Developer: Steel Mantis
Publisher: Big Sugar
Genre: Action, Adventure, Metal
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 10/10/19
Price: £22.49 – Rapid Reviews was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Welcome to the Citadel, a once forgotten fortress returned to the orbit of a dying sun, in a heap of trouble and undergoing a hostile takeover. This world is dark, it’s sinister, its heavy metal.
This citadel, Valfaris plays host to the entirety of this 2D Side-Scrolling action sprawled mayhem, with you the protagonist Therion and proud son of Valfaris having returned to uncover the truth and liberate your home.
A Heavy Metal Space Saga
Stylistically you could say the game follows a Metroidvania (Metroid / Castlevania blend) format, similar to Dead Cells, but I think this does give something of a disservice to the developer. The game runs deep and has some wonderful complexities I’ll explain a little later on.
The developer, Steel Mantis, are famed for Slain: Back from Hell that released back in 2016, and if you’ve played it (I have) you’ll feel from the very start the similarities in style this game offers. They both have this throbbing backbone of heavy metal and exclusively for Valfaris, the stunning art design feels like a match made in heaven (or hell) to the heavy metal musical score selected for this game.
A Highway To Hell
The work that Andrew Gilmour has put into single-handedly creating every piece of art on show here is mesmerising and showcases the incredible talent and skill he brings to the table as well as a great ear for music, which ties art and sound together wonderfully throughout.
The aesthetic of the game is incredibly detailed in this sprawling metal world, everything’s metal, metal bugs, metal wolf ships, metal weapons, a truly metallic wasteland. As you progress through the opening levels you will quickly discover you have 3 weapons to hand, a side-arm, a melee weapon, and a supercharged weapon that depletes and has to be recharged through the collection. In fact, this rechargeable factor is also used for your shield, so there are inevitably resulting moments where you are defenceless. The game is very clever in challenging the player to troubleshoot your way through scenarios to find the best possible combination along the way.
As you progress through levels and defeat ever-growing and more elaborately conceived bosses, you collect Blood Metals which are used to upgrade your weapons, this is fairly standard stuff. What isn’t necessarily standard stuff is the collection of shards throughout the game which are used at various checkpoints along the way to save your progress. When collecting these shards they extend your life bar, but should you choose to use them at the checkpoints they are consumable items. This is clever and challenges the player to be daring and risk-taking by skipping checkpoints in exchange for an easier time at the next boss.
Talking of bosses, the game starts at a fairly balanced and generous difficulty level, and sharply ramps up around the 6-8 hour mark into a punishing level of difficulty that leaves all hope feeling diminished. Until it doesn’t, until you try again, until you try that boss for the 40th time, but try to approach it differently, to exploit a weakness, to tidy up your approach, to get smarter with your weapon switches, to become more defensive, to do what is necessary to succeed… and then you’ve done it! It’s euphoric, like Dark Souls and Bloodborne it’s addictive and pushes you to keep going and offers an incredibly fulfilling experience at the end. In the moment… not so much.
I mentioned earlier that classing this a Metroidvania style game (a term I’m sure the developer is sick of hearing) was perhaps a little unfair. The depth of this game offers branching alternate paths through levels that reward the player with additional accolades, it’s certainly not a flat and linear experience for the player. It’s this exploration and discovery that hooks you in, like a mullet to an Ozzy fan.
With 18 hours now invested in Valfaris, it’s a viscerally stunning adventure through a Gears of War like space world, casting family aside to bring order and remedy to the galaxy, and offering me the toughest gaming experience so far in 2019. For those lucky Switch and Switch Lite owners out there, you have a full 3-week head start over the PS4 and Xbox One to visit the Citadel yourselves and rock out with this engrossingly and epically proportioned 2D Masterpiece!
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Valfaris from the Nintendo eShop on the following link, https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-Switch-download-software/Valfaris-1655793.html
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.