46. Fur Fighters
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Format: Dreamcast, PC
The now sadly defunct Liverpudlian developers Bizarre Creations rarely lived up to their name, the majority of their output being finely honed realistic racing games (most notably the Project Gotham series). However, they did manage a bizarre creation at least once, with this shooter-cum-platformer starring fluffy critters armed to the teeth.
Fur Fighters is one of those games where the developers clearly had a surfeit of ideas, and rather than pare them down they just chucked the lot in. It controls like a first-person shooter, but it’s third-person; there’s chunks of platforming and plenty of environmental puzzles; there’s a free-roaming hub, while the levels are sort of halfway between linear and free-roaming; there’s plenty of stuff to collect, in fine platforming tradition, but there’s also an arsenal that would make any hardcore FPS proud. Plus, there are memory minigames hosted by a German gazelle. It’s that sort of game.
The real joy of Fur Fighters is in its setting. A world populated by big-headed animals with fluff in place of blood and a predilection for huge guns, it sees you travel from the urban environs of New Quack City through a massive dam and into outer space, among other places, to rescue the Fur Fighters’ babies from evil General Viggo (a white cat with a tiny bald human as a pet), with each Fighter offering a particular skill that requires you to switch between them to win. Filled with daft jokes – the first proper level has a bit in a videogame shop stocked with copies of Shenmoo, Resident Weevil and Metropolis Sheep Racer – and elaborate homages to everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Cheers, it’s a real joy to explore. And explore you will: one of the most remarkable things about it at the time was the sheer size and scope of the levels, stretching on for virtual miles to an extent that hadn’t really been seen in 3D games before (at least not by me). Admittedly, it was a bit too big and barren in places, but that’s a minor quibble.
There was an enhanced port for PlayStation 2, Fur Fighters: Viggo’s Revenge, but I’d recommend sticking with the Dreamcast original. Viggo’s Revenge adds cel-shaded graphics that look quite nice, but miss the detail of the basic game, as well as putting in full voice acting. Sounds good, you’d think, but one of the silly delights of Fur Fighters is the way everyone “talks” in ridiculous nonsensical animal voices (Viggo’s posh grumbling is hilarious).
Load Fur Fighters up today and you’d probably notice the outmoded bits first – sparse save points, slightly odd controls, schizophrenic gameplay style that doesn’t always gel. But before long you’ll be too delighted by the plus points to remember the minuses.
MAGIC MOMENT: it’s a toss-up between the fourth world and one of the levels from the fifth. World four is Dinotopia, which sees you travel through an immense house owned by a family of dinosaurs, cowering on the pool table and negotiating the bath. The level that ends world five takes place in each Fighter’s nightmares, in a surreal and surprisingly psychologically deep effort. Or, actually, having said that, it might be the fact that there’s a disguise to get among the enemy bears that consists of a cardboard box with a bear’s face crudely scrawled on it that you simply pop on your head. One of those, anyway. This is a game where it’s hard to pick just one moment.