Review – Valfaris
Back when I reviewed Slain: Back From Hell, I asked if you ever wanted a Castlevania game with heavy metal and a ton of gore. Slain delivered on that thoroughly and now we have the next game from Andrew Gilmour and Steel Mantis and it is just as badass, and in ways, much improved. While you can instantly tell this is a Steel Mantis game, Valfaris differs quite a bit from Slain. Lock and load your weapons of mass destruction, angel of death, it’s raining blood today.
Valfaris puts you in the role of Therion, a fearless and proud son of Valfaris, on a quest to to find out what happened to his home world. After mysteriously vanishing from galactic charts, the fortress of Valfaris has suddenly reappeared in the orbit of a dying sun. Valfaris has been taken over by an arcane evil power that is infecting your once beautiful home world and Therion must rid it of the plague and find what happened to his family. Accompanied by an AI, you will shoot, slice, and maim your way through monsters and soldiers alike.
The pixel art visuals lend very well to the overall feel of Valfaris, adding a bit of that roughness of a heavy metal style to it. In fact, there aren’t many games out there that perfectly infuse the spirit of heavy metal throughout the entire game like Valfaris does. From the brutal looking enemy design, to the very detailed environments, to the overall look and feel of the weapons; Valfaris oozes heavy metal badassery.
It’s easy to write off pixel art as being too simple, but Steel Mantis really knows how to add a lot of detail within everything. Even the animations are nice and smooth from the foreground to the background. The gore here is handled brutally, and by that I mean, it’s handled brilliantly. Chopping foes in half and watching their legs run around, blowing enemies into chunks; it is very rare to not have a blood soaked screen. Also, the way lighting is handles is really nice. Around levels there will be lights that you can shoot out that drastically change the glow of things. In certain dark areas when you shoot your gun, it will actually light up the background as well as all the foreground.
One of my main issues with Slain was that the gameplay lacked a bit of variety or depth, as well as some hit detection issues, and I’m happy to say that Valfaris improves a lot here. You’re equipped with a sword, side arm, heavy gun, and a shield. You will pick up a large assortment of each of these weapons (besides the shield) which all have very unique properties. Every new side arm, sword, and heavy gun all behave differently and are useful in different situations. These are easily swapped out at checkpoints as well as four upgrade tiers that alter the look of the shot as well as its properties. One of my favorite things is finding a new weapon. Not only is it exciting to see what it is, but you do this slick headbanging animation to a heavy guitar riff that gets you pumped to gore some enemies.
There is a unique gameplay mechanic that really has you decide to take a risk or use a checkpoint. As you proceed, you’ll acquire Resurrection Idols that allow you to stop at a checkpoint and refill your life as well as change or upgrade your weapons. However, you can save these Idols to use at various structures that turn them into Blood Metals, which you use to upgrade your weapons. Not only that, but the more Idols you have on you, the more life and energy you have. So there is a real balance here where if you’re really good and confident you can skip a checkpoint and bank it for an upgrade or keep it for increased health.
Besides your health, you have an energy meter that is used up while absorbing damage with your shield or using your heavy weapon. This is refilled by picking up items that are dropped from enemies. There are also points where you’ll get unlimited energy allowing you to go on a murder spree with your heavy weapon. Your shield can also be used to perfectly deflect projectiles or parry enemies who use melee attacks. Some enemies require you to stun them with a parry before moving in for an attack. This timing can be tricky at first, but it’s actually fairly forgiving.
A couple gripes I have with the combat is that with such a heavy focus on guns I wish they would have had a twin-stick system or free aim. You’re stuck to an 8-way aiming system that is annoying for PC, but still restrictive even for a controller. This also leaves a lot of bosses open for manipulation as it’s very easy to bait them into aiming away. Free aim would also allow you to run the opposite way of where you shoot because as of now if you need to run and grab health you would need to turn your back. I would have also liked to see some sort of dodge move as well, but adding twin stick with the shield would have been just fine.
I would have also enjoyed a bit of puzzle solving within the levels. I feel like there is something missing here where Steel Mantis could have gotten creative with the guitar riffs and some puzzles. Or with the various weapons, have a bit of metroidvania aspects where you may need to backtrack a little to equip a gun that may help you unlock a path. There are so many guns, I felt like they could have added something more to the world with them other then pure destruction. This is a smaller nitpick considering the action platforming here is still very solid, but perhaps in their next title we can see a bit of an evolution on the level design.
The sound design is fantastic here, as I’m sure you guessed, a fantastic heavy metal soundtrack recorded by Curt Victor Bryant. While there are some repeated pieces from Slain in here, I don’t mind hearing it again. Voice acting is non existent, but a game like this doesn’t really need it. The main focus here is the soundtrack and the sound effects. The vast breadth of weapons all have their own distinct sound and stand out well, the gory chunks when enemies blow up sound chunky and gruesome. There isn’t much to fault with the sound design.
Valfaris is a fantastic title that shouldn’t be missed if you’re a metal head or even if you just like gory 2D action-platformers. It excels at just about everything it strives for and perfectly melds it all into a heavy metal theme. You won’t pick this game up for its story or moving voice over, but if you are looking for a brutal, at times challenging shoot ’em up platformer, then Valfaris is for you. Steel Mantis does it again and I can’t wait to see how they improve on their already winning formula moving forward.
Even with the minimal pixel art direction, Valfaris still impresses with its amount of detail and overall design.
2D action platformer that is a ton of fun to play and offers plenty of combat variety. Some issues lie within its 8-directional aiming system, however.
Sound design is fantastic with punchy weaponry, chunky gore, and a fantastic heavy metal soundtrack.
There is something very special in the way Steel Mantis blends heavy metal into every ounce of Valfaris. The gameplay is fun and the soundtrack face melting. I want more.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Valfaris is available now on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Valfaris was provided by the publisher.