Steel Mantis / Big Sugar (studio)
11 November 2019 (released)
20 November 2019
You know the drill by now. 2D pixel art side scroller with plenty of action! Colourful, intense and with a level of difficulty that will certainly test the veteran gamer! Valfrais promises to deliver this and a little more for those that dive right into it. But with so many games like it on the market, can it stand out and beat the competition? Let’s find out.
Valfaris has an interesting enough set up and story as you play Therion, a fearless warrior embarks on a mission to explore the infamous fortress of Valfaris. This being a very strange and dangerous place as mysteriously disappeared from galactic charts, only to return right out of nowhere.
With its re-appearance however, Valfaris is clearly a much different place from before. Classed as a self-contained paradise, it now homes a terrifying source of evil, even creating a dying sun nearby. So Therion embarks on a journey that has personal ties to him, in order to correct the mistakes of his father and save the day. As mentioned, I personally like this set up and reminisces the plots of many older games from the 16 bit and 32 bit era. Which Valfaris takes many influences from. Therion appears to be your standard gruff and witty mouthed brute who loves heavy metal. But as the game progresses, you do get a sense he’s troubled by this place and something at the fortress’ core, is deeply disturbing to him.
This reminded me so much of Event Horizon and in some ways it foes borrow the more compelling elements from that film. Overall Valfaris has a neat enough story and a good foundation for bringing you all the awesome and terrifying things it does.
Gameplay is pretty darn simple, yet very engaging for those who love these types of games. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but has a couple of interesting dynamics to make it worth the journey. You expect the usual stuff of running through nicely detailed levels, shooting a host of different bad guys with a nice arrangement of guns. Most enemies do tend to end up being mindless cannon folder who have basic attacks and movements, never having much in regards to tactics or intelligence. But shooting them and exploring the levels, which are efficiently created offers a great experience none the less. Levels are pretty linear but there are plenty of set pieces, sub bosses, main bosses and even exploration for hidden rewards. Valfaris is not a Metroidvania game but goes a little further than what most games in the genre do.
There’s quite a nice selection of guns and melee weapons to find, use and upgrade over the course of the game. Valfaris has you covered with a standard pistol/shotgun to more complex and deadly ones such as the rocket launcher and flame thrower. Upgrading is a compelling mechanics here as it does make even the simpliest guns into magnificent tool of death. I big fear was that like most games, once you find a new gun, that would replace your use of the older ones and any upgrades would become redundant. Thankfully each gun has a purpose and feeling useful in different levels no matter what. I would keep my standard side arm and upgrade it throughout, but switched between the flame thrower and rocket launcher. But on my second playthrough I did experiment and found that in the right hands, every gun is important and has it’s own strengths and weaknesses
The big draw here is the difficulty and a compelling risk and reward element. In Valfaris as you traverse each level, you’ll collect resurrection idols. These act as tokens for activating check points. But if you chose to keep them then Therion’s health will increase and at the end of each level, you have a chance to exchange them for upgrade tokens. So it plays on your need for security and asks you to risk playing chunks if not entire levels for some well needed upgrade tokens or extra health. But the main issue is that you can only acquire a certain (quite low amount) of upgrade tokens at the end of each level. So it would make sense to use a resurrection idol here and there and save two/three for the upgrade tokens at the end. Then coming to the extra health, it’s useful but having a checkpoint before a boss will always appeal more than a little bit of extra health (5% or so).
Another point I wanted to make and it’s quite subjective. But I personally didn’t find Valfaris all that difficult. Maybe because I’ve played so many games like this, I understand how to beat them without much trouble. But I felt Slain (the developer’s previous game) was much more challenging. Even to save resurrection idols didn’t increase the difficulty all that much. Bosses can be pretty easy to beat once you learn their behaviours, but close to the end does Valfaris step up its game. But overall there is an enjoyable and balanced sense of challenge. But the overall difficulty and risk and reward system could’ve been expanded upon.
Valfaris pays great homage to the 32 bit era of side scroller action games yet implements a few new tricks to make it so much more. Even though these new elements couldn't had more weight and this they don't completely enhance the experience overall, they’re a neat way to add strategic layers to a fun action game. Overall Valfaris is intense, compelling and a lot of fun, making it a bang worth your bucks.
++ Solid gunplay and level design
+ Great sound track and visuals
- Risk and reward elements could've been expanded
A PS4 review key of Valfaris has been provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.