Valfaris is a sci-fi side-scrolling shooter, heavily inspired to the old-school classics of the genre such as Super Metroid, but also including modern gameplay elements, and developed by Indie studio Steel Mantis. In this game, players will impersonate Therion, the renegade son of King Vroll, once a great ruler of Space Fortress Valfaris, now gone mad, bringing destruction and misery to all his kingdom. His outcast son has finally come to set things right, and intends to do so in the most metal, gore-filled, destructive way possible.
This game excels in conveying a dark, gore-filled, metal infused atmosphere with its superb sci-fi gothic setting, heavily reminiscent of Warhammer 40.000 (there are even some references to it). The environment, enemy, and weapon variety are excellent and contribute in delivering a different experience both visually and gameplay-wise in every new chapter. Adapting tactics to the new ambient threats and enemies, while discovering which weapon works best in what segment, makes considerable difference. Each level is filled with deadly traps, varied enemies, and several mid-bosses, generally less difficult than the final one of each chapter, but still challenging.
The game formula is well polished but has some flaws to note: first of all, the decision to use 8-way aiming instead of 360° is quite disappointing, at least giving players the possibility to choose between the two would be better; secondly, some bosses once defeated will trigger a “death move” which can kill the player even after defeating the boss (leading to reset from the last checkpoint), very unfair. Last but not least, the final boss fight is absolutely cheap and annoying, not really on-par with the otherwise great boss design seen until that point.
Overall, Valfaris is a really good sci-fi platformer/shooter with spot-on mechanics, superb environment design and exciting action, with some flaws which are definitely overridden by its positive aspects. For the proposed price and offering about 5-7 hours of content, with the future possibility of a New Game+ mode for those interested, and having overall excellent content quality, I definitely can recommend getting this game at full price.
Pros & Cons
+ Superb art direction delivering a spectacular sci-fi gothic theme, plenty of gore and quality battle effects.
+ Excellent heavy metal soundtracks perfectly blending with the game’s setting, emphasizing action greatly.
+ Great variety in weapons, enemy types, boss mechanics, ensuring gameplay freshness from start to end.
+ Brutal, challenging, mostly well designed boss fights requiring timing, skill and understanding of patterns to overcome.
+ Clever risk/reward system, allowing players to sacrifice checkpoints to gain more power and upgrade materials.
+ New Game Plus mode will be added in a post-launch free update.
– The final boss fight is nowhere near as well-designed as the previous ones, but is instead rather cheap and annoying.
– The “death move” mechanic of certain bosses, killing players even after the boss is defeated if not avoided, is very unfair.
– Mandatory 8-way aiming.
🎮 Gameplay Analysis
The gameplay of Valfaris is divided into Exploration, Character Management and Combat.
Exploration is performed mostly on foot, and occasionally using vehicles or alternative means of transportation, such as creatures present in a specific level. Being a side-scrolling shooter, most levels are pretty heavy on the platforming sections, with successive series of jumps to perform while even fighting enemies, on-rail or elevator sections that combine trap avoidance and combat, while also some simple puzzles generally solved by destroying energy cores powering a gate, or by defeating a specific mini-boss holding a key item to progress. Levels feature a good number of secret areas, which rather than being barred behind fake walls or illusions, are instead in “plain sight”, the catch is players need to think about clever ways of reaching them, or take extra risks. Finding secrets is very important especially for players keen to activating most checkpoints, since every unused Resurrection Idol used to power checkpoints can be converted into Blood Metal, an upgrade material, at the end of each level, so finding secrets partially counter-balances the lack of surplus idols.
Character Management mainly consists in upgrading Therion’s weapons, using two materials: Blood Metal at first, dropped by high level enemies, some bosses, and also found in secrets or converted from surplus Idols, and then Blood of Valfaris, an extremely rare material essential for accessing the strongest upgrade levels. The character has two bars, one for HP and another for Energy (MP), used for powering Destroyer Weapons, the strongest arms category. Surplus Idols grant Therion more maximum MP and HP, while hitting enemies in melee, thus with greater risk, rewards large quantities of energy as well. Saving energy only for the strongest foes is recommended.
Combat is the core part of Valfaris’ gameplay and plays out in an old-fashioned way, most noticeably because of the forced 8-way aiming mode, which may appeal nostalgics but is as well a lot clunkier to handle, and classic mechanics such as going through platforms both when jumping and descending in order to avoid enemy hits or reach a vantage point. Some modern mechanics are also thrown in, such as a directional shield stopping most attacks at the cost of energy, and with which Therion can perform a perfect parry, deflecting enemy bullets back at the sender and stunning melee foes for several seconds. Most enemies will not be able to 1-shot players outright, though some bosses nearly manage to, so there is some small room for error, though certain traps do insta-kill. Choosing the right weapons for a specific level can make life much easier, the same can be said for bosses, but it is also true that focusing on a few weapons to upgrade at the highest level is better than having many upgraded just once or twice. Alternating melee and ranged is fundamental to have enough energy for Devastator weapons ready at hand, and in some cases Melee is also a better option.
🔩 Performance Analysis
Given the 2D nature of the game’s graphics, based mostly on sprites and other non-intensive effects, this game should run comfortably even on budget systems. The game does not present any other technical issue to note. Test system: RTX 2080Ti, 32GB RAM, Ryzen 9 3900X.
Valfaris is definitely a well made sci-fi shooter, fans of the genre will be pleased with it and the outstandingly good factors surpass the few problems by a large margin.
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