Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Death. A lot of video games have it. A whole lot. Not many of them really address what it is, though. Not the loss, not the feeling of failure. Severed -- the latest game from indie powerhouse Drinkbox Studios -- actually does, and in an interesting way. It does so not with words but through the imagery of the protagonist“s quest to find her missing family in the land of the dead. You play as Sasha, who finds herself not only without her mother, father, and brother, but without her right arm. The how and the why are unclear, but it becomes clear very quickly that just about everything in this world wants to kill you.
Up until now Drinkbox has given players plenty of humorous games, from the Tales From Space games involving '50s inspired wanton alien destruction, to a dimensional barrier-punching luchador in Guacamelee, Drinkbox games have always had a good bit of humor to them. Severed is a different beast entirely. The game tasks you with rescuing your family members in a strange place filled with vicious monsters around every corner. Your first real success, and your first real failure is a shock to the system, setting the tone for this game, one that stands firmly apart from their previous games. Indeed, this game is about loss and reconciliation, sobering themes that clash boldly against the aesthetics that pervade Severed. And while the game is not chatty in the least, you still piece together a lot on your own simply from what you see while you“re navigating this foreign world. By the end it affected me more than it had any right to considering how little written narrative exists.
If you“ve heard or seen anything about Severed, I“m sure the game itself sounds like a cross between Fruit Ninja and Infinity Blade but it does more to surpass them both than any touchscreen game I've ever played. Combat is easy to learn, almost too easy in fact. Your first battle will leave you with a false sense of security that will be shattered moments later if you aren't careful. As the game progressed I found myself fighting not only more enemies, but tougher ones as well. Right up until the end combat remained challenging, upping the ante on a regular basis right along with upgrades and newly acquired abilities. Oh, and if you were at all worried, Severed is easily played with either your right or left hand.
Severed“s enemies are also pretty well thought out. Because what good are fights without some ugly beasties to face the pointy end of your sword? With each new enemy, new strategies must be devised to fight them, meaning you can“t just flail about like some noob with a foam sword at his first LARP. No, you actually have to think on your feet. The order in which you defeat enemies is every bit as important as how you defeat them. Even more so, in fact, at the end of the game in which success and failure can literally depend on the order of your actions and not just your ability to rub your finger across the touchscreen really fast. I don“t want to say much about the various curveballs Drinkbox throws your way because I“d hate to give anything away about this game that I don“t absolutely have to, but my heart raced in nearly every battle, and when I won, I felt like I had earned it.
But fighting is only part of this game. When you aren“t fighting creepy crawly monster dudes you“ll find yourself navigating a series of dungeons. Each of the three major dungeons in the game have their own secrets to find and puzzles to solve. Now some of you will probably be groaning right about now, â€œMore dungeon puzzles?â€ Rest assured, though, the puzzles never become stale and aren“t overused in the least, many of them are just as satisfying as the battles are.
As you progress through the game, slicing up bad guys and the occasional boss, the same abilities you acquire will also work in dungeons, allowing you to access previously inaccessible areas of dungeons. Doing so can reward you with even more secret treasure stashes and even a couple super secret items (oooh!). So really, instead of Infinity Blade, think of a more compact, first-person version of Skyward Sword, but without all the riding around on giant bird. Oh, and without that awful stamina meter. Basically, Severed is a game that can easily rival other heavy hitters in the dungeon exploring business, but in a shorter venture which eliminates the need for more gimmicky, repetitive dungeon design and puzzles.
Severed is easy on the eyes, too. Augusto â€œCuxoâ€ Quijano (Concept Lead) and Stephen Goulet (Art Director) aimed to create a rich world inspiried by non-euro-centric cultures without being directly tied to any one of them, and I“d say the more than succeeded. The environments really shine with help from some deep hues and wonderful design. The colors alone are gorgeous enough to remark on but the striking images the game presents had a lasting affect on me long after the credits rolled.
You see, the main character undergoes an incredible visual transformation, looking less and less human and more like the monstrous denizens of the world you“re journeying through (which I“m certain was the point and has some deeper meaning regarding the effect conflict and loss has on a person... but I ain“t no psychology major). Each time I passed by a mirror or opened up the upgrades menu I couldn“t help but notice the change. It felt strange seeing Sasha each time, and instead of feeling more powerful or confident, somehow I felt uneasy about the idea of her possibly trading her humanity for power. Heavy stuff man. And with some really atmospheric music that only enhances the visuals, Severed really does pull out all the stops to immerse you in this strange and frightening world.
Basically, if you want to feel good again about buying a Vita, buy Severed. It“s the game that will make you remember why you loved your neglected handheld again, like some kinda dark, touch based Danielle Steele novel. You“ll look at it, wistfully. You“ll admire how brilliantly it“s OLED screen shines (unless you got a 2000 series Vita I suppose). You“ll remember the soft feel of the warm screen that responds lasciviously to your every touch. Ok, so I may have gone a bit daytime soap there, but Severed is definitely sexy and you should play with it. The ever evolving fights remain consistently challenging and will test you in a way that never feels unfair. The dungeons are as fun to explore as they are wonderful to look at. And while the end of the game is a tad bit ambiguous, the theme of the game is never disrespected and the world in which it takes place is fascinating. It left me wanting more, something only a handful of other games have accomplished. It really is a game that belongs on every Vita.
+ The world of Severed is exotic and enticing
+ Combat is frantic, exciting, and more complex that it seems
+ Dungeon design is cleverly paced, ability gated
+ Lefty friendly!
- I wish there was more
Overall Score: 9 (Out of 10)
Severed“s core concept seems simple, but is sure to surprise Vita owners with it“s wealth of impressive design and gameplay features.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher