From the same team that brought us Slain: Back from Hell comes another heavy metal infused 2D action-platformer. This time around though it’s a shooter on top of that. Valfaris is a game full of fun combat, great art, and some cool level design. However, it does not come without its issues.

Pros:

Detailed pixel art style. What originally caught my eye with Valfaris is the incredibly detailed pixel art style it uses. Everything from the environments, to the enemies, and even the particle effects are all excellently crafted and perfectly fit the game’s heavy metal theme. Although the game is dark in nature, it does not adopt a static color palette, with some areas being bleak and full of muted colors and others more animated with brighter colors. It makes for a very visually appealing experience, even if it does come with some problems (which I’ll get into later).

Fun and impactful combat. To go along with the game’s heavy metal theme, Valfaris offers up some really fun and impactful combat to match. You can have three weapons equipped at once: your basic weapon that has infinite ammo and does mediocre damage, your melee weapon that grants you energy per enemy killed, and your special weapon that makes use of this energy to dish out some heavy damage. It becomes important to use a combination of these three, as using your special weapon drains your energy quickly, so you’ll want to match that by getting plenty of melee kills.

There’s a lot of room for customization though, with some weapons firing simple projectiles, some using piercing lasers, and some inflicting status effects on enemies. I personally loved using the jelly sword, a melee weapon with really long range that I managed to fully upgrade to the point where I could mow through crowds of enemies with ease.

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Of course, none of this would matter if the actual combat didn’t feel good, but fortunately that is not the case here with Valfaris. Hits provide ample feedback, hitboxes are pretty clear, and the combat actually has some meat to it. Of course, some may have issues with the 8-directional aiming, but there’s so much customization to the combat that you can easily work around it if it bothers you.

Excellent level variety. Not only are the game’s levels visually appealing, but they are also very diverse in their design. You’ll get your standard levels that just have you moving right and hopping to and from certain platforms, but then you get some areas that have you dodging various traps, riding elevators full of enemies, and even traveling on a flying caterpillar-like creature while avoiding turret fire. There are even a few areas where you can command a giant death mech equipped with a flamethrower.

And of course, there are also a bunch of secrets to find scattered about. Some secrets may give you a blood metal or two, but some may even grant you an entirely new weapon, so it’s definitely worth your time to search them out.

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What makes all of this even better is that the game is constantly throwing new enemies at you along with these environments. These enemies aren’t lazily done either, with some introducing entirely new mechanics to the game, such as this one blade-wielding enemy that would block all of my attacks until I managed to stagger it or make it throw its blade at me. It was always fun to reach a new area and see what the game had in store for me.

Customizable difficulty. Valfaris does not have difficulty levels. However, it does have an in-game mechanic that allows the player to customize just how difficult it is. This mechanic comes in the form of the game’s checkpoints. Throughout the game, you’ll come across these green items called resurrection idols. These idols, when held, give you a boost to maximum health and energy, with their effects stacking if you pick up more than one.

However, you can also spend these idols at checkpoints to activate them, losing the HP and energy boost in the process. It becomes a trade-off of sorts, with players given the option of having higher HP and energy or less of a distance to travel if they die. Really good players can stockpile these resurrection idols and spend them after boss fights to turn them into blood metals, which can then be used to upgrade weapons, also losing the higher HP and energy in the process.

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It’s a pretty cool system to manage the game’s difficulty. Those wanting more of a challenge can forgo these checkpoints and just keep upgrading their HP, energy, and weapons, and those wanting a more forgiving experience can just activate every checkpoint they see. The game gives enough idols to make the latter possible, so it falls on the player to choose.

Cons:

Enemies can be hard to see. I may have praised the game’s detailed pixel art, but it unfortunately comes with one major drawback: that being that enemies can oftentimes be hard to see against the environment. Because the game lacks any sort of outlining, there were several areas where enemies blended in with the background or some other object, which led to quite a few deaths on my part.

It’s not just the enemies though, projectiles are much, much more difficult to see at times. For example, there was this giant enemy called the tomb keeper that shoots off little bolts of lightning. These little lightning bolts got me quite a few times simply because they were too transparent, and thus blended in with the background a bit. Now, I have great vision and still had issues with this, so I would imagine that the problem is much worse for those that are visually impaired. As it stands, the game does not appear to offer any options to mitigate this problem.

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Trial-and-error gameplay. Valfaris is a game that pays homage to classics of the past, unfortunately borrowing a few mechanics from those classics that just don’t feel good to play against. This includes enemies being ably to spawn right on top of you, bosses exploding or unleashing some sort of attack right after they’ve been killed, rooms set up just to trap and kill you, and bunch of other gameplay tricks that oftentimes just end up feeling cheap.

It is a game that heavily emphasizes trial-and-error gameplay. For those that don’t know, this is the kind of gameplay where you are punished for not knowing something in advance, something that you could not have possibly known beforehand without looking it up. A boss exploding (especially one that doesn’t look like it should) right after being defeated is a classic example of this. In fact, there was one point where I actually got the achievement for killing a boss, but died immediately after because that boss’s dead body suddenly started spewing projectiles everywhere, forcing me to go through the entire fight again.

Valfaris does this a lot, leading to a lot of deaths that just end up feeling unfair. One could even argue that its a way to artificially increase the game’s difficulty and game length. Whatever the case may be, it isn’t fun to play against and there’s a reason why games gradually dropped such mechanics.

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Useless shield mechanic. One of the first things the tutorial teaches you is how to use your shield. This shield blocks incoming damage in whatever direction you are facing at the cost of energy every time you are hit. At the start, I actively tried to use this shield, especially because it can be used to stagger enemies and catch projectiles if timed correctly. However, I quickly figured out that the shield is pretty much useless later on, as the game throws so many enemies and projectiles at you that it simply isn’t worth the effort.

It becomes much more effective to either try to outgun the enemy or simply tank the hit if necessary. The fact that you have to stand still to use the shield just makes it that much worse. By the end of the game, I was only using it against a few specific enemies, but even then, it still proved situational against those enemies. The game would have been much better off with some sort of dodging mechanic instead.

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Lack of upgrade refunding. While I did like the amount of customization offered by the game’s weapon choices, the game’s upgrade system felt like it worked against player experimentation. That is because any and all upgrades you apply to your weapons cannot be refunded, so when you find that shiny new weapon later on in the game, it’s actually not going to be as powerful as your current weapons until you find enough blood metal to upgrade it. However, by that point you’ll have come across yet another new weapon and have the same problem there.

Because of this, whenever I did find a new weapon, I would usually just test it out for a bit and then swap back to what I was using prior. By the end of the game, I was still using the base primary and special weapon, with only my sword being a weapon I had unlocked later on. It’s simply just not worth it to use a new weapon and do less damage, the game basically forces you to pick a weapon and stick with it if you want to do max damage, which unfortunately kills a lot of potential combat experimentation.

Perhaps this is where replayability comes in, but it’s important to note that once you beat the game, you cannot continue on that save, you have to start completely anew. So if you wanted to clear the game using one of the later weapons fully upgraded, well, that’s simply not going to happen. The devs are working on a new game+ mode, but the release date for that has yet to be confirmed.

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Valfaris does have its problems, but it’s a pretty fun action-platformer overall. The combat is impactful, the difficulty mechanic is cool, and the level variety is pretty good for a game of the genre. However, the gameplay does suffer from its trial-and-error nature, lack of upgrade refunding, and useless shield mechanic. The fact that enemies are hard to see definitely doesn’t help either. Regardless, I did enjoy my time with it and do recommend it, it’s definitely better than what we usually get in the genre.

Score: 7/10

You can buy Valfaris on Steam here.

I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.

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