There’s a pleasingly retro feel to it all, with its PSone-era side-scrolling graphics and linear level design. There’s even a CRT mode that adds scan lines to the visuals. Gameplay is surprisingly elegant and nuanced for such a bombastic game: pistol shots are weak but infinite, while secondary weapons and your shield use up energy that’s replenished by melee attacks. And so battles become a dance between attack, defence, and melee against hordes of parasitic aliens and robotic soldiers.
Collecting ‘blood metal’ allows you to level up your weapons, while resurrection idols have the dual purpose of increasing your health and activating checkpoints, adding a risk-reward wrinkle of more health or less repetition. The levels themselves are also filled with creativity: there’s not only running and gunning, but also platform challenges and on-rail sections. Amongst all this, the metal theme never feels contrived or overdone.
Therion is a little sluggish to control (a dodge manoeuvre would’ve been welcome), but he makes up for it in firepower. There are tons of weapons to collect, from the obvious pistols and shotguns to more inventive forms of alien torture, yet each feels satisfyingly weighty to wield, and they’re given appropriate names like Hellhammer and The Bastard. Your arsenal is given plenty of feedback with enemies expiring in showers of goo, and there’s a whole host of ingenious bosses to defeat – learning their patterns and weaknesses is a blast.
Death is frequent in Valfaris, but swift restarts numb the pain. Later levels do feel a little cheap, though, by simply ramping up the number of enemies in frustrating placements, instant death situations, and bosses that have an annoying tendency to kill you just after you think you’ve beaten them. Even so, Valfaris is a slick, six-hour adventure with old-school bite that’s more satisfying than smashing up a guitar.
From meaty shotguns to missile launchers, laser swords, arachnid limbs, and beams of electricity, there’s a huge array of inventive and powerful weapons to use. You’re unlikely to upgrade them all in one playthrough, but experimenting with different combinations is the game’s greatest joy.
Devil horns at the ready: you’ll need skill to rock this retro quest.
Format: Switch (tested) / PC
Developer: Steel Mantis
Publisher: Big Sugar
Release: Out now