Originally set for a release in January 2018, the co-op brawling of Claws of Furry has finally emerged from its developmental dojo and onto Nintendo Switch. But has that nine extra months in the oven helped this indie prospect add an extra edge to those titular weapons, or is this just another arcade brawler destined to be dashed on the crowded shores of the Switch eShop?
We’ll fully admit, it took a little while for us to ‘get’ Claws of Furry and what London-based developer Terahard is trying to accomplish with this title. It takes an hour or two of needless deaths at the hands of basic grunts, poorly-timed jumps over pools of glowing sewage and a belligerent desire to tackle its hard-as-nails ‘roguelike’ mode from the off. But then something clicks, and all of a sudden you begin seeing holes in enemy attacks that once seemed impregnable and dashing through danger like a deadly blur.
It’s not a perfect arcade brawler by any means, but whether played solo or with up to three other players locally, there’s a great deal to master and enjoy once you’ve borne the brunt of its demanding mechanics. Either with friends or on your lonesome, you’ll slip into the silent shoes of a ninja cat, and while you won’t be sneaking anywhere, you will be putting those claws to deadly use as you fight through its four distinct worlds to reclaim your kidnapped master. So far, so predictable.
As a feline, you have agility on your side and Terahard makes good use of it. You can dash on the ground (enabling you to pass through enemies as you’re briefly incorporeal as you move), as well as perform a handy double jump. There’s only the slightest hint of floatiness, so you’re given just enough breathing room to readjust when dodging aerial attacks. Frustratingly, you can’t dash in the air, which seems oddly counter-productive considering how important dodging is, but your double-jump just about does the job.
You have three basic attacks to your furry name - a light attack, an uppercut and a ‘ranged’ move - as well as a powerful ‘bullet’ move that enables you to use your uppercut to smash an opponent away and out of the fight (perfect for those moments when you’re about to be overwhelmed). The ranged attack (which involves throwing actual fish) is almost redundant, but a handy Special (which builds up the more you strike enemies) offers a fun way to clear out enemies like a deadly dash. Coupled with your movement model, it makes for a precise experience but one that’s almost entirely melee-based.
Interestingly, the majority of enemies won’t hurt you if you touch them, but most have an attack or offensive move that will. And there are a lot of them, so combat is more about identifying a certain foe’s tell (such as giant rats that will raise their fists to slam down with a shock, or red crocs that barrel towards you but only once they’ve made a certain shriek) and dashing through them when you need to evade those attacks. It makes tackling the bigger enemies (such as giant-yet-smartly-dressed crocodilians), and even bosses, far from undefeatable.
There are no levelling systems or XP metres to fill. Instead, the game’s unlockable factor is a set of themed costumes that offer gradually more powerful buffs. Most offer a cute pastiche on a memorable character from elsewhere - Catpool, anyone? - but they’re surprisingly useful if you’re willing to grind for them. Some are locked behind beating bosses in the game’s story, clearing waves in Arena mode or other in-game challenges. You can select them from the game’s interactive menu (or Dojo, as it’s known) before tackling one of its three modes.
Rogue mode offers a ‘one life, no saves or respawns’ setup that sees you making your way through its 50 levels from start to finish (bosses included), but with no real tangible reward, it’s definitely something to tackle once you’ve exhausted everything else. Pussycat mode (yes, Terahard, we see what you did there) follows the same route as Rogue mode, only saves your progress as you clear each level.
However, if you die during one of its many boss encounters, you’ll have to clear the level prior to it in order reach it again. Sure, it teaches you to clear that particular level perfectly as your health won’t regenerate after clearing it, but it’s still a reductive decision. Arena mode is, by far, the game’s best mode as it gradually adds in more and more enemy types, forcing you to nail its mechanics down to the millisecond or pay for it endlessly. It’s fun in solo, but it’s a proper hoot in co-op with everyone bouncing around the screen.
It does, however, bring up one of Claws of Furry’s biggest issues - there’s just so much going on on-screen and character models are often so small, that you’re going to struggle to play anything other than single-player in handheld/tabletop mode. This is something that needs the real-estate of a TV display in order to keep track of the organised chaos. But once you’re all gathered around the telly, there’s some glorious anthropomorphic action to be had.
While its fun for a time in single-player, Claws of Furry is definitely a brawler with two-to-four player fights in mind. With an abundance of enemies on-screen at any one time, it’s the kind of game that’s going to be twice as fun with someone sat next to you. While its Rogue mode feels like nothing more than a tokenistic doff of the cap to gaming in 2018, the Arena mode is a big selling point all on its own if you’re looking for a new regular entry in your couch-play rotation.