Valfaris: Mecha Therion Review

Released in 2019, Steel Mantis’ Valfaris impressed me with its high-octane, thrash metal-infused take on the run and gun. Building on their first game, fantasy hack and slasher Slain (one of my first reviews on this site back in 2016) and improving on it in almost every way, it remains one of my favourite action titles of recent years. Now, four years later, Steel Mantis are back to continue the adventures of Therion but they’ve taken a surprise turn in genre and approach. Aesthetically, this is still very much within the world of Valfaris but rather than the platforming run and gun, here we have a more traditional horizontal shoot-em-up. Does this bold change pay off or does Mecha Therion blow up in the devs’ faces?

The story of Mecha Therion directly follows on from its predecessors. The hero Therion seeks out his tyrannical father, Vroll, in a quest for revenge. Therion is armed with the mighty sword Bathoryn, a blade that contains the soul and essence of his brother who was the hero of Slain. Having located the planet where Vroll is now living, Therion sets out to battle through the armies of foes his father sends to attack him. This narrative is pretty traditional revenge stuff but perfectly suits the heavy metal aesthetic and provides plenty of context for the action.

Graphically, Mecha Therion is very much a continuation of Steel Mantis’ trademark aesthetic. Everything feels like a pixel take on classic heavy metal album cover artwork but with a distinctive neon colour scheme making it all pop. Both Therion himself and the many enemies he faces are big and chunky character models, ensuring that this isn’t a pixel-perfect bullet hell shooter but an intriguing combination of traditional shooter and the series’ previous run and gun mechanics. While the bright and colourful graphics are eye-catching and benefit from an uncanny mix of organic and mechanical features, there are times when things get a bit too busy onscreen and you can take damage unfairly.

As you make your way through the game’s levels you’ll be confronted with an assortment of enemies that range from very Warhammer-esque space marines to malevolent jellies. There is a decent range of enemy types with different attacks and patterns and the game does a good job in mixing things up to keep you on your toes. The main highlight, as is often the case, is the boss battles here which are genuinely challenging on higher difficulty levels. That being said, Mecha Therion feels considerably easier than Valfaris – although there are extra unlockable difficulties in NG+. Getting all the achievements in the game will require you to complete it multiple times across all of these difficulties so there is plenty of replayability value here.

In order to defeat the masses of enemies in front of you (and sometimes behind) you have both a ranged and melee weapon. The latter is a little unusual for a shoot-em-up and demonstrates how Mecha Therion is very much a hybrid of approaches. New weapons are unlocked as you progress so you can choose between standard assault rifles and shotguns or more exotic weapons like a flamethrower.

Melee weapons all have distinctive abilities and are a crucial part of your arsenal. Firing your ranged weapon depletes an energy bar which you refill by using your melee weapon. The resultant game loop is really nice and ensures that you mix things up and pick your moments to get up close and personal. I mostly relied on the flamethrower for damage over time and combined it with the Therion axe for high melee damage at the cost of attack speed. All of your weapons can be upgraded too. The other benefit of melee attacks is that they can destroy enemy projectiles so you really do need to make full use of all of your weaponry.

As well as the ranged and melee weapons you can equip an auxiliary attack such as bombs for surface-based enemies and support modules with passive abilities. These range from recharging your energy more quickly to a really useful module that highlights secret areas for collectable hunting. These collectables are either hidden modules and new weapons or upgrade materials. All upgrades are permanent so I’d advise focusing on just a couple of weapons rather than spreading your resources around too thinly.

Summary
Valfaris: Mecha Therion is another awesome addition to the series that takes the aesthetic and soundtrack of the earlier games and transplants them to a new genre. While not the longest of games (I completed it 3 times in my 12 hours) there is a lot of replay value with the various difficulty settings, weapon upgrades and some devilish achievements to challenge you. Whether you are already a fan of Steel Mantis’ adventures or new to the series Mech Therion is a fantastic slice of heavy metal mayhem and comes highly recommended.
Good
  • Solid level design
  • Good range of weapon choices
  • Enjoyable gameplay loop
Bad
  • Screen can get too busy
  • A little too easy on standard difficulty level
8
Written by
Just your average old gamer with a doctorate in Renaissance literature. I can mostly be found playing RPGs, horror games, and oodles of indie titles. Just don't ask me to play a driving game.