Subjective: Valfaris presents for review as a side-scrolling game that features upgradable projectiles and melee weaponry.
Objective: Developed by Steel Mantis, Valfaris is a 2D side-scrolling shooter straight out of the 32-bit era with a heavy metal soundtrack, over the top brutality, and a variety of enemies along the way.
Assessment: Retro games are clearly making a huge comeback with titles popping up constantly that pay homage to games of the past. Valfaris gives you just enough nostalgia but clearly takes advantage of modern hardware and save functionality to keep you from getting too frustrated to continue.
At first glance, it may appear like a run and gun, but there’s more to this game than what meets the eye. Although some elements are similar, the game does a great job of balancing just enough action with boss battles that require patience and not just brute force. You start with the ability to shoot, melee with a sword, or utilize a shield to block or toss back projectiles at enemies. This takes away from your mana energy, which is also the same energy used for your “special weapon.” This special weapon can be stronger projectiles or heat sinking missiles.
You will die a lot. Similar to a “Souls game” you gain experience by just playing the game. You will face off standard melee enemies, but all will have different patterns and some sections of the game will feature infinite spawns. This requires you to not just clear the section, but figure out the most effective way to work through a hoard of enemies without killing every one of them.
Another element I was not expecting was the amount of pure platforming. You have sections of the game that require jumping perfection to pass. This was another great aspect of this game that broke up the shooting sections.
The boss battles are creative as well. I originally thought the game would only give you bosses to force you to bust out your strongest weapons, but I was wrong. You are forced to change your approach against each boss encounter. In some cases you use a weaker weapon and in others you need to focus on audio cues to avoid incoming fire.
Valfaris features extremely responsive controls that helps the game flow smoothly. Within a few minutes you will feel right at home with the default control and basic mechanics. The angle of fire is forced at 8 directions instead of a more “analog” way of shooting. This can feel limiting at times, but shouldn’t be a negative against the controls. I also felt the shield should have been a “dodge” but again, this would have drastically changed the game, but is worth noting.
As you progress, you will collect green triangles which will increase your health and magic bars. These can be spent at shrines to save your progress, but at the cost of losing your increased stats. You are only allowed to carry up to five but this ceiling will increase as you progress through the game. This is a great trade off that gives players a real choice at how they progress through the game.
This kind of risk system encourages players to save less, but has an option if you do get stuck on certain parts of the game. At the same shrines, you also can upgrade if you collect blood metal items. Each piece of gear you carry can be upgraded to be stronger. I also found the variety of weapons is a nice touch. You don’t get bored with the same old setup and you can only switch at the green shrines. This forces you to be smart when you pick your loadout, or, as mentioned earlier, just die more often!
I really can’t review this game without talking about the visual and audio component at length. The audio is metal, with just straight up thrashing guitars, accompanying every enemy advance. As a fan of this genre, it is great and refreshing to hear over a basic “old school” music selection or ambient music. The sound effects also really bring out the environment and the gore you are dishing out. Enemies explode with guts flying and your ears are aware this is a mess along with the visuals.
The graphics fall between some realm of matured 16-bit era, but definitely a notch up from the 32-bit era of Saturn/PlayStation 1 side-scrollers. The frame rate and pure amount of carnage on screen was not achievable back in the day but it is now. My only complaint is you sometimes can’t tell which items are destructible or which are just great background set pieces.
The animation quality is fantastic as well. The game offers an option for a “CRT filter” and it is welcomed in this game. You may find the pure pixels lack the finer detail to really shine on a modern display, but adding the extra “CRT noise” really helps hammer home that soft “retro look” of those old big TVs. I exclusively played with this enabled after I found it in the options. I suggest you do the same.
Replay ability is very high. Just beating the game will encourage you to play again but maybe with less saves or perhaps you are trying to finish the game a bit quicker because you know the boss encounters this time through.
I played on the Switch in both docked and handheld mode performed flawlessly. I did play both on the d-pad (c buttons) and analog, and both were great options, but ultimately I would argue the Pro Controller gives you the best experience.
Retro side scrolling shooters are in no short supply, but a game that combines elements of run & gun, shoot'em ups, and fun platforming challenges really creates an inviting full package for the seasoned gamer. And to top it off, if you enjoy smooth pixel graphics of the 32-bit era, and heavy metal riffs, this is an "insta-buy!"
- Visuals are fantastic!
- Metal music to blood and guts? Yes please!
- Diversity of game play elements; run & gun, platformer, and RPG elements
- Difficulty may be too high for casual play
Prognosis is Good