The platformer genre of video game is home to titles that tend to be more difficult than most other types of games. Ever since the likes of classic games like Ninja Gaiden or Contra, challenging gameplay that's brutally tough but still fair has become the common denominator between many platforming games. Finding the sweet spot between "This game is too easy" and "This game is so difficult that it's unfair" is thus a challenge that platformer developers are often tasked with overcoming. Valfaris, a new title set on a hostile alien world that features a DOOM-like atmosphere, is the latest title that tries to find that sweet spot — and while it succeeds in many ways, it fails in others.
Destroy the horde
Bottom line: While Valfaris is in many ways an excellent game, it's held back by some significant design flaws and technical problems.
- Strong gameplay focus
- Some clever mechanics
- Challenging, but (generally) fair
- Awesome presentation
- Sometimes feels unfair in varying ways
- Occasional framerate problems
What you'll love about Valfaris
Overall, Valfaris' gameplay experience is very challenging, but also very satisfying.
The best thing about Valfaris is the gameplay experience, which blends classic platforming difficulty with some unique mechanics that will make you think about how you play. Armed with firearms, a sword, a shield, and some jumping abilities, it's up to you to battle your way through the hellish alien-infested world that the game takes place on. Each enemy in the game has a behavioral pattern to learn, and with patience, practice, and some creative thinking, you'll learn how to use your own abilities to counter foes. In addition to this, the levels themselves often have exciting traits that make moving through each area a different experience, shaking up the gameplay and forcing you to rethink your approach to enemies you thought you knew how to tackle without any hassle. There's an upgrade system for your weapons, too, but it feels a bit tacked on. It doesn't add much, but it doesn't really harm the experience either, so I feel neutral about it overall.
On top of the core gameplay focus, there are also some clever mechanics that I think add a lot to Valfaris. For example, your heavier firearms and your shield are both tied to the same energy pool. Therefore, you have to put thought into how you choose to use that energy. Do you use it to shield yourself from attacks? Or do you use it to generate some extra firepower? Another great mechanic is the fact that the green crystals you use to unlock checkpoints can be held onto instead, which will boost your maximum health. This idea forces you to choose between making yourself more resilient in combat and giving yourself respawn points that are relatively close to where you die. Things like this are awesome because they encourage the player to make calculated decisions about how they play.
Lastly, Valfaris has some kickass visuals and audio. The sickly greens, bright purples, and deep reds of the world wonderfully convey the creepy, intense nature of the hostile alien world you're fighting on, and the heavy metal soundtrack keeps your blood pumping from the start of the game right up until the end of it.
What you'll love less about Valfaris
At times, Valfaris can feel very unfair and obnoxious.
While Valfaris is largely a good experience, some glaring flaws with it hold it back. The biggest issue with the gameplay is the fact that enemies constantly respawn at a ridiculous pace. In scenarios where you can quickly kill a foe and then traverse the level before a replacement appears, this isn't a problem. However, in larger rooms that require precise movement and timing to get through, having to constantly worry about the never-ending waves of foes can make the pace feel hyper-rushed and just hard to enjoy overall. Toning back the rate at which enemies spawn in to replace the ones you kill would be amazing.
Another issue with Valfaris is the fact that the movement is pretty floaty and delayed compared to most other platformer titles that have snappier jumps. Dodging attacks certainly shouldn't be easy, but again, it's soul-crushingly tough to try and make your way through a particularly dangerous area when your jumps don't feel as responsive as they should be.
Finally, Valfaris falls victim to some pretty jarring framerate issues, even on the Xbox One X that I used to review it. Most of the time, it runs smoothly, but in some areas with lots of enemies and/or particularly complex-looking backgrounds, it drops significantly. This makes playing the game harder, and as a result, adds an entirely new layer of brutal difficulty to an experience that was already very challenging as-is.
Should you buy Valfaris?
While Valfaris gets a lot right, there are specific ways that it could be a lot better, and even though it's still a good game, it's far from a must-play title. The core gameplay experience is, for the most part, excellent, and the game has an incredible presentation. Unfortunately, some odd design choices and technical issues hold it back from true greatness.
If you're big into challenging platformers and don't mind having to deal with floaty jumps and occasional framerate issues, then overall, I think you'll enjoy Valfaris, although you won't love it. However, if you're on the fence, I think it might be better to wait to see if the developers patch the game a bit.
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