TT Review: Severed

By Brandon Fusco,
Drinkbox Studios has made the jump from 2D gaming to a first person hack 'n slash with their latest release, Severed. It's clear that they know how to make a solid Metroidvania puzzle-platformer, but does this experimental game fit them as well?

Ready for a psychedelic trip?Ready for a psychedelic trip?

There's no doubt that this is a Drinkbox game from the opening minutes. The sharp, colorful animation style of Guacamelee! is once again on display, with even more detail. No time is wasted setting up the story, relying instead on visceral imagery to set up much of the character's predicament. Thus begins the quest to save Sasha's family with the help of a devilish looking sword. There's a little bit of conversation with the inhabitants of the world to flesh things out, but most of what they share is exposition that is more flavor than substance. Ultimately, there's very little in the way of plot over the course of the game's brisk five- to six-hour quest, though the few cutscenes that are present manage to convey quite a bit of emotion through stunning visual story telling.

Exploring this world for the first time is exciting. The intense colors make most locations strikingly different and frequently haunting. Aside from some archaic, earth-like structures, most of the creatures and environments have an evil, twisted feel to them. Even upgrading abilities is dark, requiring the severed body parts of Sasha's grotesque enemies as currency.

There's something here both beautiful and haunting.There's something here both beautiful and haunting.

Most of the puzzles required to complete the story are basic enough. In many instances, the game provides a glimpse of the moving parts in a puzzle through holes in the wall. If a lever is designed to open a door, even if it isn't directly accessible, it'll frequently be visible just behind the lever. More complex designs usually reward pieces of heart or brain to upgrade health and mana stats respectively. These often challenge the player to decipher hand drawn maps or mysterious environmental puzzles. The in-game map will show a question mark in these areas to indicate that there is a secret, but after that, it's up to the player's wits to figure it out.

In the end, the world design is also one of the game's few flaws. Throughout the game, players will unlock abilities that will allow them access to new areas of the map, but retracing your steps through these areas can be a bit mundane. With all the major puzzles solved, most of the time is spent simply getting to spots where there might be something hidden. Working all the way through the multi-leveled labyrinthine hallways of an area that's already been mastered is both time-consuming and frustratingly inane. This is usually optional, however, so the choice of whether to continue onward or to return for helpful but unnecessary rewards is up to each individual player.

One attack oncoming, and one more about to attack from the right.One attack oncoming, and one more about to attack from the right.

Much like these puzzles, combat is also an intellectual exercise. A simple tutorial gives you the basic functions of how swordplay works, how to maximize damage, and how to activate focus mode in order to collect body parts for skill upgrades. Beyond that, working out how to defeat enemies is up to the player. Usually, the first encounter with a new enemy takes place in a one-on-one situation, making it easier to learn attack patterns, defensive patterns, and weak points. Minus only one or two enemy types, each new creature is interesting on its own, though usually not too difficult.

The true crux of combat comes when multiple enemies attack. One enemy may become more aggressive when damaged, while another might simply build up to an attack steadily. Others may transform after several blows, making vicious attacks on them a potentially bad idea if there are multiple other enemies. Trying to juggle these patterns, parrying incoming blows, and arranging the flow of battle into a timetable of your choosing is a rush. Most battles don't last very long, coming in under two minutes. The few instances where skirmishes take longer or where several encounters happen in quick succession tend to be a low point of combat, since the joy is generally in finding the rhythm and patterns rather than the frantic swiping on the touchscreen.

I'm just going to take <i>those</i>.I'm just going to take those.

Trophies in Severed aren't too hard to obtain. It's easy enough to knock out more than half of the trophy list in a five- to six-hour playthrough. Many of the trophies are pretty standard of modern games, requiring players to fully upgrade equipment, collect a certain amount of severed body parts, solve all of the game's secrets, or complete a certain section of the story. The toughest of these for most will likely be figuring out the secret puzzles that lead to the brain and heart pieces, since they can sometimes be a little obscure. All told, it's possible to unlock all of the trophies in under eight hours, making this a fairly short platinum.

Summary

Severed is a fairly short game, but a fun and intriguing one. The world and the creatures within it manage to be both colorful and grotesque. Delving into this world, solving puzzles, fighting abominations, and becoming more powerful are all enjoyable, but it's the balance of all of these that is most rewarding. When one part overtakes the others, a little of the game's beauty falls away in favor of boredom or frustration. Drinkbox has done a masterful job in balancing these aspects, however, resulting in a fun and unique experience worth trying out.
4 / 5
Severed (Vita)
Positives
  • Distinct, beautiful, haunting art style
  • Fast and smart combat
  • Simple but rewarding puzzles
Negatives
  • Backtracking can be boring
Ethics
The reviewer used a personal copy of the game on PlayStation Vita for the purposes of this review. He played for around eight hours, which was enough to complete the game, earn all the trophies, and play through the beginning a second time.
Brandon Fusco
Written by Brandon Fusco
Brandon is an Editor and TGN's Host with the Most. The most what? The most opinions, the most understanding wife, and the most *funny cat videos. Previously Host of the Trophy Talk Podcast. (*Not Verified)