by Joe Matar0
Furfur and Nublo Review
The “buddy platformer,” as it’s sometimes referred to, has been around for a while now. The basic idea is to control multiple characters that must work together to navigate and puzzle their way to level exits. An older game utilizing this concept was The Lost Vikings, which had three characters, each with their own abilities, though only one could be controlled at a time, necessitating gameplay generally more puzzle than action-oriented. Games like Cookie & Cream were designed around multiplayer and had two characters that could be controlled by two players simultaneously, allowing for faster-paced, cooperative platforming. The Trine series allows for both styles of play. Now we can add Furfur and Nublo, in which one player pilots two characters, one at a time, to the exits of 46 different, tiny levels, resulting in a game that in no way builds upon its predecessors and serves up nothing more than a frustrating, thoroughly tedious experience.
Since it won’t take long, we might as well get the good stuff out of the way. World of Goo apparently started a small ball rolling because, along with Goo and Contre Jour, Furfur and Nublo is the third game I’ve played that goes for the minimalist black-and-white look and then also scatters eyeballs all over its environments. So, while it looks good and is well-animated, there’s really nothing new here. The backgrounds at least cycle through the color spectrum from level to level and feature strange spirals and spooky shadow hand puppets.
The sound design is also creepy so I do have to give it to Furfur for at least maintaining a coherent tone. Unlike Contre Jour which jarringly plopped sad “artsy” music over its alien environments, Furfur’s soundtrack is off-kilter with a sense of dread to it. The only major sound effects are the voices of the two protagonists, Fufur (a fuzzy little ball guy) and Nublo (a floating, one-eyed blob), making weird little grunts and crying out their own names, which echo eerily. Still, though this all meshes well, it doesn’t go very far toward making up for there being only three music tracks, one of which plays on the title screen. This means hearing the same two tunes alternating again and again in-game, so you might elect to turn the music off.
Easily the worst sin here is the gameplay. The game presents itself as a buddy platformer but Furfur is the only real character here. With only the ability to jump at his disposal, he must find ways over and around terrain and environmental elements. These include trampolines that propel Furfur upward, flying dead fish that whack him downward, bubbles that pop shortly after being landed on, and extending barriers that crush. Nublo, on the other hand, can float around without a care as literally nothing affects him. Forget trampolines and fish, he drifts over everything not even having to acknowledge the existence of walls. This makes him feel less like a character and more like you’ve been given access to the game’s debug mode.
An overlay button in the bottom-right corner switches which character you’re controlling. Nublo can be positioned anywhere, then, after switching to Furfur, Nublo flattens into a platform for Furfur to jump on. Helping Furfur get to places too high or far for him to reach on his own is Nublo’s only function. Obnoxiously, once Furfur reaches a level’s exit, you’re still forced to drag Nublo there too before the level will end, even though obviously nothing’s going to get in his way. This is just a tedious design decision, but then tedium permeates the game’s design throughout. Trampolines are (in an odd twist) rarely used to reach higher places but instead placed in spots so that they bounce Furfur back to where he’s already been. Neither character can die or be hurt, so extending barriers also just fling Furfur backward and/or force him to wait until they retract. Levels often contain short, zigzagging paths that require Furfur to ramble left and right a few times just to pad things out. These aren’t remotely fun to navigate. They’re just there.
Controlling the game feels kind of awful. There are two control types but maneuvering feels floaty and imprecise regardless of which you choose. Furfur frequently performs extra little bounces that screw up your timing when attempting jumps and he sporadically sticks to sections of walls. With its compact levels and the slow-paced gameplay conceit of repeatedly switching between characters and methodically placing one of them, one would expect the game’s challenges to be more taxing on the brain, but I would hesitate to say that Furfur has any puzzles. You always know how to get to the exit. It’s just a matter of wrestling with the controls and environment to do so. I also realized that if it weren’t for the arduous controls and physics, the game’s “action” would also be really tame, leading me to believe that Furfur was programmed with the idea of deriving its challenge from its unwieldiness. And that pisses me off.
Furfur and Nublo is creepy looking and sounding but the positives end there. It’s frustrating, uninventive, and seems to actually be designed around tedium and crappy controls. There are 46 levels and, depending on how fast you finish each one, you’re awarded one to three spiral thingies. I’m not sure what you get for completing the game with all the spiral thingies, aside from a profound sense that you’re wasting your life.
Summary: I suggest the developer revisit the concept of what makes a challenge in gaming fun because this sure as hell ain’t it.