Simple is better. It’s a phrase I’ve often heard thrown around and it’s generally true. Avoiding the pitfalls of complication and the attempts to innovate can lead to a smoother experience. While sometimes this is a good motto to follow, occasionally people can take it a little too far. Not far enough where the experience is completely diluted, but enough where the simplicity can get a bit on the old side by the end. This is where I found Furwind on Xbox One to fall. By no means is it a bad game from any standpoint, but it is simple, almost to a fault.
The story is rather bare bones. An ancient god has been released from his prison by a shamanic cult and it is up to you to put him back. This journey will take you through three hub worlds each filled with six “story” levels and a couple of side missions. In order to complete the hub world and progress you have to complete a specific number of these side missions. You get these by finding scrolls hidden in the story levels, making exploring an integral part of your experience.
There are a couple of different themes to these story levels. In each of the hubs you visit, you will find the same overall level designs, each having their own gimmicks. There are four main different types of stage: exploration, dark exploration, lava towers, and levels where a wall of death is chasing you. Each of these have their own little gimmicks; some being more entertaining than others. The dark exploration levels are rather similar to their exploration counterparts – you set off to find two bosses on opposite sides of the map to collect the gate keys so you can leave the level.
The dark levels add a mechanic where you have to collect fireflies to keep the darkness from consuming and killing you. These fireflies leave after a certain amount of time, making the platforming more tense because a couple of missed jumps can cost you seconds and lead to your death. These are the most well rounded parts of Furwind, offering a nice balance between combat, platforming and exploration, all without ever feeling too punishing or overwhelming.
Unfortunately this is the opposite from the rest of the story levels.
Lava levels start out fun. The idea is a simple progression up a tower involving quick platforming and bosses that are essentially a mini “Simon Says” game. But as the levels get more complicated, that sense of fun goes away and is replaced with frustration. In these levels there is little to do besides go up, and there is certainly no sense of exploration to find any of the bonus missions. Despite the fact that the exploration opportunities aren’t huge, there is always the sense that if you are getting frustrated with a specific jump or combat portion, you could always go out and look for other things to find until you could recenter. That isn’t the case with these levels though, so you are forced to throw yourself at precise timed platforming sections that are filled with enemies and random movement patterns. A simple misstep or unplanned turn of an enemy can force you to start that segment over again. Or even worse, be left needing to complete up to half of the level again.
This is similar in feel to the moment where you have to outrun the black clouds chasing you. This feels very much like trial and error and the potential for losing a lot of progress is high. They aren’t all bad though and it has to be said that there are some smart design choices made throughout, but the checkpoint system, and sometimes unforgiving difficulty, can make their repeated use grating.
This is one of the ways in which I mean Furwind is simple. For the most part, these levels are well designed, providing some tough platforming, a sense of urgency and colorful environments to explore. But your experiences become so similar between levels that it’s hard to notice all that much actual progression. Upon your third visit to a lava filled tower, the experience starts to become a bit stale, and the bosses lose their intimidation since you end up facing them so frequently. The side missions don’t fare too much better either, mainly since there are only two varieties and in some hubs you are required to complete four or more.
The two options in place are decent enough: escaping the level and killing all the enemies. The moments in which you are left to kill all the enemies are probably the least enjoyable out of the two, but that’s mostly because of the way the combat system works. See, in Furwind, you have a main tail spin that will do damage to all enemies, and you can also action a ground pound. These both draw from the same energy bar that slowly refills, however once depleted you will be defenceless for a little bit. You can purchase upgrades for the energy bar in the local market, but even then, the bar quickly depletes, especially in the later levels where enemies need multiple hits to die.
You also get what look like little exploding purple acorns that do some AOE damage, an air dash attack that can cover larger distances while damaging any enemies you pass through, and a will ‘o the wisp that can damage enemies from a distance. Mixing all of these together along with level gimmicks, like having a limited time before your fireflies leave you allowing for the darkness to consume, can lead to some interesting levels, but often they are easier to chase and don’t pose too much of an issue.
Those times when you need to focus on escaping a level are some of the more challenging elements of Furwind. Often very platform focused, the developers have been able to put some testing obstacles in front of you. While some can be finished in a couple of tries, others require precise platforming that once completed leave you feeling extremely satisfied.
It’s a shame that as Furwind on Xbox One reaches the latter stages, the experience becomes a bit tired. Because on the whole, it all works. The mechanics are there, the platforming is extremely solid, you have a good amount of tools to work with, and the level design is done well for the most part – with the exception of a few small decisions. In fact, the game is wrapped up nicely with a beautiful art style with some flourishes that are fun to watch. Furwind is a simple game, but by no by no means does that mean it’s a bad one. For the price, it’s a game for platforming fans to check out. But be wary that by the end, you will have experienced most of what Furwind has to offer… three times over.