Animals make wonderful game protagonists, this much is certain. From classic games like Frogger to evergreen mascots like Sonic the Hedgehog, animals have enjoyed the spotlight in games for decades. Just recently, cats were well represented in the delightful Gato Roboto, and of course we have Animal Crossing: New Horizons to look forward to in the new year. But for now, it’s time for foxes to take centre stage (sorry Fox McCloud, your time will come again, we're sure) with Furwind, a retro platformer that follows in the paw-prints of the thematically-similar Foxes n Forests and positively oozes with charm, but can struggle to maintain attention thanks to a lacklustre plot and finicky controls.
You take control of the eponymous Furwind, a daring little fox who must save the land after a dark evil has been awakened. The adventure kicks off with a bit of backstory very much reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, with an opening cutscene consisting of static images accompanied by text. It’s a promising premise, but Furwind does little throughout the game to progress the story in any meaningful way.
There are several different level types you’ll come across throughout the duration of Furwind. The main levels focus primarily on exploration; you’ll need to navigate the environment to find two halves of a talisman, which then opens a portal to progress to the next stage. With several branching paths to choose from, you may well be reminded of classic Metroidvania titles, but the areas as a whole are much more self-contained and you’ll likely finish each within about 10 minutes.
Every environment – from colourful forests to towers filled with molten lava – is filled with enemies including evil mushrooms and flying eyeballs. Furwind thankfully has two main attacks at his disposal: he can spin his tail around to dish out damage, or jump high up in the air to slam right down on top of the enemy’s head. Additionally, Furwind can hurl bomb-like projectiles that will explode, harming nearby enemies and possibly even opening up new routes to explore. As you progress, you’ll also learn more moves – such as a mid-air dash, which is perfect for crossing large chasms with ease.
As a whole, the combat and platforming gameplay work fairly well, but occasionally it can feel like you’re fighting with the controls. Jumping through small gaps requires an almost unreasonable amount of precision, and missing any jumps can often result in unexpected contact with enemies, causing needless damage to Furwind. Additionally, the game implements a stamina system – similar to Dark Souls – whereby every attack decreases your stamina gauge. This isn’t too much of an issue if you’re just up against one or two enemies, but when five or more of them gang up on you, it’s very easy to run out of stamina without realising it, leaving you exposed.
Within the main exploration levels, each half of the talisman is guarded by a mini-boss of sorts. These guys can often prove to be a bit of a nuisance if you’re not careful, and are able to dash back and forth across the screen in quick succession. Recognising their pattern of attack is crucial to defeating them, but thankfully each only requires about five or six decent hits to be vanquished. Some levels even give you a bit of a break from these fights by introducing rudimentary puzzles in order to unlock the talismans, such as jumping on switches to the correct pattern displayed on the screen. Once you've finally obtained each half of the talisman, you will need to locate the portal it unlocks; the game will handily point you in the right direction to save you getting lost along the way.
Other than the story levels, you’ll also come across Challenge and Prisoner stages. These are much smaller in scope than the main levels, and each contains a very specific task to complete. The challenge levels have you activate a beacon in order to open up the end goal. This sounds pretty similar to the main stages, except they’re absolutely bursting with enemies tightly packed within a much smaller space, so it will really test your ability to navigate narrow spaces and attack accordingly.
The prisoner levels reminded us of Rayman Legends quite a bit. Set within a single screen, they consist of a number of enemies that you’ll have to defeat in order to free the imprisoned NPC. This can be fairly frustrating at times as there’s very little room to manoeuver, particularly if the enemies have projectile weapons. Still, if you’re someone who’s a bit fatigued by Metroidvanias in general, the prisoner and challenge levels offer some much-needed variation to the core gameplay.
Graphically, Furwind looks really lovely from start to finish. Colours pop from the screen whether you're exploring the idyllic overworld or squinting your way through a dark, dank dungeon, and the animation of both Furwind himself and the various creatures remains solid throughout. This is all complimented by a kooky, uplifting soundtrack that perfectly fits the nature of the game.
Our main gripe with Furwind isn’t necessarily the occasionally awkward controls, as this can more or less be rectified with a bit of practice and perseverance. Rather, it’s a constantly nagging sensation of ‘been there, done that’. Furwind is a good little game that does what it sets out to do, but that’s pretty much it. There’s no ‘hook’, no unique gameplay mechanic that sets it apart from its peers. Sadly for this fox, there are other, more accomplished platformers on the Switch that would perhaps be more worthy of your attention.
With gorgeous pixellated graphics and a charming, uplifting soundtrack, Furwind is a delight to behold. Unfortunately, with some awkward controls and a lack of any original, engaging ideas, it falls short of being truly great, if only because the Switch is already home to some stellar platforming games that comfortably outshine this workmanlike effort. Still, if you’re a fan of the genre and you're looking for something to keep you busy during the summer months, Furwind’s impressive stage variation and challenging difficulty make it worth a look.