Physics-based puzzlers tend to bring me delight in one of two ways: either something unexpected and interesting happens, or the game gives players enough to work with that it’s possible to deduce ahead of time what will happen, and enjoy being right. It seems as though it ought to be impossible to combine these into a single experience; how can one be excited by the unexpected, while simultaneously feeling satisfaction that one has correctly expected it? Furmins gave me many such experiences by pitching the difficulty of the prediction just high enough that I never got a complete picture, but low enough that I could struggle my way into a pretty good idea of what I had to do. Seeing a tentative plan, which I mostly understood, come to life and exhibit beautiful patterns I hadn’t quite imagined was intensely pleasurable.
Housemarque has created a game with elements of Lemmings and Angry Birds but classier art. Your job is to get some number of Furmins (little balls of fur and eyeballs) to a basket, so they can be whisked away by an implausibly chunky bird. Early on, this will involve moving a small number of highlighted elements (balls, blocks and trampolines) to direct the flow of furmins appropriately. Later on, the game introduces elements with which one can interact by tapping the screen anywhere (conveyor belts and pushers). As a result, most levels are fairly cerebral exercises in preparation; even those that involve interaction usually require that you plan out exactly when you’ll use it ahead of time to succeed. Along the way, your Furmins can pick up candy-the greater a proportion of the level’s candy you pick up, the more stars you get at the end (like Angry Birds, from one to three are available per level).
The stars unlock later worlds and bonus levels. They’re a neat idea when plentiful-I found a similar system in Inertia: Escape Velocity one of the instances of wonderful design in that game, because it gives players reason to aim high without providing excessive punishment. Furmins limits the number of stars in order to push players to “like” the game on Facebook (which opens up a new world for free, in which you can get lots more stars) or just buy stars as an in-app purchase. I want to temper this criticism by conceding that this is formally similar to other things for which there’s precedent, including DLC on retail discs and virtually anything freemium. Furthermore, I’d think the app was worth its cost if it were sold with enough extra stars to make me happy and included the cost of those stars in its sale price.
iOS games in general seem underpriced, and I regret feeling bad about a system which actually offers users more freedom for no more money than the scenario I just outlined. All of that said, I reacted very negatively to a for-pay game using what seem like freemium game tricks to get more money or free press out of content which I already have sitting on my device waiting to allow me to use it. My attitude is particularly bizarre because they provided me with a review copy, but I suspect many readers share a strong aversion to such tactics. My hope is that this warning will help those who feel similarly mentally prepare themselves to add a buck or two to the price of the game, so they can just enjoy a great experience.
It’s an aesthetically pleasing game. I particularly appreciate that, while shooting for something whimsical, the developers didn’t choose to simply aim low. If you know your audience isn’t expecting something realistic, I imagine it would be tempting to cue the casual nature of the game with casually designed and hastily executed art. Furmins, instead, goes for a classical look which had me trying to remember what the difference is between Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian column capitals (I’m pretty sure the ones in the game are Ionic, because Doric was really boring and Corinthian was flowery-if I’m right about that, I owe a beer to a couple of my teachers from tenth grade). Moreover, the draw is quite broad; even my three-year-old was captivated just watching me play. The music and sound effects maintain the mood well, and the bonus levels have particularly lovely backgrounds, which reinforce the dreamlike quality of their distinctive gravity alteration.
Very few of the levels felt like sandboxes in which the goal could be achieved in a variety of ways, and there was substantial latitude to exercise creativity; usually there’s essentially one right way and you’re trying to find it. Many involve a substantial amount of trial-and-error learning. That’s the worst I can say about the gameplay, and neither objection is significant. Not every game needs to be a sandbox, and the brevity of the trials keeps errors from feeling punishing. Instead, this is a game which does the job of a physics-based puzzle game very, very well, producing moments of gaming bliss and never overstaying its welcome. Even the intrusion of freemium-style monetization and my emotional revulsion thereat doesn’t keep me from remembering Furmins very fondly. Give it a go.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.