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Fury of the Furries & Me

“Fury of the Furries.” Snort. D’y’know, that wasn’t funny back in 1993. Now, though, hoo-boy. Angry men defending their rights to dress up in teddy bear suits is a game that simply must come to pass. 1993’s Fury of the Furries, though, was a platform game about cute fluffy things with goo-goo voices fighting for their right to exist. Oh.

On with the story, anyway. A warning: this post is more nostalgia than restrospective, I'm afraid, but everyone has a unique gaming heritage, so maybe it’ll be at least a little interesting in that respect. Maybe. I suspect it stands a better chance of being the longest piece of writing about Fury of the Furries on the entire internet.

This French-made puzzle-platformer found its way into my life by simple dint of my being able to afford it. I’d had (or rather, my mother had) a PC for about a year by that point, and it duly took over my life: that was it, I was now a PC gamer. What I hadn’t ever had in that time was a game in a box – y'know, a real game. The soundcard I was given for my birthday came with a free copy of Monkey Island 2, but it was just floppy discs and that codewheel in a jiffy bag. Everything else was pirated from friends. With no pocket-money to speak of, and parents who faintly disapproved of my new hobby, buying games was simply an impossibility to 12-year-old me. Fortunately, I became a founder-member of ‘The PC Club’ at school. The sole purpose of this short-lived fraternity was to copy games from each other. The poorest child of the group, I was looked down on for being unable to provide anything myself, but somehow I got away with it. Thanks to these affluent teenage acquaintances, I played most of the big PC games of the early 1990s as they happened, and that’s probably the major reason why I am who and where I am today.

Despite all the freebies, I was jealous and resentful of not having my own games. On one of my many maudlin, futile visits to the local game shop, I spotted Fury of the Furries. It was £12 – a price, for once, within reach. Something about its cover art – I’m getting to that very shortly, and boy, are you going to judge me for it – got into my head, and I knew I had to have it. I saved and I saved and, after what felt like years but was probably weeks, I got there. I owned my first game in a box. It felt like an item of absolute luxury – I opened it, closed it, reopended it, read the manual, read the back of the box, hundreds of times over. I don’t own it anymore, and I’ve no idea when or how I got rid of it. Odd, as it once mattered so much.

I just looked up Fury of the Furries on Wikipedia and, once I got over my surprise that it was on there at all, I spotted that the cover was there. Bam. Like a punch to the stomach. I haven’t seen that image for maybe thirteen years. The second I did, I was back on the bus that took me home from school, clutching tightly onto my freshly-bought game. A boy in the seat in front asks to look at it. I refuse, and clutch the game tighter to my chest, sneering. Sméagol becomes Gollum. I truly believe he won’t give it back. He wants it for himself. Precious game. He just wanted, of course, to look at the screenshots on the back of the box, and I feel an odd guilt now for denying him that.

The box looked like this:

Eek. If a single, hand-drawn image of a giant, boss-eyed, gurning yellow ball with hideously ugly feet isn’t enough to make someone buy your game, then really, what is? It’s pretty painful to look at that thing now. Christ. How dumb I was. But in 1993, that was it, I was off. For months, scrappy biro recreations of that image found their way onto almost everything I owned, and into the margin of every page in every school book, which caused at least one uncomfortable confrontation with an exasperated teacher. Probably the same one who’d suffered me doing the same with Dune 2 Ornithopters in the previous year. In the game itself, these characters (though the box called them Furries, in the game they were known as Tinies, which confused me to the point of headaches at the time) came in – count ‘em - four different colours, so my hideous attempts at fanart knew no bounds. It was pretty much all I talked about for some time, and played a fairly major part in developing my burgeoning high school reptuation as Weird Geeky Kid.

When I wasn't drawing it, or writing incomprehensibly awful comic strips about it, I was playing Fury of the Furries. I do remember it as being fairly inventive: the central mechanism was that you could change the colour of your Tiny. Each colour had a different ability. Yellow throws fireballs. Blue can swim. Green has a grappling hook. Red eats walls. Cute. I think. Tiny had to overcome various obstacles and enemies by ensuring he was the right colour at the right time. It was a little like era-mate The Lost Vikings, in that, as well as the platforming action, puzzling out a logical, safe route around the level was the only way to complete it. Go that way and you’ll pass through a beam which robs you of the Green you need to be to grapple up to the next ledge. Go that way and you’ll fall onto spikes. So, find another way. I seem to recall it being bastard hard, presumably a frustrating fusion of the pixel-precise requirements of that era of platform game, and of my not having the innate aptitude at gaming that so many of my contemporaries seemed to. I certainly played a lot of the early levels again and again, but I don’t think I finished it. I wish I had, as Wikipedia informs me it involved this: "In this last final region, you will have to fight characters from other games and from movies, Batman, Battletoads, ninja turtles and terminator are some of them." My heavens. That's brave.

I never knew anything about the game beyond what was in the box, either. I barely even knew what a developer was back then, so had no interest who made it and what else they’d done, beyond quietly wishing for a Furries 2. Now, of course, I get to look it up, and it’s a fairly fascinating tale. Clearly Furries didn’t do that well, as the next year Namco bought it and re-released it – but with Tiny replaced by Pac-Man. Bloody Pac-Man! How did I not know this until now? Pac-in-Time was a moderate, multi-format hit, and, infuriatingly, its Wikipedia page is about four times as long as Fury of the Furries. PAC-IN-TIME IS A LIE, PEOPLE.

Fury of the Furries...

... and Pac-In-Time. Subtle.

Selling the hell out aside, clearly Fury of the Furries meant a fair bit to developer-publisher Atreid Concept (later, Kalisto Entertainment, later still Mindscape Bordeaux, and finally Kalisto again) too, as they’d visited the Tinies before. Tiny Skweeks, aka The Brainies, was a puzzle game starring the familiar red, yellow, blue and green hairy-ball line-up. And, unbelievably, the Tinies returned in 2001, with ‘Tinies Farter.’ Yes, Farter. I’ll defer to the description on Moby Games here:

“The Tinies are little hair balls with 2 big eyes falling from the sky. Their life is pretty short since their only destiny is to crash on the floor. If they don't want to die, they have only one solution, fart in order to reduce their falling speed and land on a smart zone where nothing can hurt them. Help the Tinies to navigate in this dangerous world where everything can kill them. Press the fire button to fart and up left and right to have the tiny rotate on itself.”

Farting Furries were not my Furries, dammit. More interesting and less gaseous is where the developers went after Furries/Pac-in-Time. The much-reviled Fifth Element game was theirs, as was Nightmare Creatures and New York Race, and Al Unser Jr. Arcade Racing, the game Bill Gates used to first demonstrate the gaming abilities of Windows 95. Where are Kalisto now? Well, they went bankrupt in 2002, were found without fault for it in 2006, and currently their website is just one of those ad-lead fake search pages that tend to feed off lapsed sites. Guess that means no Fury of the Furries 2 then. Sorry, this is all a bit tedious isn’t it? I’m just finding it fascinating to only now discover the chequered history of the people behind a game that briefly took over my life.

Anyway, of course the game’s available for free up on The Underdogs, so I’ve just spent a very unsettling afternoon doing something I’ve not done since 1993. The intro movie is uniquely batshit – first a spaceship, then cavemen Tinies, then a crystal ball and a kidnapped king. Helpful. Then, there’s the language select screen. I’m about to hit English, when the bottom-right option captures my eye. Fremen? Hang on... Isn’t that... Yes. Fremen as in the desert people who drink their own recycled urine in the Dune books. And they get their own made-up language in Fury of the Furries. This is a uniquely weird game. One of the loading screens confirms the game’s Frank Herbert fanboyism:

Once I’m in to the game proper – mind still reeling from all these scenes I used to draw everywhere as a callow youth – I begin to be a little bit impressed, the awful midi soundtrack aside. It really is hard, in a way that would probably be considered unforgivable in a new game today. Within seconds, I collide with a cactus and die. Spikes and acid and running out of time inflict similar fates, time and again. The inexplicable inertia of Tiny (he’s mostly fur! He doesn’t weigh enough to slide around like that!) makes him monstrously hard to control, each new jump requiring precise timing and control if you don’t want to start the level over. But, for all that, it’s fun. Actually fun.

The puzzles are thoughtful - gauging which colour you need to be for each situation works well, and I felt proud for each level I finally mastered. He’s contrived, and I can't work out why I spent all the time drawing him, but Tiny’s definitely got character, marvellously well-realised in the 256-colour, jerky animations of the day. It is Not A Bad Game. It’s mildly heartening to realise I wasn’t totally wasting my time all those years ago, even if I remain hideously embarrassed about what Fury of the Furries did to me.

I do wish I still had that box, though.

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