Our “farewell to Gamescom” appointment last year was with DrinkBox Studios, developer of the acclaimed Guacamelee! and Mutant Blobs Attack games. In fact, quite a few developers and publishers had already left Cologne at that point – but we’re glad that DrinkBox stuck around, because they were there to show off Severed, one of the rare Vita exclusive titles to come out this year.
Severed is a completely different kind of game than DrinkBox’s previous titles, most of which were also released on the Vita. The best way to describe Severed is probably to call it a dungeon crawler meets rpg meets touch-based hack ‘n slash. In other words, it’s rather unique. You play the role of Sasha, a one-armed warrior whose family is missing, and you’re on a quest to find them and take down whoever stands in your way.
The world of Severed is a fantasy realm full of bizarre creatures – nearly all of them hostile in nature. You navigate the game world in 3D using a grid based system, where pushing forward moves you onto the next tile and pushing sideways turns you towards another direction. You can’t back up, which was a minor nuisance a few times after taking a wrong turn. Probably just me being lazy though, since it would really only save me a single button press.
The game does feature some cutscenes that set up the overall story, but it’s low on scripted events and the like. Instead, the focus is on the core gameplay, which tends to stay the same throughout the game but manages to constantly evolve in subtle ways to keep things interesting. Aside from movement, which I just talked about, the other major part in the game is of course combat. You’ll quickly run into your first foes, and most foes can be taken down using touch screen swipes – symbolizing your sword movements. You can also parry your enemy’s attacks by swiping in the opposite direction he’s attacking in – this is usually telegraphed in a relatively clear way using visual cues. When you defeat a monster, you get the chance to sever their limbs and/or organs for a bonus. Outside of battles, you’ll also find upgrades, items and the occasional puzzle along the way.
The game never strays from what’s described above, but quickly becomes more intricate. You’ll run into two or more foes at once within the first half hour, and that’s when you have to combine movement and combat. Focus on one enemy too long, and another might stab you in the side or back. On-screen meters show the danger level coming from other sides, so as long as you’re aware of those you’ll never be caught off guard. Still, it increases the level of challenge – as do the boss encounters. Boss monsters are challenging, diverse and imposing – usually requiring a tactic that’s unique to them. Some might seem too daunting at first, but the right tactic can usually be found by paying close attention to visual cues that DrinkBox has put into the game.
This is possibly one of the developer’s greatest achievements in Severed: to communicate how the game is meant to be played without over-explaining anything. There are a few tutorial hints early on, but for most of the game you keep getting the feeling that it was you, personally, who figured out what to do. This makes uncovering the mystery that you’re in so much more rewarding when you finally move forward into the next section.
For all that Severed does well, there are a few issues as well. I mentioned not being able to move backwards when navigating the map as a very minor issue (obviously this wouldn’t translate well into the dynamic of the battles, so it’s forgiven). However, being largely touch-based, the Vita’s screen size does come into play as a bit of an issue at times. Especially with bigger fingers, getting your swipes to be as precise as you want them can be a source of mild frustration. The game is usually fairly forgiving and doesn’t push you back that far when you die, but it can be a bit of a bother – especially if it happens more than once in the same fight/location.
Still, we’re happy with how Severed turned out. It may look like a dungeon crawler, but it’s very different from other recent Vita games in that genre. On the surface, it’s a lot like a tablet game, but it’s much more intricate than most games on that platform and we’re happy it came to the Vita.