‘Full Metal Furies’ difficult but engaging co-op side-scrolling RPG
It seems 2-D pixel art games are all the rage these days, but few of them manage to merge that particular art style with modern game mechanics into something more than just a rehash of video games of old. While “Full Metal Furies” doesn’t hit every mark, it succeeds where it counts most: creating a frenzied brawler made all the most entertaining by playing with friends.
The side-scrolling adventure, developed by Cellar Door Games, is an exercise in rounding out your team. Each player can control one of four players (the game supports online play, as well) — fighter, engineer, sniper and tank — who each has her own strengths and weaknesses, not unlike “Castle Crashers.” Each character serves a surprisingly distinct purpose on the field that allows for a variety of game play.
I, for one, like brawling and sniping, while my friend preferred a more tactical character. So I choose Alex the fighter and he picked Erin the engineer; originally, I had wanted to be Meg the sniper, but it would have doubled up on specialized, more long-range characters and would have put us at a disadvantage. (Oddly enough, neither of us wanted to be Triss the tank, which is kind of indicative of tank characters in general: They serve a vital role in team-based combat, but using shields and playing mostly defense just isn’t as fun as swinging a giant, flaming hammer at your foes.)
With the exception of the sniper, which requires far more screen awareness and general game play skill to play, the characters require the same basic level of mechanical skill to utilize. Each of the snarky leads also gains access to a skill tree you can level as you see fit. Want more health rather than tech points? Go for it. Are you good at parrying? You can invest in that before anything else. (Of note: Certain skills are locked behind other ones, meaning you’ll have to unlock skills lower on the tree first before you can get to some of the more interesting skills.)
Though the game is clearly meant to be played with others, you can play solo. Because the combat is based around enemies using colored shields that can only be pierced by the character of the corresponding color — the fighter can damage red shields, for instance, but is useless against all other colors — you have to choose two characters if you’re playing by yourself. You’ll be able to swap between the two to deal with shields and enemies and to revive yourself if one character falls.
However, the game during solo play, while fine technically, fails to capture the essence of the game: co-op nonsense. The game is geared toward getting all four characters on the screen raining down their fury, and it’s far more interesting to have multiple unique characters leaping around. If you have friends to play the game with, this isn’t an issue, but because the game doesn’t allow for random matchmaking, it’s much more difficult to get that fulfilling cooperative gaming up and running. In effect, the game is satisfying enough if you’re going alone, but it doesn’t hold a candle to playing with friends.
Developer Cellar makes a solid point for why that option isn’t available, though: The game is surprisingly story driven, and it thought it would be a disservice to players to have them simply jump into part of a story they may not have reached on their own yet. Still, I’d prefer having the option to join random games online even if it does take away from the narrative aspect.
Speaking of narrative, there’s quite a bit of it in “FMF.” Most of it is cheesy and more than a little meta, but it’s charming to hear the snappy banter between the heroines and the numerous villains who will try to stop you along the way. You see, the Titans are just being jerks, destroying the world and whatnot, and the Furies are sick and tired of it. So of course they’re going to step in and save the day. What else would a group called the Furies do?
The game is surprisingly packed full of missions and quests and collectibles, and even when you slay the “final” boss, you’re hardly anywhere close to being done with the game. Some of the game’s most challenging aspects don’t come until late, and they will put you through the ringer. The many, many puzzles you’ll encounter along the way are no cakewalk, either. To be honest, very little of “Full Metal Furies” is simple or easy, much to the game’s benefit. (I will say this, though: You will encounter multiple sharp level curves, requiring you to either complete extra non-critical missions or to redo previous missions and grind out the necessary experience you need. Some may like that, but I’ve never been a big fan of game’s requiring large amounts of grinding just to complete main objectives.)
In the end, “Full Metal Furies” is lovely pixel brawler that feels good to play but has its fair share of flaws. It’s hard to get co-op going without friends, but it’s a blast once you do. The art and animation are pitch-perfect, but the audio glitched more than once during my playthrough. (When it played properly, however, it was some pretty solid 16-bit sound.) It’s outrageously difficult at times, particularly the late game and puzzles in general, but that just means the rewards and sense of satisfaction are all the greater when you do manage to progress. Everything in this retro brawler just has this freewheeling, comic feeling to it, from the between-battle chats to the cutscenes, and then there’s the dialogue that happens in the heat of the many forms of action you’ll contend with, including multistage boss battles and bullet-hell arenas. You’re in for quite the challenge, but if you can convince a friend (or three) to help you out, you’re going to enjoy yourself here.
Three “Why is it so hard to coordinate?” stars out of five.