Furmins: Puzzling Choices, Both Good And Bad

Having seen enough of physics puzzles scored on one-to-three star scales, Furmins was going to have to show me something enjoyably different to get a nod in my App of the Day writeup. It did, but this game, by Housemarque, brings another unnecessary problem on itself in how it gets you to pay for it all.

Let's start with the gameplay, in which your job is to set up platforms, manipulate conveyors, bounce trampolines and position ice blocks in order to move the titular Furmins ($0.99, all iOS devices; an HD version is $2.99) from one end of the board to their final objective. What you're doing here is evocative of Mousetrap or Rube Goldberg machines, especially in the trial-and-error the game requires and the delight you get when the whole thing comes together.

Honestly, the best explanation of the gameplay is in that trailer to the right. The dynamic nature of the puzzles means some levels depend on correct placement, where others will depend on correct placement and skilled timing, such as bouncing a springy target (by tapping the screen) in order to boost the "furmin" into the goal. There are optional objectives, too, represented by little twist-tied pieces of candy. Collect all of them and you will receive a perfect score for that level.

Very strong production values and a rewarding, experimental nature make Furmins a very recommendable puzzler. What bewilders me about Furmins is its gatekeeping of later levels and the convoluted in-app purchases it offers to unlock them.

In most games of this type, the stars you earn for your performance, one-to-three per level, serve as a kind of certification. Collect a certain number of stars and you will earn access to later levels. I don't like that, but I see how it keeps the game honest and gives it a point.

In Furmins, though, stars seem to be altogether a currency. That is, if you're particularly vexed, you can buy your way to later rounds. That sounds like a straightforward pay-as-you go model, until you consider the confusing -- and unacknowledged -- inclusion of a "star multiplier" that you can unlock, which doubles the stars you collect upon completion of a level.

This multiplier would make it seem like there's a means to truly earn your way to unlock all of the content, without paying for it, but it depends greatly upon you starting the game with that multiplier activated. That costs 250 stars. Guess what, stars are sold in lots of 100, 225 and 500. So it sort of looks like $US3 off the bat gives you a shot at unlocking everything through game play, or $US4 later will do the trick too.

When regrettably opaque monetisation like this dawns on you, you start to view Furmins not as a pick-up-and-play, gorgeously rendered physics puzzle, but as something trying to crowbar money out of you. I don't have a problem with a two-stage premium app: A buck (Jesus, it's a buck) gets you the first three stages, another buck or two buys more if you really do enjoy it. Furmins' game quality definitely sells itself in that instance.

I suppose we get this because of the intense market pressure to deliver pretty much everything at 99 cents these days. There's definitely an oversupply of iOS games, especially those conforming to what Furmins does so well. Housemarque still built an enjoyable game, even if it botched the sales pitch for it.

Furmins [iTunes]


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