I first learned of Furi when Playboy contributor Phil Hornshaw sent me the trailer in an email. “Looks cool,” he wrote. When the developers’ publicists reached out to let me know they’d be in LA and could stop by the office to show me the game, I checked my calendar and set a date.
That’s how The Game Bakers founders Emeric Thoa and Audrey Leprince wound up sitting in our studio watching me fight Furi’s first boss. That’s how the game starts: a dude in a bunny mask breaks you out of your cell, and you fight your jailer/torturer in a prolonged battle of feints and parries. And that’s how the rest of the game goes: it’s boss battle after boss battle, with long walks in between.
Thoa and Leprince seemed surprised that I beat the first boss as quickly as I did, but I think that had more to do with the fact they were at Playboy, as opposed to a publication focused on games, and had expected me to have no idea what I was doing. On the contrary, I’m pretty good at video games. I still found the fight challenging, though.
“The gameplay is very skill-based, Japanese-influenced, from Japanese games where you need to get good timing and reflexes,” Thoa told me in his French accent. The Game Bakers are based in Montpellier, in southern France, above a bakery. “We make games like we cook food: with a lot of love,” reads the studio’s “about us” page.
Like a simple but delicious recipe, you only have a handful of tools and abilities in Furi: a gun, a sword, a short teleport, and a parry. The game’s bosses, on the other hand, have many more attacks, and each will vary wildly from the ones before, the developers said. You need to figure out how to use your relatively limited abilities to counter and strike at each new foe, every one a challenging new puzzle.
The first boss attacks predictably, letting you easily parry, and fires waves of projectiles that you can shoot or teleport through. But I doubt later foes will be as simple.
“The variety must come from the bosses, not from you. ‘It’s easy to learn, hard to master’ is a famous quote, but we tried to make that happen,” Thoa said. “You need to feel that you struggle, but you can progress each time you try, you can get better and beat the boss…it’s something we’ve spent a lot of hours tweaking.”
Both Thoa and Leprince worked previously at Ubisoft, the developer/publisher behind series including Assassin’s Creed, The Division, Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, Far Cry, and others. They left Ubisoft in 2010 to form an independent studio where they’d have more creative control. And all the games they cited as influential to Furi, from Metal Gear Solid to Bloodborne to No More Heroes, are Japanese in origin.
“When I was at Ubisoft, I did a study where working on Splinter Cell, we had 22 things that Sam Fisher could do, and we used 14 buttons or button combinations,” Thoa said. “New Super Mario Bros. on the [Nintendo] DS had 22 abilities in the game for Mario, and it used three buttons. And I was like, there’s something to remember here.”
“The very initial pitch [for Furi] was 'It’s an eight hour long boss fight,’” he continued. It was also important to him that the enemies you fight in Furi are roughly the same size as the player character—not the behemoths you usually face in comparable games like Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus. “When you fight a gigantic creature in God of War, Kratos is a cool guy—but when you fight the end in Metal Gear Solid or some guys in No More Heroes, they are as cool as the main character,” he said. That’s an idea they took to heart.
The characters themselves, from the white haired protagonist to his bunny-masked companion to the first boss, who wears a variety of faces inspired by the traditional drama masks representing comedy and tragedy, were designed by Afro Samurai creator Takashi Okazaki. “Because it’s a game focused on characters it was very important for us to work with a crazy good character designer, and also a Japanese one, because we wanted this Japanese feeling,” Thoa said.
In case you couldn’t tell, Thoa is apparently a bit of a Japanophile. Furi’s difficulty, too, was inspired by Japanese games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne.
“[Games like Dark Souls] did a great job in showing that difficulty can be fun,” he said. “That was something that had really disappeared I think between 2002/2003 and 2012/2013. But before it was something that was recognized by players [in] arcades, and our game…you have few abilities and the bosses are different, and they will require you to use the abilities in different ways, to adapt your play style, and to learn their patterns. So it’s more like a musical instrument.”
But the part I’m looking forward to the most? The tense moments between fights, which I didn’t see during our demo but Leprince described to me. “You’re going to walk along what we call 'the path'—the path to the next arena—and there the music is going to slow down and everything is going to slow down,” she said. “[The rabbit-masked character] is going to tell you a bit about the game…so the story is distilled like that, and each boss also is going to reveal something about why he’s here, why he’s trying to stop you—why are they all trying to stop you? And then you’re going to piece those all together and figure out why you are here in the first place.”
Those between-fight moments were inspired by Leprince’s and Thoa’s own experiences with martial arts and boxing—"this moment before the fight, when you’ve just got to get pumped up because you’re a bit scared because you’re going to be hit in the face, you know?“ She described. "So you put this music on and it helps you fight your fear"—each fight features a different song from a different artist, the first by popular electro artist Carpenter Brut—"it’s like that. This is what we tried to recreate in those moments before each fight.”
I was too drunk to remember the one time I’ve ever been hit in the face. But I do like challenging, original, inspired video games. For that reason I’m looking forward to seeing more of Furi when it releases on PS4 and PC later this summer.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Gaming Editor, in charge of all things video games. If you ever want to fight him, please let him put contacts in first. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.
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