If you’re planning a game night, Boomerang Fu is essential.
Making a really good party game is, I think, a lot more difficult than it may appear. It needs to be easy to pick up and get the hang of when you’ve never played it before, but also offer some sense of a developing strategy. At the same time, it probably shouldn’t be so heavily reliant on strategy and game knowledge that a first-time player will feel completely outclassed by an experienced one—there’s a time and place for such design in games built primarily for serious competition, but probably not in something where you’re mostly just playing with mates to goof off.
Most importantly, but also the most difficult to really define, is that it should be fun in a way that encourages friendly rivalry and light-hearted trash talking, and avoid becoming the sort of thing that just sends everyone to the salt mines. (Monopoly is not a good party game, is what I’m saying.)
Balancing all these things is not an easy task. There’s a reason games like Mario Kart and Mario Party are party game staples, while other games that seem superficially similar fall to the wayside—and it’s not just character recognition. Nintendo has spent years nailing down the somewhat mysterious formula that really makes a party game tick, in a way that few other developers have been able to manage.
But a tiny indie studio in Sydney, Australia by the name of Cranky Watermelon has also cracked the secret to those mystic arts. The proof of that is Boomerang Fu, one of the purest, most delightful party games I’ve played in a long, long time.
The basic concept is simple: up to six players drop into an arena, each playing as their favourite piece of food, each armed with a boomerang, and the goal is to use said boomerang to slice kill everyone else. A single hit is all it takes to be turned into a fruit salad, and the physics inherent in a thrown boomerang make avoiding those hits—and figuring out how to stop other people from avoiding your own—a rollicking endeavour.
A thrown boomerang will come back, assuming there’s a path back it can follow. But if it hits a wall or some other obstacle during its flight, it’ll simply fall to the ground, leaving its thrower weaponless and helpless until they can pick it up again. That, right there, is the heart of Boomerang Fu. Each arena is full of different obstacles and objects for you to use to your advantage, both to protect yourself from your foes and to try and create opportunities to attack. You can also wield your boomerang as a melee weapon—a safer option in some ways, since you don’t risk losing it, but getting into melee range of someone else also means being just as open to their melee attacks.
It’s a deceptively simple concept, but even before you come to the added layers of power-ups and unique environmental elements (which I’ll come to in a moment), it makes for a wild, hilarious game that hits all those things that make a good party game tick. There’s a surprising amount of depth and emergent strategy that crops up as you play, especially when you start to get more familiar with the different arenas.
Learning how to use the layout of a map to sneak up on people; figuring out the best timing and positioning for a killer throw; knowing when to attack and when to run away; getting used to using the level design to protect yourself—these are all things that come naturally from just playing the game. There’s a definite element of skill in play, but it’s not really something you can study up on or practice through rote in the way you might approach a more serious competitive game. Instead, they’re things that a group of players will pick up intuitively over the course of a play session, creating a constant loop of gradual improvement and rivalry-inducing one upmanship.
That means that someone who’s spent a lot of time with Boomerang Fu will have a bit of an upper against someone who’s playing for the first time, but it doesn’t take long for a new player to find their feet and be able to hang with the more experienced lot. There’s also a lot of chaos inherent in the game’s design that means that no matter the difference in skill, newbies will sometimes wreck old hats. When you have six players on screen and boomerangs flying every which way, sometimes—often, even—you just take a hit that you probably shouldn’t have, or get away with a play that wouldn’t work under more controlled circumstances.
I’m careful not to say “random”, though. The only random element to Boomerang Fu is the spawning of power-ups, and that’s a dice roll that mostly exists on an even playing field, anyway. Rather, it’s just the chaos that emerges from the frantic, fast-paced nature of the game that acts as a bit of an equalizer; no matter how experienced you are, it’s difficult to keep track of everything that’s happening on the screen at once, and so sometimes you get taken by surprise.
It’s this that feeds into another crucial part of a good party game: the trash talking. It’s hard not to gloat, at least a little bit, when you steal a cheeky win from underneath someone’s feet, but it’s also hard to get too upset when that happens to you. A single round will rarely last more than a minute (and will often be over in a matter of seconds), so you’re never too far away from a chance to get your own back. The rambunctious nature of the game itself feeds a lively energy in the room among the people playing, with the ribbing and rivalries that come with that. (Which isn’t to say that there aren’t still sore losers out there who’d find a way to take Boomerang Fu too seriously, but that’s something that the design of the game actively discourages. Those are people you probably just don’t want to play party games with in the first place.)
Extra layers come in the form of power-ups and unique obstacles found within the game’s different arenas. Power-ups are fairly self-explanatory: they start to spawn randomly around the map in the latter rounds of a game, giving players things like shields, exploding boomerangs, and the ability to dash through walls, or even creating a battle royale-style shrinking map. They add a bit of a random element that isn’t really game-breaking, but does work to make an already chaotic game even more so—if you think six regular boomerangs flying every which way is frantic, wait till they start bouncing off walls and blowing up. That said, there’s also the option to turn power-ups off entirely, or individually pick which ones you want to exclude, for a more custom, house-rules type of game.
Boomerang Fu features some 30 different battle arenas, all with their own unique quirks. Some have plenty of walls and objects to hide behind, and some are big, open spaces where everyone’s constantly in the potential path of another boomerang. Some have bodies of water that you can fall into if you’re not careful (and die if you do), some have switches that you can hit to move walls around, and some have moving gadgets that can be both a hindrance or something to use to your advantage. Some have teleporters, and some have big blocks that’ll crush an unsuspecting player who lingers in one spot too long. Each new round of a game moves to a different, randomly-selected map, ensuring you’ll frequently have new tools and traps to work around (or make use of).
The different maps and power-ups don’t fundamentally change the core loop that makes Boomerang Fu tick, but they do augment it nicely with a few extra layers of eccentricity. There are a couple of different game modes, too, including a team-based mode and a “golden boomerang” mode that sees everyone fighting to hold onto the golden boomerang for the longest time possible. But I think the classic free-for-all is Boomerang Fu at its most frantic, and as a consequence, where it shines brightest.
The trade-off to all this is that Boomerang Fu is, fundamentally, a party game. There’s no online multiplayer or any sort of single-player content beyond a normal game but against bots, because these things don’t really fit with what the game is trying to do. You could create a multiplayer version of the game, but it just wouldn’t have the same energy as playing with everyone in the same room, which is an important part of what makes Boomerang Fu tick. You could, in theory, create some sort of single-player, objective based game modes, or even a story mode, but I think they’d struggle to capture the magic of what makes the multiplayer game work as well as it does.
I don’t say that as a criticism, but more as something to keep in mind. Boomerang Fu is a pure party game, and that focus helps it to do what it does best. It’s rare to find a game that’s so able to balance depth with approachability, strategy with not leaving new players out to dry, and a lively competitive energy that doesn’t end up with players getting too serious about the whole thing. Boomerang Fu hits all those notes perfectly.
Boomerang Fu is developed and published by Cranky Watermelon. It comes out on August 13 for Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.