Valfaris review for Nintendo Switch, PC

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also On: PC
Publisher: Big Sugar Games
Developer: Steel Mantis
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Valfaris, a new heavy-metal themed action game from developer Steel Mantis, is also the follow-up to the unique but flawed release of Slain! (and then Slain: Back from Hell) from 2016. While taking certain aesthetic cues from Slain, namely the metal-infused soundtrack and visual style, Valfaris is a better-realized concept than it?s predecessor, and while challenging, it is an overall rewarding experience that?s worth checking out.

The story set-up for Valfaris is relatively simple, your headbanging protagonist is on a mission to kill his father who has apparently ravaged their homeworld, and armed with an A.I. companion and a bunch of different weapons, will do so by rampaging across various stages throughout the campaign. Each stage has its own unique visual flair or setting, but most of Valfaris is focused on mixing tech with organic material in nightmarish ways, really nailing the space opera metal theme quite well. There?s a host of different, basic enemies you?ll lay waste to, and more challenging mid and end-level bosses that?ll really test your run-and-gun skills. On the surface it feels Contra-esque, but with way more weapon variety tossed in.

The weapon variety is really what makes Valfaris stand out even more. You?ll start off with a basic long-range rifle, an energy sword, and a limited shield. The shield can block most attacks, and when timed correctly, can even catch projectiles and send them flying back to enemies. The sword is powerful and useful in close-range, but it also serves as a way of re-charging the meter that powers your shield. The basic gun has unlimited ammo and long-range, but isn?t quite as powerful as your melee weapon. You can fire in 8 directions and can hold in your shield button to stand in place while aiming, or you can run-and-gun at will. You?ll quickly get access to a secondary weapon, typically something more powerful that also feeds off of your shield meter. But you?ll also end up coming across new main and alternate weapons as well, which can be switched out at every checkpoint you encounter. There?s a lot of weapon variety, even early on, most of which are worth experimenting with as you play.

Weapons can also be upgraded with blood metal, which is often difficult to find and tends to be tucked away in hidden spots throughout a stage. Blood metal can also be obtained as an end-of-stage reward, depending on how heavily you rely on checkpoints. Checkpoints are triggered by using another collectible item, resurrection idols, and are basically optional. If you encounter a checkpoint and use a stone to activate it, you?ll lose that stone but regain health/shields, and then be able to restart at that checkpoint when you die. However, if you opt to not use the stone and continue on, you can then cash in any extra stones at the end of a stage and turn them into blood metal for weapon upgrades. It?s an interesting push/pull mechanic that can be useful either way, depending how you want to play the game. That said, Valfaris is a pretty challenging ride, so unless you?re already acquainted with the stage you?re tackling, you likely won?t have a lot of resurrection stones left after you beat the boss.

Which is basically where my only complaint about Valfaris comes into play. I wish that the game gave you the option to easily re-visit previous levels upon completion. There seems to be a decent amount of secret areas packed in, which can be easily missed, but it would also be nice to try and run through a stage with a little bit of advance knowledge of what to expect. I?m not necessarily advocating for blood metal to be grindable, but I think I could get a cleaner run out of earlier levels that would likely have been useful for the harder, more challenging stages I encountered earlier on. That said, the developer does have plans to introduce a New Game+ mode as free DLC in the future that will allow you to replay the game with your upgrades in place, so that?ll certainly help to alleviate that complaint.

Outside of that, I?ve really had a blast with Valfaris. It looks and performs really well on Switch, and I?d imagine that?ll be the case for the other platforms it?s available on too. The metal soundtrack is fantastic, and the overall visual design is unlike anything I?ve played this year. With the recent announcement that Doom Eternal is delayed into next year, I think Valfaris will easily be the most metal game you?ll play this year. It?s absolutely worth checking out when it launches on Switch and PC on October 10th.

Note: Big Sugar Games provided us with a Valfaris Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: A-