Raised By Screens is probably the closest I’ll ever get to a memoir – glancing back at the games I played as a child in the order in which I remember playing them, and focusing on how I remember them rather than what they truly were. There will be errors and there will be interpretations that are simply wrong, because that’s how memory works.
Note – I have written about this chapter of my early gaming life extensively before, so apologies for any repetition. I just didn’t feel that I could leave this particular game out of this series.
Buying games, or even wanting to buy games, was an incredible rarity for me – partly because I simply couldn’t afford them, partly because a couple of rich kids at school kept me fueled with a steady stream of pirated games, partly because until 1993 I almost didn’t care what game I was playing, so long as I was playing a game. In 1993, that began to change.
I wanted specific games, and I wanted them as soon as they were released (or, at least, as soon as I’d heard of them). Street Fighter II’s home console release had been the vanguard of this, though my peers’ hype for Mario and Sonic games had informed it too. Back then, Europe often suffered a torturous wait of months or even years for games already released in Japan or America. Even when release dates did coincide, as was the case for Sonic 2, magazines had crept into our lives enough to have us hyped up well in advance. My entire class seemed obsessed with Sonic 2’s Tails/Miles Prower long before they’d had the chance to play as him. He was a fox. He had two tails. He could fly, sort of. We talked breathlessly about what we believed Tails could do. A cartoon fox was our greatest hero.
While I shared in the enthusiasm, ultimately I could only watch from afar. The family PC ate up all the spare time I was allowed to give it, to the point that if I ever I was punished for some transgression or dereliction of household chore duties, I would be banned from using the PC for a weekend or a week. (Prior to that, I would be banned from stroking the cat for a day or two. A strange system of discipline for sure, but even at age 35, I would still find either of these punishments to be devastating). That 486 was so important to me, but even so, I hated it for not being a SNES or a Megardrive. Particularly the latter – Sonic seemed edgier than Mario, and the jetblack Sega System was infinitely cooler than the toy-like Super Nintendo.
Sadly, the only kid with a Megadrive who’d let me come round his house was poor company even by my desperate standards. Even Tails wasn’t worth that. I was desperate for another solution, and I even tried nightly prayer for several weeks. Jesus did not give me a Megadrive for the Christmas of 1992, however. I also heard rumours of a PC with a Megadrive built into it, and tried with no hope of success to talk my parents into upgrading our PC to it. My cravings for that hybrid have never quite gone away. It still seems like the holiest of grails even in an era where I could simply emulate any Megadrive game on a rickety laptop.
I had to find heroes of my own – heroes I could access. So it was that I found myself fixated on the cover art for a game I’d never before heard of. It seemed to tick all the boxes – anthropomorphism, big eyes, cartoon style, platforming. Everything that was sending my peers into a frenzy about Tails or Yoshi. I didn’t really know what it was, but I had to have it.
FURY OF THE FURRIES
DEVELOPED BY KALISTO, PUBLISHED BY MINESCAPE INC
Puzzle-platformer, in which the protagonist can change colour and attendant abilities – grappling hook, fireball, swimming, scenery-eating – at will.
I don’t know if I saw it in a shop or in a magazine advert first. What I do know is that I visited the games shop which did stock it for several lunchtimes on the trot, as I gradually accrued what I needed to afford it by saving lunch money and selling a few items – comics, I think – to other kids. I was paranoid that it would sell out: that the entire world was also obsessed with Fury of the Furries, and there would be none left for me if I didn’t get a move on.
It is now safe to say that there was never a time when every home in Britain had a copy of Fury of the Furries. What looks ugly and cheap to me now looked ugly and cheap to everyone else at the time: I simply had no taste back then, or at least it was overcome by my overwhelming desire to have something that seemed my own at a time when I was cut off from Sonic and Mario.
The presentation was awful, and the fiction dismal. The Tinies (not, in fact, ‘Furries’) were a mischevious race whose king decided they should become less mischevious, thanks to some genetic modification device. And he was the good guy, apparently. His rival decided they should become outright malevolent, and kidnapped the king and tampered with his device in order to achieve this. A handful of Tinies who’d been out exploring space returned to their home planet of Sklumph (and there’s a name that speaks of not even trying), only to discover the coup and decide to reverse it with the help of a magic ring. Christ. What a mess.
This setup was marginally better-conveyed by a wordless introduction series, whose Gallic animation graphics floored me at the time, but was essentially incomprehensible without reading the nonsense in the manual. Still, I loved that manual, because it had line drawing after line drawing of Furries – as Tinies will always be to me, despite the other connotations of that term – which I would try to replicate on any piece of paper I could lay hands on. The huge toes, the three-fingered hands, the melded eyeballs – I practiced and practiced recreating these in every boring class, and I was convinced I got pretty good at it. I suspect I simply appeared mad to anyone else.
Sadly, my artistic discipline went no further than that, bar some abortive attempts to draw Genestealers a year or two later. I had squandered what talent or opportunity I had on this childish, ugly thing. I had no idea it was childish and ugly then, of course – Fury of the Furries was mine.
Outside of its external presentation, Fury of the Furries wasn’t a bad game – it really ran with its core concept, which was ability-switching in order to solve puzzles, and colour-coded in such a way that variously hued energy fields around the levels would block using certain abilities in certain areas. It was brutally hard, crammed full of instant death scenarios of the sort that would cause me to abandon the whole game a few levels in now, but to a teenager who’d invested his life savings into it, there was no giving up.
The in-game graphics were characterful and the music whistleable, and its loading screens carried visual references to other sci-fi, particularly Dune. Their lack of relevance to anything in the game itself confused me greatly at the time – rampant post-modernism hadn’t yet filtered down into entertainment products for young teens by that point – but I loved waiting to see which one would pop up between each level.
It was the box I loved most of all, though. What bizarre confidence Fury of the Furries’ marketing team (if there was one) must have had to run with that – a stoned-looking yellow blob with monstrous toenails almost full-frame against a start black backdrop.
That cover says nothing other than ‘this character is in this game’, yet for some reason it had me in its thrall. It is iconic to me, and perhaps to me alone. That box was the most important object in the world to me for a time, but my last memory of it is with a small, handwritten price sticker on its top right corner, which I’d placed there myself. My mother took it off to a car boot sale, and that was the last I ever saw of it. That’s for the best, if I’m honest. Nostalgia is powerful, but I don’t really want to find myself explaining to my daughter why I’ve kept something quite that ugly in the loft for a quarter of a century.