Get your butt kicked right off, in Valfaris for Switch, PS4, XBox and Steam
It’s taken me a while to write a Valfaris review for the simple fact that this game kicks my butt. It’s hard. It’s like, old-school hard.
What do I mean by “old-school hard?” Well, I’m so glad you asked.
Valfaris plays like an arcade game. It’s as if the developers make a profit by killing, and you can’t help yourself from jamming in another quarter and trying again.
Valfaris is legitimately hard. Developer Steel Mantis has made it difficult by sending huge hordes of enemies at you, swarms of projectiles, punishing platform jumps, wall climbing, all the things you’ve ever loved about run n’ gun platforming. All those elements are here to make your life hell.
And it’s damned delicious! From the graphics and music to the sheer variety of enemies and environments, Valfaris makes you want to keep playing, even if it means your repeated, gruesome death.
So yeah. It’s taken me a while to write this review. I’ve gotten into the habit of finishing games before writing them up. But it really doesn’t look like I’ll be finishing Valfaris. Rather, Valfaris has finished me! But don’t worry, I’ll still provide a take on the game.
Let’s check it out!
You just don’t see that many games that aim to simulate that mid-90s digitized look. We all loved the digitized graphics of Mortal Kombat, Lethal Enforcers, and Donkey Kong Country. DKC is interesting and relevant because Rare was digitizing 3D computer models rather than actors. The result was really impressive at the time, and represents a uniquely awkward phase for gaming graphics when home consoles lacked the processing power of their arcade and PC counterparts. Just barely.
Combine Valfaris’ digitized style with the neon madness of its environments, enemies, projectiles, glowing effects and you’ve got an eye-popping mess. A gorgeous mess of gory glory.
The sound effects are fine. But the tunes in Valfaris are jamming as hell. Remember, this is Steel Mantis’s follow-up to Slain, which was focused around heavy metal. The music in Valfaris lives up to its predecessor. It’s good. You know… if you like metal.
Valfaris has its roots deep in the 16-bit generation. It reminds me a bit of Cybernator, with obvious deference to Contra. It’s not a Metroidvania. It’s not a Roguelike. It’s just a good old fashioned 2D run n’ gun platformer. All you have to do is get from point A to point B. Sounds simple, but you’ll die a lot in the process.
Your character has 3 attacks. A primary sidearm attack which is a pistol or SMG-type weapon with unlimited ammo, a secondary heavy weapon like a rocket launcher or shotgun with limited ammo, and a mighty melee weapon. That secondary weapon has an ammo bar that depletes fairly quickly, so be strategic. Taking out enemies and destructible scenery with your melee weapon will refill your ammo meter.
You’ll get multiple weapons in all three categories as you play through and you can assign and upgrade them at save points. The different weapons can be very different, so there is a bit of strategy involved in choosing the right equipment for your next slog.
You’ll always have one weapon equipped to each category and each one has a button assigned. No switching is necessary mid-action because everything in this game is fast!
Did I mention it’s hard? Yeah, it’s definitely an old-school challenge.
But the ass-kicking is mitigated by a few handy gameplay elements. First of all, you enjoy unlimited continues (unlike so many actual old-school games) so you can keep on banging your head against the same wall if you choose. And while the game doesn’t have an auto-save feature, you do find save points fairly often. Like any old-school game, you’ll find save points before any major battle and after anything the devs think will leave you limping.
There are plenty of grueling challenges that will have you sweating and stressed out. Those save points can seem far apart at times, but Steel Mantis does a great job of presenting game segments in a way that flow nicely. And when you finally get to the next save, you really feel like you’ve accomplished something.
It’s important to point out that Valfaris is hard for the excellent reasons I’ve outlined for you in this review. You will be overwhelmed by enemies and their projectiles and the environment. All at the same time. Consistently. But Steel Mantis has equipped you with super-responsive controls and thoughtfully planned sequences that will reward you for succeeding after trying, dying, trying, dying, trying, dying again.