I gotta hand it to Drinkbox Studios. After the success of Guacamelee, they ought to have been able to produce a game for whoever on whatever, but instead they stuck true to their roots and made Severed, a first-person, touch-based, role-playing dungeon crawler currently exclusive to the PlayStation Vita. It’s clear they had a particular vision in mind and believed it suited to the Vita. They’re taking a gamble, but in terms of game design, it’s a huge pay-off for Vita owners. Severed’s story takes shape as dungeon-crawlers so often do; somethings are missing that need found. The tropes are rather conventional, but done well enough. As an RPG, you become invested in your character and her journey through the overall tone and atmosphere of the game.Story beats are conveyed through comic-like cut-scenes and through pretty significant environmental storytelling. Severed doesn’t entirely rely on hand-feeding you a huge amount of story information, instead allowing to interpret lore and backstory for yourself as you explore the eerie setting. In this sense, it reminds me of Dark Souls or the like. You’ll come across some pretty messed up environments and enemies, with little explanation as to why they’re so terrifying.
All in all, I was kept intrigued and motivated to progress through the game, an achievement I also attribute a great deal to the game’s stellar presentation.Drinkbox’s art design and presentation is simply stunning. It’s bears some resemblance of Guacamelee with some elements seemingly taking inspiration from Mexico’s Day of the Dead, whilst combining an art style reminiscent of Olly Moss’ work in Firewatch and reminding me of Japanese anime. The game is colourful, but simultaneously sinister.
Despite being heavily stylised the world feels alive and I was often totally immersed into the game. Obviously the sound design contributes greatly in this sense. Enemy design is exceptional, blending the tone and style of the game with its gameplay. Sound here plays an important role again, cueing enemy attacks, powerups and more.
In summary, presentation perfectly blends the game’s story and gameplay. There is a near seamless flow that heavily immersed me in the game much to my surprise, considering it’s traditional obtrusive touch-control approach. It just works so excellently, both conceptually and technically; I never ran into any slowdown on the ageing hardware of my OLED Vita. Think of Severed as a sublime combination of the Legend of Zelda and Fruit Ninja.
I found the game design simply flawless. The dungeon’s are incredibly well designed and laid out. There are secrets and challenges abound, puzzles galore and hidden areas to uncover, but it never becomes overly frustrating or obstructive in terms of the game’s flow. As you gradually develop new powers, the game invites you to retrace your steps and open up new areas. Strange or obscure symbols now have meaning encouraging you to race back to question marked areas on your map in anticipation of what you’ll find next. Every new discovery rewards you and allows you to upgrade your character, where the initially simplistic role-playing elements gradually become deeper. Whilst being a relatively abbreviated RPG, the depth and amount to explore amounts to a very satisfying playthrough.
When it comes to Severed’s gameplay, I was initially doubtful of its touch-controls, but I had no reason to be. As you navigate Severed’s world, you move from node to node, circular areas you can pan around horizontally. On occasional nodes, you’ll run into enemy encounters that will spawn around you in a circle. You attack and parry enemies by swiping the touch screen, with a substantial array of enemies requiring a variety of approaches. All other navigation requires you to use the physical buttons or thumbsticks. The mechanics are handled well, building upon the progress the likes of Infinity Blade have made. The controls were immersive rather than obtrusive; I nearly missed my bus stop as I frantically swiped back on forth.
Typically complaints of touch-based controls persist though. I occasionally felt the touch screen was imprecise at times and having my fingers hovering over the screen sometimes blocked the all important timers for enemy attacks. I’d have also appreciated greater options in terms of controls; as the square, triangle, circle and ‘x’ buttons are treated the same as the directional pad, I had to get used to using left and right to pan around and triangle to move forward. A minor, technical complaint I know. For Vita owners, Severed is a must-play, but if this game eventually gets ported over to mobile platforms or even to console or PC, I’m sure I’d say the same. The game design and presentation alone are reason enough I believe to play this game, let alone the largely well handled touch-controls, story and enemy design. Severed nails dungeon-crawling mechanics, introducing an unconventional camera perspective and controls with tremendous success. I’d argue this is the best Zelda game you can get on PlayStation platform. Those that wanted Guacamelee 2 ought to be impressed with this release.Drinkbox have really proved themselves with Severed, I eagerly anticipate what they do next.
<em>The Vita version of Severed was primarily tested for the purpose of this review.</em>