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2019 games in 2020: Valfaris and Afterparty

2020 is off to a slow start, regarding new releases, so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to sit down and finish off some of the games I missed last year.

One of those games is Valfaris, a side-scrolling action game that’s Contra-esque and metal as hell! You play as a dude with long hair that’s out to kill his scumbag dad, and the story is basically that sentence; as I said this game is metal as hell and reminds of something I would have written when I was 15 and hated everyone all the time, however the story is the only mediocre aspect of this game. The controls are tight and responsive, the action is frenetic and brutal, the visuals are vibrant pixel-art, and the soundtrack is banging; beyond all that though, Valfaris has a few neat innovations for the genre that make it distinct. The biggest one, and the one that’s most successful in its implementation, is the checkpoint system; throughout the levels you will find a resource called “Resurrection Idols” that have two uses: You can either use them on specific slots to create a checkpoint or keep them on your person and have more health and deal more damage. Due to the finely tuned balance of the game, both options are desirable and sometimes necessary, and that tactical decision is always interesting; if you decide to move on without a checkpoint, then you better reach the next one without dying because if you do, it’s all the way back to the beginning with you, however if you do use a checkpoint then the power lost could cost you several deaths that could have been avoided. There’s also a 3rd option that allows the player at the end of a level to trade their idols for another resource that’s used to upgrade your equipment, which is also an interesting choice to make. All of the game works though because of this impeccable balance the game has; no fight feels like a walk in the park or an impossible challenge. That is why I chose to not use certain checkpoints and trade idols for upgrades; whenever I died to a boss or a challenging session, I always blamed my decisions and my loadout. There are some pacing problems and the final level felt a bit too rough for me (or I was just ready to be done with the game an hour earlier and I didn’t have the urge to keep going), but there’s ton of replaybility and speedrunning options, so if this sounds like something you would be into, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I wish I could say the same thing about the next game, Afterparty; made by Night School studio (the makers of Oxenfree), this is the story of two best friends who die and end up in hell, where they have a shot at returning to life if they can outdrink Satan in a drinking game. Much like Oxenfree, I appreciate and like the concepts of the game rather than their actual executions; I like the idea of having dialogue options pop in at natural points in a conversation and then removed when they would feel awkward, but in execution I still find the dialogues to be very stiff and work the same way a timer would work on any other game. However, unlike Oxenfree where I played most of it before loosing interest at the first hurdle, Afterparty has this particular sense of humor and writing that I could not get into and found it irritating; its supposed to be this college outcast duo that have this unbreakable friendship, but the humor felt very juvenile and has this “written for millennials” feel to it, while the writing never convinced me these people are actually friends – it felt like they were more like actors who were doing the job with someone they feel neutral to, rather than actual friends. Beyond that, the gameplay section was really boring and stale for me; there’s this beer-pong minigame that I hated and never got used to, you can choose drinks that will give you extra dialogue options that can work with certain characters, but felt random if I picked the correct one or the joke options for most of the time. Again, I like the concepts here – if a game released with the same ideas I would happily give that a shot as well – but in this game, the executions were not to my liking especially the story which did not hook me at all and never cared to see it progress or conclude. There are some elements that I enjoyed very much, like the art style, some of the voice acting, and how the game teases different outcomes for your decisions (you get assigned a personal demon and at the end of each “quest” it shows up and “torments” you with the outcome that you chose and how it could have been different), but those elements were not nearly enough to keep me from giving up on the game and moving on to something else.

That’s two games down, a billion to go in my ever-expanding backlog/list-of-shame, I’ll have a few more of these out shortly (hopefully) before any of the 2020 interesting releases start happening. Having played these games now, I wouldn’t make any changes to my favorite games of 2019 in list (Valfaris is already in the Honorable Mentions segment and that’s where I would keep it if I was making the list again now), however I would have added Afterparty in the games I wished I liked more list, because I honestly wanted to like it and it is a type of game I particularly enjoy.

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