We've been watching for Furmins [$0.99 / Universal] for a while now, because when you hear Housemarque is launching a game on iOS, you sit up and take notice. These are the guys behind Super Stardust HD, Dead Nation and Outlands, some of the best games on the PlayStation Network. Furmins hasn't blown us away like their console titles have, but it's a gorgeous little physics puzzler that's great fun to boot.
Only one little problem—Housemarque jammed things up a bit with a pretty off-the-wall in-app purchase system. I'll get into that a bit deeper once I tell you what the game's all about, but suffice it to say that you may end up stuck behind a paywall before you're done. It's a bummer, because you're going to want to get your hands all over as much of this game as you can.
From the start, great level design sets Furmins apart. Each level has the same goal: get all the fuzz-ball furmins into a basket. You can't directly interact with either, so you have to play with the environment to create a path. Though the game keeps a pretty tight rein on the tools you can use, each level manages to feel like a new challenge, and some have seriously entertaining solutions.
Those tools you have to work with are a mix between objects that need to be placed with pixel-hunting precision and interactive elements that can be triggered with a tap. At first the game comes off as a pretty by-the-numbers physics puzzler – move a platform here for the furmins to bounce off, a wall there to keep them from going too far. This all changes when timing elements are brought in, and things start to get a little crazy.
If you're into puzzles because you like slow, thoughtful experiences, Furmins probably isn't for you. Once you sort out the platforms, ice blocks, and other pre-set bits, the real fun starts. As soon as you set things in motion you're responsible for quick reflex moves like triggering other platforms at just the right moment or switching conveyor belt directions. This makes it extra hard to manage your positioning since a winning setup will depend as much on execution as anything else. Tap at the wrong moment and you won't land the jump that sets your whole plan into motion.
This might be frustrating in a worse game, but here it's occasionally brilliant. Pulling off some of the more difficult levels will make you feel both clever and skilled, which is a pretty great reward. Even better, you're doing so in a charming game with lovely art and music.
For all the pleasure the game has to offer, though, we must eventually get to the pain. On one hand Furmins does a great job opening up its content, letting you jump around between levels and most worlds whenever you want, playing in any order that strikes your fancy. On the other hand, four worlds are completely inaccessible to start, and unlocking them is a surprisingly obnoxious process.
It's complicated, but I'll try to be brief. You unlock worlds with the stars you earn from collecting all the sweets in each level (yeah, a three-star system. What physics game is complete without one, right?). You earn three per level, or six if you pick up the (pretty much free) star-doubling addition tucked away in the store. If my math is correct, you should be able to open up all but one level with double stars and perfect three-star performance. If you don't notice that optional multiplier right away, though, you may only be able to open two of the locked worlds and a handful of the bonus levels before hitting the wall.
So instead of spending time playing the game, this star doubling option leaves you either spending the start of the game calculating out the possible IAP paths or locked out of a good chunk of content. Then, of course, you'll have to replay completed levels (and, I mean, at least that is an option, but who wants to replay already-mastered puzzles?) or purchase stars to make up the difference. Conflating achievement with currency looks good on paper, but this is just plain confusing. It's sure to leave a bad taste in the mouths of players who learned they needed to game the system a little too late.
If you hop into the store and grab the star-doubling multiplier straight off you'll be pretty much fine, assuming you leave the bonus levels until last and eventually earn three stars on everything. If you pull all that off you can enjoy the game thoroughly with nearly all of its content intact. And Furmins is a great game to enjoy, with gorgeous visuals and a ton of really sharp physics puzzles to work through. I just wish I could have avoided the mind games that came along for the ride.