Housemarque has been in the business for over sixteen years, but it wasn't until Super Stardust HD (back in 2007) that the Finnish developers went on to make a name for themselves. Since then they've racked up quite an impressive number of critically acclaimed hits with the apocalyptic shooter Dead Nation and one of my favorite Metroidvania-style adventures, the visually stunning Outland.
So with all this newfound pedigree, the team behind so many great downloadable titles has set out to self-publish its first title, Furmins, an action-puzzle game for iOS-enabled devices.
Furmins (iPhone, iPad [Previewed])
Upon initial glance, two things immediately caught my attention about Furmins. First, it contains the same artistic beauty that I have come to expect from Housemarque's games. The backgrounds all have a hand-painted look to them that really pops on an iPad screen. While they may be gorgeous to look at, it's the subtle effects within each background that adds to the immersion. Leaves blow gently in the backgrounds of the forest stages and the creeping mist in some of the later stages really invites an almost magical presence to the world. But then again this is a Housmarque game and if it's one thing they excel in, it's art design.
The second thing that came to my mind when playing Furmins was how much it reminded me of Angry Birds. Now depending on how you look at it that's not necessarily a bad thing, and something the guys at Housemarque don't seem to mind either. They're both puzzle games, they both make physics fun, and they both share some sort of enigmatic bird-like creature in their character design. But I'd be doing Furmins serious harm to call it an Angry Birds clone. In fact it has more in common with the phenomenal Portal series than it does with that bird-launching game.
Like the Portal series, the idea behind Furmins is to build the most logical path to the goal. The objective for each stage is to direct the ever-so-cute (just look at their faces in the accompanying screens) Furmins from one end to a glowing basket somewhere in the level. The catch is, you don't have direct control over these mystic little furballs and instead have to use any available items and -- depending on the level -- some well-timed taps to succeed.
Each stage I played presented its own unique puzzle to solve. They start off simple, where a few well adjusted planks (that bounce the Furmins through the air) well get you the result needed, but later really test your thinking prowess when elements like momentum and time delay come into play. While most of the early stages can be quickly solved, every stage contains bonus stars to collect -- all in one run -- for those looking for more complicated solutions. It get really tricky, when you're using pendulums for momentum, ice blocks to delay speed, and have to tap the screen to change the direction of moving conveyor belts in an attempt to earn a perfect three-star rating. Thankfully, there is a quick restart (for OCD types) which allows you to quickly tinker with a setup until perfect.
Furmins may not have been what I expected Housemarque to whip up next, but it (yet again) conveyed to me that they really know how to make fun, engaging experiences. Don't let the cutesy design throw you off though, while it may look like a game for your mom -- especially with the music being done by the mind behind Bejewled's seductive melodies -- Furmins' perplexing puzzles should keep those with a thirst for brainteasers quenched for quite some time.