What do video games and big guns have in common? They both pair up very nicely with heavy metal music. This is the charm of Valfaris, an indie game that gets a lot of influence from games like Contra and turns up the volume pass eleven. There’s a story to follow that feels as if it was pulled right out of the 80s action movie genre, it’s the gameplay that takes center stage and keeps you around for more. Blasting enemies in a 16-bit visual style as the craziest guitar riffs and hard hitting drums is fun and challenging, even if it can be a little frustrating at times.
Valfaris looks very good in motion. Every area you run through and every foe you destroy look hostile and vicious in 2D pixel art, though the character you play as, Therion, is just as tough as they are. The designs of the creatures you find are interesting, with a few of them being grotesque as they lurk around trying to harm you. You’ll constantly be attacking everything around you as swarms of enemies continuously appear, never letting up the momentum or gore factor for even a second. The layouts of the stages themselves have a lot of paths that let you choose which way to approach obstacles, while also searching for hidden items and power ups that can give an edge in some of the tougher battles.
Speaking of which, the boss fights in Valfaris are intense but very challenging. More than likely you’ll lose a few lives before getting accustomed to the patterns that each boss fight requires you to observe. The bosses look great and have little details that make them intimidating to approach. Some bosses are definitely more challenging than others and will test your patience and reaction to the very edge. Luckily, Therion has a number of guns and other weapons you can pick up and modify to destroy them.
Pistols, shotguns, rockets, and other crazy guns let you bring some serious heat to a fight; which looks great and feels incredibly satisfying when blasting away everything in your way. Guns can be modified by gathering Blood Metal you find in stages, which can increase their power. Instead of just picking up ammo, you can attack enemies with a sword and gather energy to recharge your weapons. This can be done on any enemy, including bosses, so you’re never truly out of options when you run out of firepower.
One of the more divisive aspects of Valfaris however are the Resurrection Idols. These are tokens you can pick up throughout each stage, which allow you to activate checkpoints you can continue from when you die. However, spending idols to activate checkpoints instead of saving them will lower your health total, giving you the choice to play it safe or increase your total health along the way. Having this choice might be interesting to some, but you’re only allowed a maximum number of idols on hand, so you won’t always be able to continuously increase your health.
Defeating bosses increases this cap on the idols, but there’s no big payoff to hording the idols throughout each stage and not activating the checkpoints. If you were able to gather more Blood Metal to power up weapons for gathering idols that’d be one good reason to do so, but that isn’t the case at all. Blood Metal is very scarce throughout each stage as well, so you won’t always be able to boost your weapons unless you really scour each stage for it. Going through tougher platforming sections or seeking out hidden areas will usually yield Blood Metal at the end, but it won’t always be clear or obvious where you should look towards while running through a stage.
If challenging, action-packed games are your thing, then Valfaris is a great time. The story might not be the thing that peaks everyone’s interest, but the action, explosions, and gore will definitely keep your attention. The difficulty of the game might fluctuate from time to time, but with enough patience you can definitely overcome the tougher challenges you’ll come across. The music is great and helps make for a fun experience that will speak to anyone with an affinity for running and gunning styled games.
This review is based on a digital review code of Valfaris for the Nintendo Switch, provided by Big Sugar.