Set in a far corner of space, Valfaris tells the epic tale of the mysterious reappearance of the Valfaris fortress after mysteriously vanishing from galactic charts. Once a self-contained paradise, the citadel has become the host for darkness. It is up to Therion, the son of Valfaris, to save the fortress by hunting and destroying the evil in the heart of the citadel.
Valfaris is a 2D action-platformer reminiscent of classic Contra games from the NES and Super NES era. The main difference being that Therion has a few more aces up his sleeve compared to Bill Rizer & Lance Bean. The Valfaris protagonist can jump, run, shoot, melee with his trusty sword and use a shield. Therion has a default weapon with unlimited ammo that will allow him to get through the enemies at first.
As you play through the game, players will unlock various side-weapons and swords to increase the firepower. From a rapid-fire machinegun to a powerful shotgun, players are sure to find a setup for their playstyle. Although note that some side-weapons are more effective against certain enemies so it’s wise to try them out to see what works best. Some bosses won’t get much damage from the missile firing gun, however, damage could be doubled by the shotgun; for example. Side-weapons are dependant of a skill meter which depletes as he fires his secondary gun. Thankfully, some killed enemies will drop Blue Skulls which refills the meter; Skulls can also be found hidden through the levels.
While the mission design is mostly straight forward and has you running, gunning and slashing from left to right, some levels have a few nuances in order to get the design from becoming too repetitive; aside from the bosses and their unique patterns, sometimes you’ll need to destroy an egg-like bubble on the walls to open the passageway or grab a ride along a friendly flying worm while firing your weapon.
As players progress through the game, they’ll also come across Resurrection Idols which can be used on blue-ish podiums in order to activate a checkpoint; and this is crucial. Why? Because Valfaris’ difficulty will be reminiscent of Konami’s classic franchise: it’s hard. Sure, not Dark Souls kind of hard, but this game requires quick reflexes to avoid enemies and their attacks. While the first level is well balanced to get players acclimated, the difficulty ramps up pretty quick with the second level. You’ll die a lot and often; either because you didn’t pay attention to your surroundings or you got lost in the shuffle.
As you progress through the game, you’ll find additional firearms and need melee weapons for your pleasuring rampage. You can also find Blood Metal parts which allows players to upgrade their weapons at the various checkpoint pedestals across the game. Thankfully, you don’t need a Resurrection Idol to upgrade the weapons; so if you missed the Idol on your way to the pedestal, as some are well camouflaged, you can upgrade your weaponry without having to activate the checkpoint.
An interesting tidbit about those Idols. You can hold a certain quantity at any time (which increments by 1 after boss battles), however, they have more than one functionality. As long as you keep them in your inventory, i.e. forgo their use at checkpoint pedestals, Therion’s health will be increased. It’s an interesting option that can make things more difficult; do I keep the health bonus and risk starting over after dying at a boss or I’d keep my default health? Thankfully, if you picked up a Resurrection Idol and you die, you won’t lose it. So if you managed to pick it up in a death-defying manner, you won’t have to go through that again.
The main issue I have with this game is that the character’s reaction time compared to enemy attacks feels slower than enemy movement; especially the melee attacks with the sword. Firing the guns is well enough responsive, but sometimes it feels slow to use the sword. While I can understand it feels stronger than your firearms, trying to time attacks when you’re being pummelled from left to right, it can prove costly health-wise.
Valfaris’ presentation is solid from top to bottom. The game’s retro 16-bit visuals are very bright and colorful and a nice throwback to a classic period of gaming. While it looks great, it can act as a downfall for the as when you’re in the middle of enemies, it is possible to lose track of your character amidst the carnage, but as long as you keep moving, it’s easier to keep track. Otherwise, your health will deplete pretty quick. The soundtrack is solid; if you’re a hard rock and metal fan. The score, much like the visuals, is in your face matches the game’s crazy, sometimes overwhelming, action on the screen. It can a bit reminiscent of DOOM (2016) but on a smaller scale.
Old school gamers and players looking for a challenge can do no wrong with Valfaris. It’s basically a love letter to classic run-and-gun games from the golden era of gaming. It’s fun, hard and frustrating, but like most games of the genre, you learn from your mistakes and that allows you to reach the next level. Definitely one of the best, most challenging, experience of the year.
- Classic 2D Contra-like action
- Great weaponry
- Idol system for checkpoints is a nuisance
- Prepare to die… a lot