VALFARIS / DEVELOPER: STEEL MANTIS / PUBLISHER: BIG SUGAR / PLATFORM: PC, PS4, SWITCH (REVIEWED), XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE: 10TH OCTOBER
2D action platformer Valfaris is set on a mysterious fortress in a far corner of space. After vanishing many moons ago, the fortress has reappeared and what was once a self-contained paradise is now overrun by a strange darkness. Former inhabitant Therion (that's you) returns home to find out what's happened and to take down the evil forces that now occupy the city's walls...
The pixel art is undeniably stunning, with a huge variety of brightly coloured and intricately detailed environments. There are all kinds of monsters and mutants to muck up, many erupting into satisfying showers of blood and gore when blasted to bits. The heavy metal soundtrack by former Celtic Frost guitarist Curt Victor Bryant is equally excellent, and really fits the game's alternative tone.
But looking and sounding good is only half the battle and, unfortunately, the gameplay slightly holds Valfaris back.
It's ridiculously difficult in places, and not always in a "harsh but fair" sort of way. You're likely to frequently lose sight of your character during frantic combat, get swamped and/or outmanoeuvred by enemies that move much faster than you, or just run into areas that are simply so full of enemies that passing them is down to sheer luck rather than skill. You do get unlimited lives, but checkpoints are quite oddly-placed and also require the use of collectable items to activate for the first time, and after dying you'll often be forced to restart from much further back than you might feel is fair.
On the plus side, there are a fair few weapons available, and some of their upgraded forms are extremely fun to use. It can be a bit of a rough path to get there but, when it clicks, Valfaris can be really good fun. It just doesn't quite click as often as you'd like it to.