wall or try to remember all the number one hits of the Spice Girls.
Furi would suggest that perhaps you could use the time you saved to walk very slowly through some very pretty landscapes it designed while a rabbit-headed man shows off his impression of Mark Hamill's Joker. I suppose it has to build up anticipation for the next boss fight somehow, but I wouldn't think it was possible for walking slowly along a fixed route to control like shit; it's probably because of the way the camera keeps switching from one crazy artful angle to the next, like my walk down the street to the newsagent is being directed by Alfred Hitchcock. But I guess these bits are vital for the story, in that they leave you confused rather than completely bewildered.
In the actual fights, you hack and, per chance, slash with your sword, but regardless, I'd be loathe to call the game a hack and slash when it also has many of the elements of a bullet hell shooter, such as bullets, shooting, and me yelling, “Hell! I totally fucking parried that, you asshole game!" The challenge comes from a mixture of pattern memorization, accuracy, and pure reflexes, but with varying amounts of each from boss to boss, which rather keeps things interesting. It also means that the difficulty curve is all over the fucking place, and more resembles a line graph showing my level of emotion during an average episode of Flipper. The hardest fights were the second and I think it was the seventh, but only because it had more stages than the fucking grieving process, and ended with a prolonged gauntlet of hazards that had to be dodged, and it's hard to predict if the dodge move will put you where you want or send you right into a burly sailor carrying two pints of bitter.
The last but one fight is really weirdly easy, but also not quite easy enough to be a subversive joke non-fight, like the one in No More Heroes, and, in any case, Furi is so short a game that one boss is a significant chunk, and throwing it away for a joke seems wasteful, like voting for the Libertarians. Furi's combat gets a wee bit parry-centric in the second half, and it won't last you very long if you are a hard games connoisseur, but it's original enough to make it worth giving a chance, you stingy fuck.
And that rather puts it in contrast to our second game, Song of the Deep, which probably isn't worth checking out, but if you've ever played Aquaria or Ori and the Blind Forest, then good news! You've already checked out Song of the Deep. I hope that saves you some time; that wall ain't going to stare at itself. It's “small child, scary world”, but this time with a storybook approach similar in tone to Child of Light, but with the godawful poetry replaced by a very earnest sounding narrator with an Irish accent, and during the intro sequence a little voice in my head went, “Oi, they're always after me Lucky Charms, begorrah!", and I'm ashamed to admit I made myself laugh.
It's the story of a little girl who lives a simple life with her fisherman father, but when he fails to return from the sea one day, she builds a submarine... Okay, I'm not going to let you gloss over that, Song of the Deep. How does a prepubescent girl whose education consists of reading the labels on the back of her dad's whiskey bottles construct a functioning deep submergence vehicle? It's not like a box-car derby, you silly moo!
Whatever; she goes out to sea to drag her deadbeat dad back from whatever mermaid bordello he's presently drinking dry. It's a Metroidvania game in about the most boring way possible: all parts are locked off until you find a specific upgrade in a fixed linear sequence of upgrades that opens them, so you might as well just follow the objective markers one by one.
Full disclosure, I stopped playing halfway through, ‘cos I encountered a bug in a narrow passage, which is the worst possible way to experience buggery. I had acquired the ability to leave the sub to explore narrow passages, but one time, when I did this, the sub somehow glitched inside the passage, and I couldn't get it out again, and since I'd found a collectible in the passage, the game very helpfully autosaved over the only save spot available. Which does rather raise the question of why this game has fucking save points if it’s just going to save wherever it likes! Maybe the save points are for refilling your health and energy meters, but WRONG! Your health and energy regenerate anyway; that's probably why the gameplay's about as engaging as pissing in the kitchen sink. So after it bugged out, I said to myself, "Would I rather restart the game, or spend the afternoon circumcising myself with the edge of a rusty tin?" The fact that I'm debating this at all will probably suffice as the review.
One thing I did get to see was Generic Boss Fight 36-Gamma: giant spider. Leaving aside the question of what the fuck's a giant spider doing at the bottom of the sea, the answer being not a whole lot, the boss seemed to be having tremendous difficulty posing any kind of threat. Any time I ventured close, all it could do was wrap me up in web and then let me go; web I escaped from all but instantly. It wasn't a fight so much as a mutual mild annoyance.
And I think this encapsulates my main issue which Put Me To Sleep; it feels totally condescending, between the gameplay that's unchallenging in every sense of the word and the narrator who talks like a nursery school teacher praising a child for sticking crayons up their nose and sneezing on craft paper. Perhaps that should have been my hint that I'm not the target audience for this game, but cast your eye on the developer. Yes, it's Insomniac Games! Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, Sunset Bloody Overdrive! What's a AAA developer doing making 2D small-child-scary-world games? This isn't Secret Millionaire! And that's what's really condescending; that they thought they'd come down from on high to show the indies how it's done, and made something so insultingly generic. Stick to the likes of Sunset Overdrive, lads; it’s easy to stick to, 'cos it's covered in shit.
- Deeply furious: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Alternatively maybe Stranger was the guy's last name and his first name was Fivedaysa
- The actual song of the deep is Baba O'Riley by The Who