It would be easy to write off Boomerang Fu at first glance. Its bright colors, use of foods as characters, and focus on local multiplayer gameplay are all trademark signs of a casual game, a game that isn’t meant to be taken particularly seriously. But to do so would be a disservice to the game, as its casual exterior belies a surprisingly competitive, nuanced game.
That’s not to say that Boomerang Fu isn’t exceedingly charming. Even in the most tense of moments, its soft color palette and cast of ridiculous playable characters soften the blow of losing at the last second. Each of its food-themed characters even die in a way that makes sense to them. The banana gets cut into slices. The avocado’s pit falls out. The milk carton gets cut in half, the milk inside pouring out. The coffee mug shatters, the coffee inside spilling everywhere. Even levels factor in, with attacks causing damage to various set pieces. Practically everything about the game’s visuals seems to have been plotted out with maximum charm factor in mind.
The overall aesthetic stands in stark contrast to the game’s core gameplay, which revolves around an extremely simple set of controls: left stick to move, A to dash, X to slash with your boomerang—or kick when you don’t have one—and Y to throw your boomerang. On the surface, this may seem overly simplistic, but I assure you that it isn’t. In fact, at times, Boomerang Fu is an extremely hardcore test of reflexes.
Up to six players can attempt to cut each other in half in the game’s fairly small arenas. With six players running around, it can be pure chaos, with boomerangs flying every which way, but there are several mechanics that allow players a chance to succeed despite that. All of these mechanics center around the fact that boomerangs can collide with one another. If another player’s boomerang is headed at you, you can simply deflect it by slashing at the right time—or, if you’re skilled enough, you can throw your boomerang at other boomerangs to deflect them. Similarly, you can parry a slash with another slash.
But there’s more than that. Boomerangs return to you, but only under certain conditions. If your throws don’t meet those conditions, they drop to the ground. In addition to manually picking them up again, they can be pulled back to you by holding the throw button, but this forces you to stand still, leaving you wide open to attacks. However, if you don’t recover your boomerang, another player can pick it up and use it as a second boomerang. When you combine this with the fact that boomerangs can bounce off of walls and into spots that are inconvenient for you to reach, quite a lot of planning is necessary for optimal play.
One possibly unintentional side-effect of the way that the mechanics work is that there is a pretty huge focus on what is known in the fighting game community as “whiff punishing.” When you attack, be it either with a slash or by throwing your boomerang, you leave yourself open for a fairly large amount of time. Thus, if someone attacks you and fails to hit, there is very little chance for recovery, allowing you to swoop in and take them out. Attacks have to be deliberate and well-timed, which keeps the flow of gameplay tense at all times.
The environments themselves also feature quite a bit of nuance. All levels have variations on the same few themes. Some level falls apart, giving way to water that instantly kills the player. Some levels have switches that can be hit, moving different set pieces that either push players around, including potentially off of the level, or crush players between them. Others still have portals that you can use to get around the levels. Some simply have moving platforms that are surrounded by water. Almost all of them are designed impeccably, with those featuring quite a few gaps in the level offering players a number of ways to escape their pursuers.
My favorite feature, however, is the way that dashing works. As mentioned before, certain levels have water that you can fall into. There are multiple ways that you might end up in the water. Someone might dash into you, pushing you into it. Someone might not have their boomerang and gamble on kicking you into it. One of the aforementioned environmental features might result in you falling into the water. However, ending up over water doesn’t mean certain death. Instead, there is always a split-second opportunity to save yourself by dashing to safety before you actually fall in. Combined with the more obvious ability to dash out of environmental traps that might otherwise crush you, this makes it so that you can almost always recover from environmental deaths, resulting in more tense matches overall without much more demand in terms of effort.
This core set of complexities is then augmented by power-ups. Each player can have up to three power-ups at a time, which appear on the current map at random as books with a question mark on the cover, with subsequent power-ups replacing those that they already have in chronological order. These include ice boomerangs, which leave behind ice trails that freeze players; fire boomerangs, which leave behind trails that set players on fire, ensuring certain death; multi-boomerangs, which cause your boomerang to split in five in mid-air; explosive boomerangs; the classic control-swapping disorientation power-up; caffeinated, which gives you a permanent speed boost; and more.
While none of these are particularly inventive, the combination of multiple power-ups allows for some really crazy fights. Getting the multi-boomerang and ice boomerang power-ups at the same time, especially on more open levels, allows you to create a veritable gauntlet of ice traps that other players have to avoid or become sitting ducks for later multi-boomerang attacks. When multiple players have multiple power-ups, things can get intense incredibly quickly.
One of the more interesting power-ups is the Battle Royale power-up. When activated, the space that you’re allowed to be in on the map shrinks until it reaches a certain box. If you’re outside that space for somewhere between three and five seconds, you die. Unlike actual battle royale games, the box shrinks quickly. On its own, this is fairly intense, but one round that we got the Battle Royale power-up in took place on a map that slowly fell apart, with the box shrinking to a tile that fell at the last second, leaving a player that was just outside of the box as the last player standing.
However, there is one major problem with power-ups. Despite all of the settings that you can change for matches, you cannot set power-ups so that they clear after every round. This means that, if you do poorly because of a bad set of power-ups, or even just one you don’t know how to use, or simply because someone else has a set of power-ups that work well together and you have practically none, history is going to repeat itself over and over until you maybe manage to get another power-up, granted you don’t die first. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially given that the only other option is to simply turn power-ups off and not engage with them.
This is even more of a problem due to the fact that all power-ups that don’t simply increase the number of boomerangs you have affect you, as well. If you’re really bad with a particular power-up and you are stuck with it until you can possibly cycle it out, frustration mounts quickly. In my time playing, I found that the most error-prone power-up was the fire boomerang power-up. Whereas stepping into your own ice trail offers a chance to escape your frozen state, walking into your own fire trail essentially puts an extremely short death timer on your head, meaning that there is no chance for recovery. While playing the game for this critique, we actually ended up disabling the fire boomerang because it was quite frustrating to be in a situation where throwing your boomerang, one of the game’s core mechanics, meant almost certain death.
Boomerang Fu has one more major issue, but, before I get into that, I want to discuss the options you have when setting up a game in more detail. The game offers three modes: Free for All, Team Up, and Golden Boomerang. The Free for All and Team Up modes are fairly self-explanatory, whereas the Golden Boomerang mode requires players to pick up and hold onto a golden boomerang for a set amount of time, which is saved when you drop it, to win. Each mode allows you to choose which power-ups are available, whether you can pull your boomerang back, whether boomerangs have slight homing capabilities, what the sudden death time limit is, whether match victories are based on kills or last player standing wins, and more. There is also a mechanic that grants players that are fairly far behind in the rankings a shield power-up at the start of each round that can be turned off. In the Team Up mode, you can even decide whether or not teammates can be revived.
In short, Boomerang Fu offers quite a bit of customization when it comes to how you play—except for match length. Whereas everything else can be fine-tuned, match length offers vague options such as “Quick” and “Standard” that mean different things based on the mode and victory conditions. When you’re playing a Free for All match where kills are the victory condition, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but, when you’re playing a Team Up match, even the Quick setting can feel excruciatingly long. I really wanted the option to set the exact victory conditions—for example, a last player standing match with a three-win victory condition—and that is simply not an option. You’re locked into matches of lengths that the developers thought were adequate.
That being said, one option that is greatly appreciated is the option to have any number of bots. As a local multiplayer game, it may be difficult to experience Boomerang Fu at its full potential if you can’t gather people together to play it. Many other local multiplayer indie titles simply don’t bother with bots, instead telling players that can’t get friends together that they have no other option but to hope that services like Parsec or Remote Play Together offer a stable enough connection to the friends in question. However, Cranky Watermelon went the extra mile to provide bots, allowing you to play with a full six-player party even if you can’t get five friends together at once. The bots are fairly competent, as well. Even on Easy, they offer a pretty solid challenge—albeit the Easy setting falters in a team setting. On Medium, they will probably require most players to be on their toes at all times. This was a nice surprise, given that most games struggle with bot difficulty.
There is, however, one major problem with bots: in my experience, moving platforms break them. While some bots can deftly dash back and forth between moving platforms and solid land, the majority almost universally cannot figure out moving platforms. Instead, they simply wander around aimlessly on the platform that has trapped them, waiting for certain death. This one flaw puts a pretty major damper on the otherwise great experience and can cause some rounds to stick out as underwhelming.
Of course, whether this will even affect you will depend entirely on how you decide to play the game. Boomerang Fu’s small set of refined mechanics and equally small arenas allow it to work equally well in both six-player free-for-all and tense 1v1 settings. Despite that, I do imagine that most people will treat it like a party game. The visuals, simple mechanics, and ability to play with up to six players are fairly specifically tuned to a party game setting. That being said, I would love to see it played at a higher level in a 1v1 setting, if only because it is a game that is not an FPS that has a focus on positioning, aim, and timing over execution.
As I said before, it would be easy to pass Boomerang Fu over. If not for the Steam Game Festival demo, I might have. But I’m glad that I didn’t. Despite its outward appearance, it is an exceptionally polished game with a surprising amount of nuance. It’s easy to pick up and hard to master in the best way, leading to more tense, deliberate matches the more you learn about it. Most importantly, however, it’s always fun. Simple, polished mechanics, a disarming look, and quick rounds with quick deaths combine into a game that it’s hard to get mad at—just be sure to disable the fire boomerang power-up. The lack of online multiplayer might make it a hard sell, but, if that doesn’t bother you, you should absolutely pick it up.