Developed by: Steel Mantis
Published by: Big Sugar
Category: Action, Arcade, Platformer
Release Date: 10.10.2019
Games like Contra that relied on being brutally hard to keep kids pumping quarters into them have fallen by the wayside. There are still difficult games, certainly, but those arcade quarter gobblers have sort of disappeared. Valfaris upgrades that classic formula but makes it modern for today’s sensibilities. The changes to the formula they make are smart with an awesome wrapper that will keep you rockin’ all the way through.
The interstellar fortress of Valfaris disappeared long ago and has recently reappeared, drawing Therion back to his home to uncover its mystery. You’ll travel from the surface through swamps and labs, deep into the core of this massive fortress, encountering numerous foes along the way. The story of Valfaris is largely coincidental, serving mostly as a justification for the gameplay. The more you discover about the story the more interesting it becomes, but early it is largely forgettable. I would like to find out more about the story based on the ending, as it leaves on quite a cliff hanger.
And while the writing and story may be forgettable, the gameplay is far from it. It is Contra-like in its most basic from. You run and gun enemies down, as you move from left to right, and you die. A lot. But that’s about where the similarities end. There’s no need for a Konami code here, as you aren’t limited to a scant three lives. Instead, throughout the game you’ll find alters which you can activate with green idols you find scattered throughout the levels. These checkpoints help alleviate any frustration you might feel due to the difficulty. The game is quite challenging and has no options to adjust the difficulty. The game never feels unfair though and the checkpoints are frequent enough and placed at appropriate points so you never feel too set back by death.
For those who want an extra challenge or extra rewards, you can bypass alters throughout the level collecting idols along the way to increase your health and energy. I didn’t realize that this was a choice until quite late in the game and hearing someone else describe the mechanic. You start the game able to hold just four idols, but you’ll quickly upgrade the amount you can hold by defeating bosses.
Once again differing from Contra, weapon pick-ups are permanent. Scattered throughout Valfaris are various blasters, swords, and heavy weapons that you’ll use to blast a gory path to your destination. Picking each one up leads to a rockin’ headbanging session before you get back to slicing your way through bugs, skeletons, and space marines. There are numerous hidden spots to find weapons or upgrade points throughout the game. Unfortunately, you cannot go back once you reach a checkpoint, so if you want to see everything, make sure you’re keeping your eyes peeled at all times.
You can have three weapons equipped at a time; a light blaster, a heavy weapon that expends energy to use, and a melee weapon that extracts energy from enemies when they’re struck. The game smartly incentivizes you to use all three to complete each combat encounter. Each weapon you pick-up offers a unique effect making them suitable for different situations. You can use the previously mentioned upgrade points to increase things like fire rate, power, or the number of wolves that are released by your weapon. Yes, you can upgrade the number of wolves your gun releases.
As might be expected from a game that has a gun that unleashes wolves upon your enemies, Valfaris looks awesome. The stages are highly detailed, and I feel odd calling it pixel-art because it feels like so much more than that. The details in the environments are really spectacular, with the detail making Valfaris feel like it truly is an ancient fortress. Many of the bosses and scenes you find throughout the world of Valfaris look like they belong on the cover of a metal album. From the moment your spaceship lands on the planet, you’ll see what I mean.
The soundtrack is similarly metal-inspired, with chugging guitars serving as the backdrop for much of your journey through the fortress. The music kicks into high gear when you meet a boss or have a similarly high-intensity battle. The music feels appropriate for the explosions and gore that are gushing from the bodies of your enemies across the screen at any given moment, but I find myself unable to recall any specific songs from my time with the game. You probably won’t be seeking this soundtrack out after the fact.
The headbanging soundtrack and gorgeously gruesome details pair well with the challenging and rewarding gameplay of Valfaris. It’s a game that I didn’t know I would be interested in but quickly fell in love with once I started playing. As a complete package, it is certainly more than the sum of its parts.