What do you get when you take an old-school dungeon crawler and combine it with Fruit Ninja and the most twisted nightmares of Guillermo Del Toro? The answer, as it turns out, is Severed, the latest handiwork from the creative masterminds at Drinkbox Studios.
Those expecting a follow-up or spiritual successor to the developer’s last effort, the luchador-meets-Metroidvania bonanza that was Guacamelee, may be a little disappointed. Despite using a similar visual style, this macabre adventure couldn’t be more different from its predecessor. It is definitely a darker affair than any of the studio’s previous work; players are dropped into the shoes of Sasha, a one-armed girl who awakens in a nightmarish world following the brutal murder of her family. Her harrowing journey to retrieve their bodies is a little light as far as story is concerned, but the game as a whole more than makes up for it with its gorgeous art direction, strategic combat and thoughtful level design.
When I say the visuals are gorgeous, I mean it. Once again, Drinkbox have brought their vibrant, blocky 2D art style to the table, this time mixing it with an Aztec and eldritch horror aesthetic. The result is a world that is beautiful and disturbing in the best possible way. It is this weird and haunting realm of bright forests, illuminated caverns and abandoned ruins that players will be spending the majority of their time navigating. This is done by looking around the environment and selecting which direction to move forward in first person, similar to other grid-based dungeon crawlers. Surveying the surroundings is also integral to finding and unlocking the various collectibles hidden throughout the world and gives a lovely view of the game’s eerie backgrounds. The only real issue is that the fade-in transition when moving between areas could be a little smoother, but this isn’t a major concern.
The highlights of this exploration are, of course, the dungeons that Sasha must traverse to reclaim her fallen kin. Though few in number, these mazes are an absolute pleasure to explore, with their many twists, turns, obstacles and secrets. They are really quite well crafted, once again showcasing the developer’s flair for simple yet elegant level design. It is just a shame that they don’t offer more in terms of traps and puzzles, but what’s there is enough to sate most explorers.
Combat is simple and intuitive, relying entirely on the touchscreen. Stroking the screen will prompt Sasha to swing her sword, slashing at the area where a line was drawn. Of course, while some of you may be tempted to just manically swipe at the screen over and over, this approach will only get you so far; Severed’s many monstrous enemies have several ways of blocking your sword swipes and can deal out plenty of punishment of their own. In addition to this, players can also find themselves facing multiple enemies at the same time. This can lead to some tense battles, where players must juggle between cutting down their foes as quickly as possible while fending off attacks from all sides.
Besting these hectic encounters requires patience and precision, as well as an eye for weaknesses to exploit. Thankfully, Severed offers a number of skills to give players the edge they need to succeed. Swiping against incoming attacks will parry them, often leaving the opponent wide open to a devastating counterattack. Consecutive attacks will build up a Focus meter, which when full will allow Sasha to lop off the monster’s limbs, providing the materials necessary to upgrade her skills and abilities. Finally there are the spells, which grant players abilities such as paralysing opponents or stealing stat buffs that can turn the tide in some of their more challenging struggles. All in all, that’s a surprising amount of depth for such a simple battle system.
Having said that, the combat does get a bit tedious as the game wears on, especially when facing the beefed-up enemy variants that appear during the last third. These damage sponges often come loaded with status boosts and tend to attack in groups that seem designed to give you the most grief. This makes any battle against them not only feel like an uphill struggle but also something of a chore as well. It also results in a weird difficulty spike that unfortunately causes the last third of the game to drag, which is a shame as I found the game to be a joy to play up until that point. Fortunately, Severed doesn’t take too long to beat, clocking in at around 6 hours, so the frustration is short-lived.
While it was originally a PlayStation Vita exclusive, Severed is also available on iOS, 3DS and Wii U, which is the version I played. Regarding my experience with the game on this particular console, I feel that it probably wasn’t the best way to play it. It runs fine, but the main TV screen only ever displays a larger version of the map, so it’s hardly ever used. As such, I found myself playing exclusively on the Gamepad with the TV turned off. It is very much a smaller game intended for portable devices. It is also worth noting that, as mentioned earlier, the game makes heavy usage of the touchscreen. Those that dislike such features may wish to stay clear.
Of course, these niggles merely distract from the fact that this is another fine addition to Drinkbox Studios’ resume. With Severed, they have delivered an otherworldly take on touch combat that is simple yet engaging. It suffers from a weird difficulty curve in the late game, but for those willing to persevere with it, this game is definitely worth the time.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii U code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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