Big guns, bigger monsters, and death metal. These are the bricks that make the foundation of Valfaris, a 2D side-scrolling shooter/platformer from Steel Mantis. Best known for their previous game, Slain: Back From Hell, Steel Mantis have returned and cranked the sci-fi to eleven with Valfaris.
Taking place on the planet of the same name, Valfaris puts you in the shoes of Therion, a space warrior on a mission to restore his home planet from an alien-infested wasteland to something inhabitable. Inspired by shooters from the 16- and 32-bit eras, it’s a colorful and creative romp through a treacherous planet with a wide variety of weapons and enemies. The presentation in Valfaris is absolutely top notch.
Valfaris plays like an old Contra game with a Heavy Metal twist. Running ‘n gunning feels great with three different options for attacks. You have a primary gun, a sword, and a heavy weapon that is dependent on an energy meter. Energy can be restored with melee attacks or by picking up blue skulls, which are occasionally dropped by enemies, along with health items.
I particularly like the melee attack. It’s always satisfying to kill a couple enemies in one swing of the sword, regain some energy, then blast through the next few enemies with heavy fire. The primary weapon is okay at the start, but the first upgrade barely comes soon enough. The difficulty ramps up at a steady rate, keeping the player on their toes, while never becoming too overwhelming.
There are various weapons to find throughout Valfaris, all of which get progressively more badass, and everything can be upgraded by finding pickups called “Blood Metal”. New weapons are usually found slightly off the beaten path, but aren’t outright hidden. Every time a new weapon is found, Therion starts headbanging to a guttural death metal breakdown. It’s incredible to say the least.
You will need to pick up green Resurrection Idols and spend them to unlock access points, which act as checkpoints and weapon upgrade stations. Luckily the checkpoints are frequent enough, because there’s a challenge to be found in Valfaris. It only takes a few hits to die and health items aren’t plentiful, but the game is very fair and makes you learn from your missteps. I never found myself frustrated with the game itself, something I can’t always admit.
The visuals in Valfaris very impressive, managing to retain the 32-bit look while also being very detailed. The backgrounds and environments are varied, with tons of color, foliage, and weird spacey stuff to please the eyes. All the bosses are unique and look amazing, even when they’re punishing you for a bad move.
The sound design is absolutely my favorite part of Valfaris. I’ve always loved loud and aggressive music, and the soundtrack is nothing but relentless. At times, you’ll be treated to a slower, more epic tune to give you a break from the intense chugging riffs and breakdowns. There was a never a moment when the music failed to enhance the experience, complimenting every single enemy encounter.
The controls are simple and work very well, giving you the option to maneuver with the d-pad and left stick, which I feel is necessary for a game like this. My only complaint would be that you have to repeatedly press the primary weapon button instead of being able to hold it down and keep firing. Otherwise everything feels as good as it looks and sounds.
The presentation and performance are both fantastic. I played Valfaris on my PlayStation 4 Pro, and encountered no hiccups, slowdown, or bugs, even when the screen was exploding with action.
Valfaris surprised the hell out of me. I didn’t have much expectation going on, but it’s fast-paced, fun, and never lets off. With great visuals, gameplay, and the best soundtrack I’ve heard all year, I would recommend Valfaris to anyone looking for a proper return to the shooters of yesteryear. Just expect a challenge, and a whole lot of metal.