No One Can Destroy The Metal
HIGH This game shreds so damn hard.
LOW Umm… Uhh… The story is kinda meh?
WTF: It’s a 2D side-scrolling indie action platformer that isn’t a Metroidvania?!?
OK, before I spend 1200 words gushing about how amazing Valfaris is, I just want to say that Steel Mantis is the perfect name for its developer. That’s a name that could easily be used by a Swedish death metal band opening for Mastadon.
Valfaris is the second heavy metal-inspired 2D action-platformer from Steel mantis. Their first was Slain! in 2016 and I guess they’ve decided that this style is gonna be their thing, but if they’re all as good as Valfaris, then let the metal gods bless them and allow them to create until they are enshrined in Valhalla.
In Valfaris, players take control of Therion, the son of… ahh who gives a crap. The story is weird and silly, but basically Therion needs to kill some stuff to find his dad, so grab a gun and let’s dance.
From the start it’s clear that Valfaris has absolutely zero tolerance for BS. After one minute the tutorials are over and players are equipped to go on a cybergoth murder spree for the ages. This isn’t a Metroidvania (thank god) so there’s no backtracking or any need to earn a double jump — just move right, occasionally go up or down, and make sure the bad guys don’t know what hit them.
Valfaris has an absolutely huge arsenal with twenty different weapons, all of which are awesome and have totally killer names like Envoy Of Destruction and Hellhammer (which is now a top-three-of-all-time videogame shotgun).
Therion can roll with up to three different types of weapons, each assigned to its own face button — a main weapon, a melee weapon, and a “Destroyer” weapon that relies upon an energy meter that refills with successful melee attacks. Adding even more depth, players can find ‘Blood Metals’ (man, all the names in this game are righteous) to power up his weapons, adding additional firing modes and increased damage.
There are many, many different ways to approach each encounter by leveraging several different loadout combinations, and the result is a game that is surprisingly replayable given that the average player will finish it with at least ten weapons they didn’t use often.
Another trick that makes Valfaris special is the use of “Resurrection Tokens”. Players must collect them to activate respawn points, and they can hold multiple at a time. Each token they carry gives a slight bonus to their overall health and energy, so if one feels emboldened, they can forego activating a checkpoint in favor of holding on to their tokens and keeping themselves buffed. There are also altars where players can trade tokens in for extra blood metals to enhance their weaponry. The balance of risk/reward here is outstanding.
Furthermore, the production values are exceptional — Valfaris looks absolutely disgusting, and I mean that in the best way possible. The pixelated art would make the artists of Heavy Metal magazine weep with pride, especially the litany of supremely well-designed and challenging boss encounters that include firebreathing cybersnakes, mummies with sniper rifles, giant eyeballs, and over a dozen more.
While some might expect Valfaris to look dark and dreary given the themes, it’s actually quite the opposite– this neon technicolor dreamcoat of mayhem and destruction might be the most colorful game I’ve played since Katamari Damacy, and it’s also supremely animated with neat little touches like torsos walking around after a successful evisceration, or the way Therion starts headbanging every time he gets a new weapon.
Speaking of headbanging, the highlight of the entire package is the absolutely mental soundtrack by ex-Celtic Frost guitarist Curt Victor Bryant. It thumps, it slaps, and Bryant may have set the record for most double kicks ever put into a videogame soundtrack. It can be somber when it needs to, but it’s always there with a rollicking DUDUDUDUDUDUDUDUDUDUDUDUDUDU when things are about to get hectic.
It should take an average player around 6 (or so) hours to complete Valfaris, and while this may sound short, when one considers its genre and that absolutely none of the content is repeated, it’s actually a huge title.
I can’t stress how much I adored the entirety of Valfaris, and finding a title so brimming with such confidence in itself is rare. This game knows it’s awesome, and as the bosses got harder and harder, I was never once frustrated because I knew I had the tools I needed to conquer its mountain, leading to one of the most satisfying gameplay experiences I’ve had in years. Valfaris is a supremely designed action-platformer made by incredibly talented people, and it headbanged straight into my heart. Play it immediately.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Steel Mantis and published by Big Sugar. It is currently available on Switch and Steam. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed through Steam on a Windows 10 Laptop with a GTX 2080, 32GB of RAM, and a Intel Core i7-9850 processor, which was able to run the game on high settings at 60FPS in 4K. An estimated 8 hours of play were devoted to playing the main campaign, and the campaign was completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and features Blood And Gore, Violence, and Partial Nudity. Valfaris is definitely deserving of an M rating considering the buckets of blood and chunks of enemies flying around, but there’s no foul language and it’s never offensively grotesque considering the 2D pixelated art style.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game features subtitle options and presents them in large, clear font but with no way to resize them. The story is told entirely through text and the game features no voicework. There are no necessary audio cues, so players shouldn’t have a problem finishing the game.
Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are fully remappable… on PC… kinda. From the menu players can map their keyboard controls however they see fit. If playing with a controller on PC (or playing on console), the controls are not remappable. Using an Xbox One controller, players control the protagonist with the left analog stick. A is jump, X fires their main weapon, Y is for their melee weapon, and B is used for the special weapon.
In search of a dramatic change of pace, he sold everything he had (including 950 videogames) and shipped off to Asia where he's taught English and lived in Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, and now China.
He still loves his games, priding himself in his varied taste and playing everything from Disgaea to Madden. After getting a taste of the glitz of Beijing last year working at a Chinese mobile game developer, Jarrod went back to teaching and currently works in Qitaihe, Heilongjiang provide where the weather is cold and the noodles are poppin'.
Jarrod used to write for sites like GamesRadar where he had the esteemed pleasure of reviewing Wii ports and PS Move launch games for peanuts. After a multi-year hiatus, he is happy to get back into reviews with GameCritics.
...He read the site as a kid, which should make Brad, Mike, and Daniel feel old as hell, considering he's almost 30.