You know what game is excellent? Guacamelee, a Metroidvania game starring a Mexican wrestler that I played as a PS+ freebie a while back. DrinkBox Studios is back with another colorful, Mexican folk themed game for the Vita with Severed. I’ve owned a Vita for a few months but I’ve only used it as a PS4 streaming device. Severed was the first game to make me go out and actually buy a memory card (what is this, the stone age?) so I could play a Vita game.
So, was it worth it? Severed is the second game I’ve ever got a platinum trophy on, if that’s any indication. It’s an incredible game.
- TL;DR: Colorful 2D art offsets the doom and gloom theme in this excellent, touchscreen-heavy dungeon crawler
- Platform: 3DS, iOS, Switch, Wii U, Vita (reviewed)
- Time Played: 6:20
- What I Played: Campaign to 100% completion
There is no intro cutscene for Severed. You just wake up in this strange land with a bit of your life bar empty and rising smoke in the distance. After a minute or so you see yourself in the mirror — Sasha, a young, maybe 20-something year old girl who is missing an arm. A strange, cloaked being tells you that where you are is not your home. It also tells you to find your family, who you see briefly as memories flash by, and to bring them back so that you can go home.
Severed is a first-person game to the extreme. While most first-person games let you look down and see your feet or see your hands and arms at the bottom of the screen as you walk, you essentially control a moving camera in Severed. You can spin around within a room, which you are always at the center of, and you can move forward but there is no vertical pitch. The developers did an AMA recently and pointed out how they keep everything in perspective — each room is basically a big piece of 2D art wrapped around the camera. Pretty neat.
That 2D art is absolutely beautiful to look at. I mentioned earlier that it shares the same Day of the Dead style as Guacamelee. Every room and enemy are stunning. The bright teals, oranges, and pinks help offset the overarching theme of death and loss as you search for Sasha’s family in a strange land filled with beasts. There are only a handful of settings over the roughly six hour campaign, but each is unique enough to keep your jaw dropped. Whether it be the temple of the crows, the abandoned mountain town, or the wilderness, Severed does not disappoint in the graphical department.
Combat is the heart and soul of Severed. You have a sword which you can slash by swiping the screen. Each swipe makes a satisfying woosh noise and shakes the camera a tiny bit, further driving home the first-person perspective. Thankfully, you can’t game the system and swipe with multiple fingers at a time. Each fight is a one on one with the enemy directly in front of you. Shorter swipes can interrupt enemy actions more easily while longer swipes do more damage.
Furiously swiping isn’t the name of the game, though. Sasha is pretty vulnerable and there is no way to block or raise a shield, so parrying enemy attacks is critical. Enemies will telegraph their attacks to you by raising the flashing red arm/tentacle/wing they plan to strike with, which is your cue to slash in that direction. A nice clashing steel ting rings out each time you do. Small, circular icons on the bottom of the screen gradually empty out as you swipe and swipe rather than showing a life bar above each enemy. A yellow circle around the icon fills up as an enemy is getting closer to attacking which helps you gauge when to be aggressive and when to wait to counter.
The difficulty of Severed is handled very, very well. Each enemy has it’s own attack pattern which you’ll easily memorize, but the game quickly throws groups of two, three, even four enemies at you at once. Keeping an eye on all the icons at the bottom of the screen to know where to face and when to counter, since you can only engage a single enemy at a time, makes every fight a juggling exercise. Enemies will start coming into fights with buffs like increased attack or life regeneration, altering how you map out your attack plan. Certain rooms will even fight back at you with toxic gas or blinding flashes. All of this ramps up incredibly smoothly as the game moves on. You never feel overwhelmed but you also never feel like an unstoppable force.
As you swipe and swipe, a focus meter will fill up just under your life bar. If you’re at full focus when you kill an enemy, it will suspend itself in midair with small slash marks across various limbs. If you can sever (get it?) any limbs before the focus meter empties, you’ll add them to your inventory. You’ll use these eyes, wings, jaws, and other limbs to upgrade your skills. Nothing in either of the three skill trees is particularly ground breaking, although I do recommend the life leech skill as soon as possible as healing items are few and far between. Each upgradable skill is passive which lets you focus your time in combat on striking and parrying properly instead of managing action skills or combinations. You’ll also find generic giblets which can be transmuted into other limb types at different exchange rates. The transmute screen is well designed, too, as the limb you are creating will change from red to green when you reach the amount needed for the upgrade you have highlighted.
It’s pretty metal to kill these deformed beasts while missing an arm and to use their bodies to strengthen yourself. To hammer that home, you find literal brain and heart pieces to increase your health and mana pools. No heart container pieces or mana crystals here. You do end up with three different active skills: a blind/stun, a buff stealer, and a damage enhancer. But, the blind skill is mainly an interrupt or hail mary and I always used the buff stealer at the start of a fight if I was going to use it. Combat stays focused like I mentioned earlier.
When you aren’t chopping limbs off deformed creatures, you’ll be dungeon crawling. You’ll be activating colored levers to unlock the same colored doors, running under slowly-closing doors, all the textbook stuff. The skills I mentioned above double as the classic “come back here later with a post-boss upgrade to enter this door” mechanic. Enemies do not respawn, though, so going back for missed or previously unreachable upgrades isn’t a horrible chore.
Severed is a pretty sad game in tone. Right off the bat, you are thrust into a horrific world with one less arm than usual and a missing family. Grotesque creatures, piles of bones, and haunting scenery aren’t exactly what you’d look for to bring a smile to your face. It all works very well, though, as Sasha carries the mantle of silent protagonist with pride. The small bit of backstory that you do get, a total of maybe 10-15 minutes told through small scenes or text, is impactful.
My hat is off to the small development team at DrinkBox Studios. The focused, well-crafted game they were able to put forth in Severed is truly spectacular. The first person perspective is so finely tuned with little sound effects and camera bobs, the difficulty ramps up just perfectly, and the six hour playtime is just long enough to get invested but not drag or feel padded out. Don’t be surprised to see Severed in game of the year discussions when award season comes around. It’s that good.