Hard. That’s the quick response should anyone ask me about Valfaris, developed by Steel Mantis. Once that’s out of my system, my next response would be, “I absolutely love this game”. So, what’s so good about it?
Valfaris is a classic 2D run and gun, platform game that wouldn’t look out of place on any 16-bit machine – possibly 32-bit. You play Therion, a blue-haired metalhead that looks surplus from a Space Hulk adventure. Armed with a plasma pistol, ‘Therion’s Own’ plasma-type sword and the Hellwraith, which shoots tormented souls, he means business and is not likely here to make friends.
There are no separated levels in Valfaris, but the areas are divided up via boss encounters. More on those in a minute. As with most games of this genre, you run from left to right shooting everything in sight, jumping on platforms or over chasms along the way. All three of the weapons you start with are interchangeable and split into three categories. The first is your blaster, which has infinite ammo. Next up is your melee weapon, and the third is for heavy weapons, like missile launchers, flamethrowers and super shotguns.
The weapon choice is pretty decent. Should you become accustomed to one in particular, you can upgrade the effects so that it’s more powerful and/or uses less energy. A quick note: Melee weapons and heavy weapons don’t have ammo, but they consume energy. When this runs out, you can’t use them and must either collect more through killing enemies or finding them out in the wild. Jumping back to upgrades, you collect blood metal along the way. Combine three of these together on a weapon, and the rank will increase. There are four tiers, the later tier requiring a part different from blood metal. Simple yet effective.
Another way to upgrade your weapons is through resurrection idols. These have three functions, first to follow on from the above, collect a certain amount, and these can be used to power up your gun/sword. Alternatively, if you are to hold on to these without using them, your health and energy stats will increase. It sounds like a no-brainer, but beware, you will die quite a bit in Valfaris. While it shares similarities with games like Contra, Turrican and a few other titles, such as Dead Cells, you don’t lose all your gear upon death. Still, you do return to the last checkpoint or resurrection point. This is where the third, more important, feature comes into play: Use the idols to create a checkpoint.
I would love to say that I was able to carry a lot of these idols on my person, but I used them as checkpoints at every opportunity. As I mentioned from the start, Valfaris is hard but not impossible. Deaths aren’t unreasonable as you have a fair amount of health at your disposal. Also, Therion is equipped with a plasma shield to deflect most projectiles (at the expense of energy, once again). At no point did I want to throw my toys out of the cot because I was stuck. I’d just take a break and come back to it as you can play Valfaris in bursts or try and complete it in the two-hour challenge set.
Back to the bosses. These days developers tend to outdo themselves with colossal beasts, demon samurai or overpowered robots. Valfaris has at least two of those, and they are pretty hard. I wouldn’t say they are on par with the bosses found in Dark Souls or Bloodborne, but they do have similar patterns to learn and a second phase. The latter isn’t a ridiculous one-hit-kill move or them regaining three times their original health. Still, the environment may change and/or the stakes rise. Bosses are supposed to be a challenge, but at the same time, they shouldn’t make you want to give up or lose your cool (to some extent). On that basis, I found the bosses to be relatively balanced, and the ridiculous number of times I died was almost always down to my cavalier attitude.
Now, I mentioned that the graphics didn’t pop. It’s a pixelated style, so aesthetically, it looks the same on every system. There are even CRT options, which I always opt for, but they don’t work well with this game, in my opinion. As I said, I wasn’t impressed at first though when you see the variety of creatures, bosses and the level designs, it’s simply fantastic. The animations of the characters is great too. It has a very slight feeling of Blackthorne on the SNES and to Death’s Gambit, a fairly similar aesthetic. The controls are really responsive as well. You control Therion with the left analogue stick, and you can also aim diagonally while holding the L2 button to pull off a decent shot. Overall, everything works in unison…including the sound.
As a metalhead, I have to say that Valfaris has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a game, period. I’m not talking about this generation or the one before but all systems and titles I’ve played. This is hands down one of the best. The heavy riffs kick in just in time for a battle with a boss. Or perhaps you’re blasting your way through the environment when the double bass drums announce their presence. The soundtrack and effects make you want to plough through, no matter how hard it gets. One bonus for me is whenever Therion finds a new weapon, he starts to headbang. Not as comical as Brütal Legend but fun nevertheless.
At the time of writing this review, I’m coming close to the end (I think) and nearing completion. Is there any replay value in the game? Absolutely. There isn’t a multiplayer or even scoring to share online, but the achievements to unlock are insane. Some of the challenges include finishing the game without using more than 10 lives or, as mentioned, complete the game in under two hours. I’ve put more than that mostly because I’m not that good but also because I’ve really been enjoying Valfaris and have to say it’s one of the best shooters I’ve played in a long time.
Developer: Steel Mantis
Publisher: Big Sugar
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Release Date: 10th October 2019 (PC/Switch), 4th November 2019 (PS4), 15th November 2019 (Xbox One)
Do you agree with our review of Valfaris? What are your thoughts? Tell us in the comments section below.