Somewhere around the middle of its second world, the brawler veneer to Full Metal Furies begins to peel away. Underneath, you find something rather surprising. The familiar action loop that interrupts the ubiquitous screen-scrolling is not just a chance to mash buttons and eliminate foes, but a new configuration of recognizable patterns and enemy behaviors that feels designed to test your ability to quickly solve an ever-shifting jigsaw puzzle. It is beautiful, it is unique, and it is mad. It is also a glimpse into what these types of games could be.
At its outset, Cellar Door Games’ Full Metal Furies feels like the kind of side-scrolling beat ‘em up that we’ve seen make a resurgence since Castle Crashers struck it big on the Xbox Live Arcade back in 2008. There are four characters from which to choose (Triss the Sentinel, Alex the Fighter, Erin the Engineer, and Meg the Sniper) and each of the four Furies has her own unique set of attacks (e.g., Alex is melee-focused while Meg shoots a sniper rifle). If you’re playing the game alone, then you’ll select two of the Furies and can freely switch between them, and if you’re playing with friends then each player chooses the Fury they like best (no repeating characters, unfortunately). Once you get into the first level, things appear pretty standard. You’ll move across a screen until you reach its edge and transition to the next one, and enemies appear in little groups that are easily dispatched by mashing the attack button. Then, a new concept is introduced.
Every Fury has her own dodge mechanic to help her evade or escape enemy attacks, but it’s not something you can spam endlessly like your primary attack. There’s a cooldown attached to it, which means you have to think carefully about when you use it and how. Every Fury also has a special move (Triss, for instance, has a shout that hits all enemies within a radius around her) that similarly has a cooldown attached to it, and can also be used in clutch moments to get you out of a jam.
Immediately after that idea begins to take root, Cellar Door tosses another new mechanic into the mix: Fury-specific shields. Each Fury has a color associated with her (Triss is blue, Erin is green, Meg is yellow, and Alex is red) and enemies can spawn with shields around them of the same color. In order to break the shield and leave the enemy vulnerable to all Furies, you have to attack the enemy using the appropriate character - red to red, blue to blue, etc. Fortunately, enemies will only have shields that can be broken by the Furies you have in your group, i.e., if you’re playing with Erin and Meg, green and yellow, respectively, an enemy won’t have a red (Alex) shield as you’d have no way of breaking it.
From a gameplay perspective, this has some interesting results. In single-player, this mechanic forces you to switch back and forth between the two Furies you’ve selected, while in co-op it forces players to focus their efforts on specific enemies so their friends can damage those foes as well. These are the overt responses to the shield mechanic. Subtly, though, it’s forcing the player to make choices about which enemies are priority targets and which can be ignored (for now). None of these mechanics are exactly new to the brawler space, though they are more frequently encountered in shoot ‘em ups, and if that was all Full Metal Furies decided to do, then it probably would remain firmly within the realm of side-scrolling brawlers. But then, Cellar Door Games decides to take a sharp left turn.
When enemies are knocked into the air, they can be hit again to inflict extra damage and keep them airborne a little longer (and, thus, not attacking you). What’s more, enemies will bounce off the borders/sides of the screen, meaning they’ll never be out of reach. The catch is that every Fury combos and juggles in a different way. Triss, the Tank, can knock enemies into the air with her basic attack, but she can only juggle them by using her dodge or her special attack. Both of those have cooldowns attached to them so you can’t just keep using them over and over again. If you’re playing the game in single-player, then you could switch to your secondary Fury and use one of her attacks/abilities to “Air Crit” the foes. In co-op, you can call out to your buddies in a fashion that’s reminiscent of Babe Ruth calling his home runs. You knock ‘em up, and your buddies knock ‘em down.
The one final layer to all of this is that the Furies can be individually upgraded to increase stats like health and damage, as well as adding beneficial effects to their abilities (such as getting a speed increase after using your dodge ability). These upgrades are purchased using the gold that you’ll acquire as you play, with each subsequent one costing more than the previous one. Gold is also used to unlock new gear, which is discovered via blueprints scattered throughout the world. Different gear will alter the Furies’ attacks and abilities in different ways, like adding a burning effect to attacks that cause foes to take a little damage over time. When playing with friends, while one player is the host for the co-op session, all progress is saved individually to each player. Thus, whatever upgrades you purchase, or blueprints you acquire/unlock, in your play session with a friend will be there waiting for you when you return to your game. All of these concepts and mechanics are introduced within the first couple levels of the game, but it isn’t until a few stages later that the artistry and absurdity becomes apparent.
As you press onwards to new areas, new enemies are introduced by specific “boss-like” encounters. The foes are given a little dialogue before you face them and a health meter appears at the top of the screen. Then a horde of the new enemies leap onto the screen and begin their assault. As you chip away at each of them, the health meter at the top starts to tick down. Defeating one brings in enemies that are now familiar so you’re left with a mix of both old and new. You now have a choice to make: do you deal with the foes you know, or the ones you don’t? Is there something about a certain enemy’s attack pattern that makes it particularly frustrating and more of a priority over others? Which of the Furies are you playing and how do you have her equipped? Do her abilities make her better suited to dealing with individual enemies, or groups of foes?
Initially, these decisions are quick and easy to make, but as more enemies are introduced with different methods of attack (melee vs ranged), and you’ve upgraded/modified your Furies, these decisions become more complicated. Not difficult, just complicated. It’s fair to say that around this point, you’re either in for everything Full Metal Furies has to offer, or you’re out and want to go back to the more familiar waters of brawlers like Streets of Rage. For me, this moment came around the fifth level of the second world. It was at this same point in the game that I decided to take a little diversion into some of the stone tablets I’d discovered scattered about here and there, and in doing so, I felt that I discovered Full Metal Furies’s true nature.
There are all manner of secrets to discover within the world of Full Metal Furies, which range from discovering new blueprints to gear up your Furies to easter eggs to mysterious stone tablets. These tablets provide you with a hint to find the second half of the tablet, though it’s up to you to decipher its meaning. The solutions range from the fairly straightforward, like looking for a particular oddity on a particular level to find a previously hidden screen, to ones that require some very creative thinking beyond what is obviously presented in the game, like investigating in-game menus for certain clues. Without spoiling too much, there appear to be four tablets per world and solving them leads to a whole new set of puzzles that further play around with the way you can interact with the game and its controls.
If the developers put such thought, care, and ingenuity into something that could be described as a “side objective,” what’s to say they didn’t take the same approach to something at the heart of the game’s experience, like the combat itself? Perhaps these encounters weren’t just a random assortment of foes thrown at you like Legos from a bucket, but a careful arrangement designed to make you think about how to use the abilities of the Furies and “find the solution.” During the next enemy encounter, I decided to play around a little and discovered that what once seemed arbitrary was, in fact, designed. At any given point in an encounter, the developers seem to be challenging the player to look a little more closely at what’s happening and think a bit more about how to use each character.
While there are a lot of great ideas and novel executions of concepts from games in other genres, Full Metal Furies doesn’t always pull things off flawlessly. For as carefully constructed as I suspect the encounters to be, they are still chaotic. When playing alone, you’re the sole target of every on-screen foe. This is made clear by the little arrow indicator around each one that’s pointing at you. The same indicator, however, serves a second purpose. Right before an enemy attacks you, the arrow pulses. Thus, by paying attention to the arrows and not the enemies themselves, you can see when you’re about to be attacked and plan an appropriate response. When playing with friends, these arrows still appear and and also change color to match up with the particular color of the Fury they’re targeting (similar to the shields). In theory, this is all sound; in practice, it’s all a bit much to try and parse visually. What’s more, just because an enemy is focused on attacking another person doesn’t mean their attack will only hit that person. If a foe is shooting at your buddy and you walk into the line-of-fire, you’ll still get hurt. I don’t think this makes the game less fun to play with friends, but it can feel at times like maybe fewer players is better when it comes to the co-op to help reduce the on-screen chaos.
Late in the game, I discovered a journal entry about one of the Furies' primary foes, the Titan Menoetius. "Secretly, he believes in the musicality of life. An importance to fill the physical AND creative side of humanity." This is Full Metal Furies in a nutshell. In its own way, the game strives to achieve this very idea. At its best, the enemy encounters are a balance of both of those ideas. The player thinks about what each of the enemies can do and how to efficiently take them out (i.e., the “creative”), and then attempts to execute upon those plans utilizing the actions available to them (i.e., the “physical”). It is a dance unto itself with a rhythm and pacing that varies with each encounter you face. It is beauty, it is madness, and it is joy.
The Co-Optimus Review of Full Metal Furies is based on the PC version of the game. A review code was provided by the developer for review purposes.