In Valfaris you play as Therion, a rugged and long-haired head-banging space Viking on a quest to save his planet Valfaris from the clutches of the sinister dictator, Vroll.
Valfaris is a 2D sidescrolling run-and-gun shooter that borrows heavily from 16-bit classics like Contra and Metroid. Much like the games of that era, it quickly introduces our character and his raison d’etre before getting right into the meat of the game – ripping apart hordes of Vroll’s mutant freaks to a heavy metal soundtrack.
And there are a lot of freaks to tear through. Throughout his journey, Therion will encounter a variety of deformed and unsightly monstrosities. The entire game looks like it was lifted from an 80’s speed metal album cover with all the male fantasy imagery that brings. Everything is hand drawn and wonderfully animated and characters show a surprising amount of their personality through their movements alone; each monster type moves and feels completely unlike the other types.
And the boss fights. Oh, let’s talk about the boss fights! The bosses in Valfaris are creative and disgusting, each unique in style and move set. And they’re hard. Many of these bosses are going to need a few attempts before you can get their attack patterns down, but once you’ve defeated them the feeling of satisfaction is so delicious.
Valfaris is a game that pushes you to march ever forward into enemy fire. This tempo is set from the moment the soundtrack hits your speakers. The score was penned by Curt Victor Bryant, bassist for avant-garde metal outfit Celtic Frost, and hits you like a wall of sound. It’s full of grinding guitars and thumping war drums to get you in the mood for a few hours of violence.
Therion’s default weapons are a massive sword and pistol but there’s another weapon slot for a secondary gun and a shield. The secondary gun and shield are situational utility items, and you’ll be using them often, but they use up precious energy.
The entire game is balanced around the strategic use of the energy meter. Your sword and pistol will be your primary means of dealing damage – neither uses energy – but you’ll still need to rely on your side gun for its burst and splash damage and your shield to get you out of tight spots. Coincidentally, while the safer pistol simply erases foes from the stage, taking out enemies with your sword releases blue energy orbs that replenish your energy meter. This encourages an aggressive mode of play where you dance in and out of melee range to reap those sweet blue orbs at the risk of taking damage.
Valfaris is a lovingly crafted tribute to a specific type of game, one that peaked in our childhoods and subsequently fell out of favor with the introduction of the third dimension. There are hints of Castlevania and Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins in Valfaris. And a whole, whole lot of Contra and Super Metroid. Fans of those ‘90’s classics looking for a modern twist on the run-and-gun formula should just add this to their library right now.