It would be nearly three full years between the release of Formula 1 97 and Bizarre Creations’ next game — and that next game was quite a change in style!
Having proven themselves in the racing game sector with the two PlayStation-based Formula 1 titles, the company turned its attention to Sega’s new Dreamcast console and two new projects. One of these, Metropolis Street Racer, would prove to be Bizarre Creations’ breakout hit. But don’t sleep on the other, because Fur Fighters is a fascinating game that is well worth your time — even if it’s not what you’d typically expect to see from the company!
And for those who don’t have easy access to a working Dreamcast, there’s even a PS2 version that came out a year later with some significant improvements such as cel-shaded visuals and full voice acting. It’s that version, subtitled Viggo’s Revenge, that we’ll be focusing on for today.
In Fur Fighters (as we shall refer to both the original release and Viggo’s Revenge hereafter) you take on the role of a ragtag group of anthropomorphic animal freedom fighters. Some years prior to the events depicted in the game, the group successfully put paid to the evil plans of the villainous white cat Viggo — but now he’s back, and he is, quite understandably, dead set on revenge.
To that end, Viggo has kidnapped the families of the Fur Fighters and simultaneously kicked off a campaign of world conquest. His rather foolish assumption is that if their families are in danger, the Fur Fighters will keep away in order to ensure their safety — which means they won’t get anywhere near his plans to set fire to things and steal diamonds. Unfortunately, as you might expect, this was a completely faulty assumption, and it doesn’t take long for the Fur Fighters to spring into action and begin their own mission to take down Viggo once and for all.
Fur Fighters is primarily regarded as a third-person shooter by many modern commentators, but that isn’t really an accurate descriptor. While you do spend some of your time shooting bad guys — or rather, Viggo’s assembled forces of rather stupid bears — and there’s a pleasingly varied array of weapons to collect as you progress through the game, this is a game that is more about exploration and indulging your own curiosity than anything else.
Each of the game’s huge stages tasks you with exploring them fully, figuring out all of the gimmicks and making use of them to achieve two things: collect all the Fur Fighter children being held hostage, and collect a hundred gold tokens. In the grand tradition of other “collectathon” games, you don’t need to get all of either of these in order to progress, but fully clearing out a level will make life a bit easier for you in the long term, as well as unlocking additional features such as a time attack mode.
One of Fur Fighters’ core gimmicks is the fact that each of the six playable characters has their own unique special ability that relates to movement. Scottish group leader Roofus the Hound can burrow into holes and reappear at otherwise inaccessible locations; sultry French cat Juliette can climb walls with claw marks on them; Chang the firefox can fit through small gaps; Rico the penguin can dive underwater; Bungalow the kangaroo can jump twice as high as everyone else; and Tweek the baby dragon can glide for short distances.
The twist is that you can’t freely switch between characters; instead, character swaps can only be carried out at predefined teleporters scattered around the level, which allow you to change from your current character to a specific other character. Most of the time, these are logically placed to ensure you have the right character easily available for a job at hand — but there are certain points in the game where you’ll need to use more out-of-the-way teleports so you can reach an otherwise inaccessible secret with a specific character.
Most of the more fiddly bits of the game like this are strictly optional and relate to collecting the gold tokens rather than the more essential Fur Fighters’ babies. As such, if you find yourself struggling with them, they can usually be safely ignored. And this is very welcome!
A great example comes in the Lower East Quack level relatively early in the game, where the positioning of a Roofus teleport implies that he is the character you need to use to pass an extraordinarily frustrating platforming sequence as you ride on top of a train. While it is just about possible to get through this with Roofus, it’s extremely difficult due to his limited jump height; instead, it makes a lot more sense to grab Bungalow from later in the level and pass it with ease later. The actual end point of the sequence — which holds one of Roofus’ babies — can be accessed more easily from elsewhere, so Bungalow is only really needed if you want all of the gold tokens for that part of the stage.
Fur Fighters will take a bit of adjusting to for a modern audience. The default control scheme on the PS2 version is set up in almost the exact opposite way to modern first- and third-person shooters, with looking and turning on the left stick, while moving and strafing is on the right stick. To make matters seemingly worse, there’s no one configuration that is quite “right” for those accustomed to the modern default setup — the closest you’ll get is the “Beginner” configuration, which maps movement and turning to the left stick, and looking up and down (but not strafing) to the right stick; in this case, strafing is handled by the shoulder buttons.
These unusual control schemes on PS2 doubtless stem from the game’s Dreamcast roots, where only one analogue stick was available, but it’s a shame you can’t freely remap them. However, after spending a little time with the game, you’ll likely discover that they’re not as much of a liability as they might initially appear to be; moving and turning with the left stick works well, and having strafing easily accessible on the shoulder buttons means you can still perform manoeuvres such as circle-strafing easily.
It also helps that, as previously mentioned, Fur Fighters actually isn’t that much of a shooter. There’s an exceedingly generous auto aim and lock-on mechanic, meaning you need to simply put the character’s sights vaguely near an enemy to be able to hit them, and attacks are all projectile- rather than hitscan-based, meaning you can easily see incoming threats and step out of the way. Enemies tend to show up in very specific places around the level as distinct “encounters” rather than providing a constant threat; once you’ve mowed them down once, you’ll primarily be exploring rather than shooting.
It’s also worth noting that Fur Fighters is an absolutely massive game. Each level will take you an hour or more to clear for the first time — more if you’re being thorough — and the game consists of six hub worlds with at least three levels in each.
This is not a game you’ll blast through quickly — but you’ll have a great time along the way. It is, at times, clunky and cumbersome — but it’s also super-fun, infused with an exceedingly cheeky and distinctly turn-of-the-century British sense of humour (including a number of jokes I don’t think they’d get away with today) and designed to provide a constantly rewarding experience for those willing to make some time to explore it in the depth it deserves.
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