When I think of a visceral shooter that isn’t afraid of being gory and explicit, I always think of Doom Troopers for the SNES. Doom Troopers is really a mystic game in my mind. It is one of those games whose name I remember vividly, and the track of the first stage is forever etched in my mind. It’s funny becase I remember the first stage and the last boss, but nothing in between. I have doubted myself multiple times to the point that I’m not sure if I actually beat it.
Spoiler alert: I actually did, I had to watch en entire Let’s play to recover the rest of the memories.
Unfortunately for my Doom Trooper memories, a new challenger has arrived. A game which is also not shy in showing brutal takedowns and taking you on an action packed ride filled with weapons of mass destruction, gory deaths and a lot of heavy metal. Alas, Valfaris has arrived to take the spot of bloody good (pun intended) 2D run and gun shooter.
Publisher: Big Sugar
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Oct 10, 2019
Valfaris is a 2D run and gun game set in a beautiful pixel art world and with plenty of carnage to go around. Armed with your trusty gun, a plasma sword and some heavy weaponry, you are on a mission to find your father Vroll.
If you recognize the aesthetic and hardcore headbanging from watching the trailers, then you are probably thinking it looks a lot like Slain. That’s because it is! Valfaris was made from the ground up by the very same team that brought you Slain.
One of the highlights of Valfaris is how visually striking it is. I’ll blatantly reuse the same way of describing it I used for Slain: It feels like the world is the cover of a heavy metal album. That aesthetic bleeds into every aspect of the game. From the map, the backgrounds, the enemies and even your weaponry, it oozes a visceral style which is a sight to behold.
Even if the inspiration is the same, Valfaris is much more beautiful than Slain. One of my main complaints about Slain was that the style felt gimmicky and forced into the game. Not only that, but also the palette and design became painful to see and also blended in the wrong way with the foreground, causing a very confusing experience.
Well, none of the above applies to Valfaris. This time around I feel like the style is a perfect compliment to the game. It feels organic in the way it blends to the world. Platforming is a breeze because you can quickly identify game elements apart from the backgrounds, and the variety adds a lot of spice to the exploration. From the surface, to alien hives, to ancient tombs. I feel that this time around, the variety allowed the style to truly shine and show facets not present in Slain.
Heavy duty weaponry
Your arsenal is composed of your standard gun, a melee weapon and a destroyer weapon. Your standard gun is your go to for ranged combat. It possesses infinite ammo. Melee weapons deal higher damage with range being the tradeoff. They also harvest energy when attacking. The destroyer weapons are the real gravy and boast some impressive firepower. The catch is that they consume energy.
One of the things that sets Valfaris apart from other run and gun games is the sheer amount of choices for your arsenal. Throughout the game, you can find a staggering total of 19 weapons divided amongst the 3 weapon classes.
And if that wasn’t good enough for variety and customization, you can further improve each weapon! Throughout the game you will encounter items called “blood metals” that allow you to upgrade your weapons. Should you use your blood metals to max out a specific weapon or to evenly divide for maximum versatility is up to you!
If you can’t picture it already, the game offers a lovely blend of happiness from acquiring new weapons, but also from finding blood metals to upgrade them. Secrets are all over the place in each level, and finding them might award you extra weapons or blood metals. It introduces a super rewarding incentive to exploration that isn’t usually found on other games, which offer at most, extra 1ups.
Don’t forget to parry
Being truthful to its Slain roots, Valfaris brings back the parry system for maximum punishment. Except that you don’t have a parry button this time around, but rather a swiss army knife of defensive goodies in a single button press.
By pressing ZL, you will remain stationary and display a shield in front of you. This shield can be tilted in 8 directions, but also serves as the button to aim your shots in place. It will block enemy attacks if tilted in the direction of the enemy fire.
But that’s not all there is to the shield. If your timing is on point, you can shield at the exact moment a bullet will hit you. Doing so will temporarily keep it in your shield, allowing you to fire it back at the enemy. You can also parry melee attacks for the tried and true stagger that leaves enemies open to a world of hurt.
While run and gun games have always placed an emphasis on micro spacing, the parry system takes it up a notch. I really hope I have accurately painted a solid picture of the gameplay so far. Moving around unleashing the full potential of your arsenal, whilst returning bullets and parrying swords from the enemies is sure to give you a much needed adrenaline rush!
The dark world of Valfaris
Variety seems to be the name of the game. While I already talked about variety in weaponry and in the environments, it also needs to be said that there is variety in the gameplay.
If you dread games where each stage falls into a familiar and predictable pattern, then you can rest easy. Throughout each level, you will need to stay on your toes as you try to tame the different challenges that the game will present you. From climbing ladders, to mounting grub-like creatures, to even hanging from space worms, there’s something new to discover.
There’s even a couple of sections devoted to riding a giant mech! Nothing like turning your enemies’ weapons against them.
I do have to say that I felt a little bit guilty of enjoying whipping the giant worms with the jelly sword. It was so appropriate and inappropriate at the same time.
The big bad baddies
If you have read my reviews, then you know there is one thing I absolutely love: boss fights. I can always appreciate a game that gives me a rewarding boss fight at the end of a tough level, more so if it takes elements from the stage and blends it into true testament of your skill.
And I can appreciate the games that add meaningful mid-stage bosses even more! One of the best things about Valfaris is that it is so surprising, yet unpredictable, that you can never know what encounter awaits you. Never in my life would I have guessed that I was about to face a Junk Gargoyle.
Also shoutouts to my boy Furrok for making me remember my Sagat fireball dodge reflexes.
The Slain connection
It is quite difficult to review Valfaris without mentioning Slain due to how closely their presentation is entwined. Their bond goes beyond just being the product of the same creators.
One of the things that hooked me from my first minute of playing the game is the mention of Vroll. Vroll is the big bad baddy from Slain, and seeing him mentioned just tingles my “expanded universe” senses.
Would I be facing Vroll once more? Is there any relation between the world from Slain and Valfaris? Will I be able to find the connection in their timelines? Is Bathoryn anywhere in this game? All these questions burst into my mind in the first minutes of my play through. I’m not one to spoil things or even connect that dots for that matter, but I heavily encourage you to play through Slain once more in preparation of this new adventure.
Challenging your fate
Throughout the game, you will encounter several checkpoints. Nothing new so far, but the catch is that to activate this checkpoints you have to use an idol. These idols exist in numbers higher than the actual amount of checkpoints, meaning you will always have one available to activate a checkpoint.
But what’s the point of having more idols than checkpoints? The catch is that by holding idols, your max HP and energy will be increased. Expend the idols, and you will lose the bonus HP and energy from that particular idol. This introduces a risk reward system that is 100% under your control. Are you willing to risk the safety of a checkpoint for more HP? Or will you power through the stages and defy death?
If it eases your mind, items you collect are always retained on death. If you decided to brave through an entire level without checkpoints, only to die near the end, rest easy knowing that everything you found is yours to keep.
As an added bonus, at the end of a level you can exchange a couple of idols for extra blood metals. Will it be safety, power or survivability? That is for you to decide.
Going further beyond
If you are wondering what the future of Valfaris as a game looks like, look no further than Full Metal Mode. While this mode won’t be available at the time of release, rest assured knowing that it is coming as a FREE update in the future.
Full Metal Mode, for all intents and purposes, is your new game+. Once you finish the game, you can choose to play it again from the beginning. In this new game+ you will be able to keep all your weapons and upgrades. Enemies won’t be sitting ducks, as they will be much stronger and more aggressive. You will also gain an extra destroyer class weapon.
I, for one, am excited to begin a brand new play through of the game while opting to use a different loadout. My trusty rail gun, jelly sword and flamethrower carried me throughout the game, but there were alternatives I wanted to try but didn’t have the heart to swap my trusty sidearms.
So far, 2019 seems to be a great year for run and gun games on the Switch. Early this year we finally got a port of Cuphead. Later that year we got the excellent Blazing Chrome. There was also a Contra, but I don’t think anyone really wants to talk about that. The streak of great releases is preserved thanks to Valfaris, a game so visceral and action packed that it takes a rightful place among them.
There’s a lot of parallels I can draw to Contra and Doom Troopers, but I think Valfaris is both a better Contra and a better Doom Troopers. I was cautiously optimistic, as my review of Slain was not quite lukewarm, but I stand proven that lessons learned can be applied into a loving new game. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have more space creatures to kill.