Valfaris Review: Death to All But Metal
Valfaris is the world that heavy metal albums were based on. Each and every aspect of the game should be witnessed with your horns in the air and your head windmilling. It's a fact the game is incredibly proud of.
The art style is grim, gory, and full of grotesque insectoid creatures juxtaposed to futuristic cybernetic soldiers. The music thrashes on as you fight your way through every room, slaughtering everything before you and reducing each enemy to its entrails.
Even the weight of your character is heavy metal; I don't mean that metaphorically, I mean it literally. Landing from any sort of height is rewarded with a satisfying clunk as your character defies physics and lands unscathed. If you came to Valfaris wanting metal in every way, you won't be disappointed.
You have a few different ways to interact with the world, none of which are headbanging. That's reserved for unlocking a new weapon, of which you have several.
To start off, your primary weapon is a pistol, and you also have a melee weapon, which begins life as a plasma sword. Eventually, you get an ostensible heavy weapon. The latter two feed into the game's energy mechanic; killing things with your melee weapon nets you energy and your heavy weapon requires this energy to fire. Simple stuff.
You can also use energy to activate a directional shield. This drains no energy until it takes damage, and activating it allows you to stand in place and aim without moving. More importantly, you can also use this shield to parry both melee and ranged attacks. Doing so with against a melee attack will stun your attacker, which is nice and opens things up for total evisceration. If you can time the parry right, you'll even be able to catch projectiles in your shield; then you can fire them back by releasing the button. It even works on a few of the boss projectiles, too.
And of course, Valrafis wouldn't be metal enough if there weren't monstrous bosses.
You'll fight toad monsters that spit exploding tadpoles at you (at least, I really hope they're tadpoles), massive mechs with flamethrowers for arms, and even something called a junk gargoyle, which could easily be a nickname for an old, riff-thrashing raccoon. Each one has new patterns to learn and attack strategies to master, but it's not always all that difficult to defeat them.
While some of the battles require perfect planning, there are a couple that you can cheese by merely standing still and firing from the right place. Those are rare, but it still detracts from the usual high of success.
In between each of these bosses are different levels, some of which are very enemy heavy and simple. Others are very enemy heavy and complicated. A lot of these feel inspired by the games of yesteryear, such as Contra and even Blackthorne.
There's a level where you ride a platform slowly across lava and occasionally jump off to clear obstacles that feels a lot like the same type of level in Mario. There's a level where you hang on an alien worm to be carried through a spike-infested hallway that could easily be in Mega Man. There's even an annoying level where you have to escape from an ever-rising tide of deadly acid while enemies try and knock you down the tower; that one feels like Ghouls N Ghosts.
It's a good mix for the most part, even if it rarely feels like there's anything new happening.
- Excellent visual and audio aesthetic
- Combat has a very satisfying weight
- Headbanging when you get new items
- Some sections feel unfair rather than difficult
- Doesn't do much that hasn't been done before
My biggest issue with the Valfaris is that it never feels very original. It's all good, and it's all hard in a rewarding sense. But it's not doing anything new. That's doesn't make it less enjoyable, it just means you'll occasionally feel as though you're playing a medley of old games, rather than a new one.
It could well be that coming at it with less experience with 16- and 32-bit games will have this feeling fresher to you, but, unfortunately, I'm old, so I do remember.
That being said, Valfaris is still a solid game, and one that is metal AF, and I do kind of love it for that. If you're looking for a hard-as-nails action game to sink your teeth into while thinking about death and stuff, this could well be your next favorite metal album. \m/
[Note: A copy of Valfaris was provided by Good Old Games for the purpose of this review.]