Reviewed on PCAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
Developed by Steel Mantis and published by Big Sugar, Valfaris is described as "a heavy metal infused 2D action-platformer." That description alone elevated the level of promise I thought this game possessed, but to truly experience the metal, I had to play the metal.
The story of Valfaris is minimal to say the least, though I would not call that a bad thing necessarily. The game starts out with reappearance of the Fortress Valfaris following it's mysterious vanishing. Cue the brooding anger of Therion, our protagonist and native of Valfaris, along with his digital guide Hekate. Therion views how ravaged his previous home has become, immediately assumes that his father, Vroll, has something to do with the devastation, and promptly crash lands his ship so as to jump right into his revenge-fuelled carnage party. Other than occasional clever comments upon meeting new enemies or defeating a boss, that is about it for a story. But I think that in itself IS the story, a member of the Valfaris royal family (if you want to call it that at least), being outraged and obliterating any and all who stand in his way on a path to redeem his home.
Once the initial story snippet finishes, Valfaris throws the player directly into the thick of it. Starting with only a plasma pistol and plasma blade, you are given the briefest of tutorials in the form of control suggestions before turning Therion loose on the creatures and enemies on Valfaris. Right off combat ramps up the intensity as various enemies charge out of nowhere to attack as soon as you are taught how to attack back. In the beginning the pattern is pretty straight forward, such as shooting enemies from a distance, and finishing them off with the plasma blade once they get close enough. Once I became more familiar with the controls and enemy patterns though, I began to much prefer just leaping into the middle of a pack of enemies and just slicing away. Blood and viscera will quickly become common place, even to the extent that you are able to refill some of your health bar by picking up beating hearts dropped from decimated enemies.
Other than beating hearts, a few other notable collectibles are available as you progress. Checkpoints consist of fairly frequently placed altars, though activation of said altars is only possible through green diamond shaped Resurrection Idols. By activating the altar with an idol, you are able to use that altar as a checkpoint for the (many, many, many) times you die during playing, as well as accessing a menu to change or upgrade your weapons. There is a trade-off for accessing these altars, however. Having Resurrection Idols in your possession gives a boost to your health and energy capacities, though this boost is lost when the idols are used. While it might be nice to have more health, it is not so nice to have to traipse back through most of a level when you die simply because you felt like hoarding your idols instead of using a checkpoint.
New weapons can be found throughout the game, some after defeating bosses, some just from exploring a bit. In addition to the pistol and sword weapon shots, more powerful weapons can be found to occupy a third slot. The cost of having a more powerful weapons is the collecting of energy orbs, though these can be spawned simply by attacking enemies and destructible items with your sword. Energy is also used to power your shield though, so moderating how often you blast away with your awesome weapons is not a bad idea. Of course, it is possible to find a power-up that provides infinite energy for a short period, so save that wanton rage for those times. Upgrading weapons is accomplished by collecting Blood Metal, resulting in increasing your weapon's range, damage, special abilities, or other similarly helpful boosts.
The most excitement, and frustration, that I experienced in Valfaris, was when I stumbled upon one of the many bosses. Bosses pop up fairly often while playing, and can be easily recognized due to the health bar at the bottom of the screen which is absent for normal enemies. The sheer variety of bosses was the most refreshing part of my experience. I never felt like I automatically knew what to do when a boss appeared. Every boss requires a different strategy, whether that be where to focus on the screen, when to shield versus all out power plays, to even what weapons to have with you in battle. Thankfully all the bosses have checkpoints close by, because in all likelihood it will take a few tries at least on some of the trickier fights.
Graphics and Sounds
Graphically, Valfaris just works. The grittiness of the environments, enemies, and general pixelation add elegantly to the ambiance set forth by the developers in a way that truly immersed me during my playthrough. But visuals aside, it is really about the music.
Lead by former extreme metal guitarist Curt Victor Bryant of the Swiss band Celtic Frost, Valfaris' soundtrack is an aggressive, heavy-hitting, metal masterpiece. The intensity of the music weaves itself perfectly into the chaotic action of the game play that I can't even imagine playing this game without the sound on. Some games are just made by their soundtrack, and Valfaris certainly such a game. I mean, whenever you collect a new weapon you are treated to a visual of Therion headbanging in all of his metal glory! How metal is that??