I’ve been excited for Valfaris ever since I first saw the gameplay trailer for the game, and most of that is thanks to the developer’s work on their previous release Slain. Now Slain didn’t set the world on fire by any stretch of the imagination – in fact, it was actually slated by critics and took some real re-working before it even started to feel like a half decent game. However, between the gory action and heavy metal aesthetic, there was clearly SOME potential there for it to be a great little title. I just really hoped that potential could be realised in the developer’s next release…
It seems that the team at Steel Mantis Games really learnt some lessons with Slain, because Valfaris is a better game in all facets of its design. It’s brutal, it’s action-packed, it’s satisfying old school and it’s tough as nails, but, most importantly, it’s also a whole lot of fun to play.
The game’s tale takes place on Valfaris – a once disappeared fortress in space that has mysteriously reappeared in the orbit of a dying sun. It was once a beautiful and harmonious place, but now it homes a mysterious and dangerous evil. You take on the role of Therion, a warrior who originally came from Valfaris, as he re-visits his old home and tries to uncover the truth behind its dark transformation.
This means battling your way across hazardous levels that are full of tricky platforming segments and plenty of enemies for you to slice and dice. Oh, and of course, there are plenty of big nasty bosses to face at the end of each level too. It’s all very old school in design and keeps things simple with its linear approach, though I must admit it is actually quite satisfying to play a stylistic 2D adventure that isn’t trying to be another Metroidvania-style game.
Whilst simplistic in design, Valfaris isn’t shy with varying up the player’s experience. Each level throws something different your way at some point, be it the need for pixel-perfect platforming, a swarm of nasty enemies, vertical challenges that see you working up an environment as opposed to across it, and even on-rail shootouts that keep you constantly blasting away at foes. It’s linear and the direction you need to go is always clear, but it never feels repetitive thanks to the variety of gameplay scenarios you find yourself in.
Your biggest obstacle in the game will be the enemies out for your blood, but luckily Therion happens to be a dab hand when it comes to killing. You’re armed with a sword for some up-close kills and a gun to take down foes from range, whilst you also have access to an extra powerful attack that can unleash some hefty damage when your power meter is full. You’re also equipped with a shield that can be used to protect yourself from incoming attacks – time its use perfectly and you’ll be able to deflect incoming projectiles back at enemies or parry their attacks to leave them vulnerable. Whilst Therion is undoubtedly a badass with his weapons, it’ll be your defensive work that’ll determine your success in Valfaris.
Combat itself is mighty satisfying and I never grew tired of taking down enemies. There’s a good variety of foes to face off against too, so you’ll always feel challenged and that you’ve got to be prepared for whatever new attack is sent your way. You’ll also get access to different weapons (including the likes of a flamethrower, homing missiles, energy gun and whip of fire) which can all be upgraded, so your arsenal is always improving in order to give you a better chance against whatever enemies may be in your path.
Levels are pretty lengthy, so thankfully there are plenty of checkpoints for you to activate in order to save your progress. However, Valfaris’ checkpoints require collectible tokens to activate – these tokens are plentiful so there’ll rarely be a time where you can’t use a checkpoint, but they also have other uses that adds a ‘risk versus reward’ element to the game. For every token you have in your inventory, your health bar increases, which means that sometimes it’s better to skip past a checkpoint and risk losing progress in order to have a bit more health to tackle a tougher area of the game. It’s a clever little mechanic that’ll not only encourage the player to be more careful, but also think ahead as to what threats may be around the corner. Typically, I’d recommend a balance of checkpoints and tokens, but I died so many times after skipping a checkpoint that I would probably recommend players to be a bit more cautious when playing…
Valfaris is a tough game, with plenty of enemies coming at you from all directions and minimal space to avoid their attacks. This could actually be a bit of a problem for me – whilst the controls in the game are solid, there were times where I felt like I didn’t really have the manoeuvrability to avoid incoming hazards. Sure, you can use your shield, but there were times when that wasn’t really viable and the only option was just to take a hit. It could be intentionally designed to be this way, but it just felt a little bit unfair.
It’s noticeable in the boss fights too, which are meticulously designed to be challenging and overwhelming for the player. That’s fine and I’m a fan of taking on a tricky opponent, but again, at times it felt like I was at odds with the game and I was relying on luck to avoid attacks. It’s a shame too, because most of Valfaris’ bosses are brilliant – both from a design and gameplay perspective.
I’d be remiss not to mention the game’s visuals, which are astounding throughout. I’m a huge fan of pixel art anyway, but the vibrantly detailed environments and the grotesque enemy designs in Valfaris simply blew me away. Just look at the screenshots and see for yourself – it looks even better in-game.
alfaris offers a thoroughly enjoyable old school and action-packed sci-fi adventure for players to embark on, with the slick combat mechanics and the challenging difficulty making for a thrilling experience. It just so happens to look incredible too, whilst the weapon variety at your disposal helps ensure that players are prepped for the tough adventure ahead of them.
It’s just a shame that some aspects of the game felt a little bit unfair. Whilst you can block attacks with your shield, sometimes it felt as though enemy attacks were simply unavoidable or that it simply came down to luck as to whether or not you’d avoid a hit. Sure, this could be put down to my own lacking skills, but I think even the best gamers out there will struggle at times here.
Still, it wasn’t enough to ruin my experience with the game and I had a blast seeing it through to completion. Valfaris might be a tough experience that doesn’t always play fair, but the satisfying old-school action more than makes up for it.
Developer: Steel Mantis Games
Publisher: Big Sugar
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC