Valfaris review: Mega death awaits

By Ed Nightingale. Posted

This is one game you’ll want to wear headphones for. Blasting alien scum has never felt so good, accompanied by the persistent thud of a kick drum, the wail of a melody, the chug-chug-chug of guitar chords.

Valfaris is, in short, Contra meets Metroid meets Iron Maiden. A screaming metal soundtrack amps up the thrills as you explore the apocalyptic wastelands, alien hives, and catacombs of the titular planet infested by swarms of creatures. The forgettable plot and characters have faint Norse overtones, but they’re just an excuse for hard and heavy gameplay filled with rock references – from the hellish wolf and skull-ridden enemies, to protagonist Therion headbanging with glee on discovering a new weapon.

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.

The pace of the game is relentless, but it’s just challenging enough to keep you addicted.

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.

If Valfaris were a Eurovision song, it'd be called Boom Bang A Bang. Or something.

Highlight

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.

Verdict

Devil horns at the ready: you’ll need skill to rock this retro quest.

76%

Genre: Shooter
Format: Switch (tested) / PC
Developer: Steel Mantis
Publisher: Big Sugar
Price: £22.49
Release: Out now

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