I’ll admit it; despite the greatness that was Guacamelee, I was more than a bit concerned with the direction Drinkbox was taking with Severed. A touch-based dungeon crawler simply did not sound like something I would want to play – at all. A few minutes with the game however, and I was swiping to quite a different tune… intrigued by the things that lay between the one-armed Sasha and her goal. A few hours further down the line and I was completely enthralled, barely able to put my Vita down.
Drinkbox Studios has the secret sauce recipe for games, I’m sure of it. So let me try and sell you on Severed, because as much as I want to lay it all out nice ‘n’ pretty for you, in the end I think this is a game you need to play to truly understand. Hopefully I can get you far enough “in the know” to take the leap though, as it’d be a real shame if you missed out.
Let’s see, shall we?
First, let me set the stage for the story. Your name is Sasha, and you’ve had both your right arm cut off, and your family taken from you by an evil dragon. You’ve been given a living sword by death himself, and are sent on a journey to recover that which you’ve lost. There are three great enemies (and countless smaller obstacles) standing in your way, but there are a few souls that care to help along the way as well. This is a strange world, and strange things lie within – both good, and bad.
Your journey will lead you through three unique areas (aside from an outlying area called The Wilds and what appears to be your house) and pit you against a compliment of unique monsters – including three major bosses. You’ll gain four unique abilities, upgrade a skill tree on three different root systems, and piece together two types of vital organ for a chance at a boost in your reserves. Your fingers will hurt from excessive swiping. Your sense of direction may fail you due to taking too many staircases. That all goes to show you that this is not your mom’s touch game, this is Severed. You shouldn’t expect to find this easy, and that’s part of the beauty.
Beneath all that beauty however, the gameplay is where the meat of Severed is. The majority of the gameplay is split between mazes, puzzles, and action bits; the game borrows from the Metroidvania and dungeon crawler genres – in that it contains both an upgrade system that allows you to continue and explore new areas, and that it plays out as a first person “find your way through this maze of stuff” type format. That said, classifying this one is hard as it’s got the unique kind of twist that we’ve come to expect from Drinkbox… and that’s more than okay with me.
The non-battle portions of the game will have you navigating mazes and solving puzzles – thrusting you into a multi-layered, linked set of locations with various tunnels between them. There’s more than one way to get to any single destination, but there are also other things to consider. Aside from stairs, gates, and layers there are gates that only work in the sun or moonlight (there’s a mechanic for swapping between them), living doors (which require a living key), and trap doors.
Did I mention that’s just the basics?
Delving deeper you’ll also find secrets, and triggerable passages. Secrets are hidden access areas and functions that allow you to get somewhere (or get something) you’d not otherwise be able to get to. Triggerable passages are extensions of secrets that use abilities gained throughout the game to unlock (like blind). There are also “treasure maps” found in books scattered throughout the areas, ways to “warp” into different realities, hidden levers, and more. This game’s not light on ideas and tricks up its sleeves, that’s for sure.
As for the actual controls, the dungeon crawling bit of the game is all about movement and triggers; you’ve got multiple door switches, crank wheels, and of course the mazes to navigate. Character movement controlled by either the left analog, d-pad, or PlayStation symbols for movement (basically copying the d-pad). This is combined with touch for anything that needs to be manually operated, as well as the map and certain other in-game features and shortcuts.
Actual fights play out with the touch screen and the movement buttons (if you so choose that option to switch between enemies). The attacks themselves are carried out with swipes on the touch screen, while the upgrades you gain during the game will allow you to blind, steal a buff from, or “power up” for extra hard hits via touch “buttons” on the right of the screen. That said, even with a semi-simplistic gameplay style this is NOT an easy game, and even with all the upgrades and your skill tree maxed out you’ll have trouble with some of the fights if your timing and technique aren’t perfect. The key here is skill, whether learned or natural. You’re going to have to bring it if you want that platinum, and you’re going to be bringing it quite a bit near the end of the game.
Moving on from basic attacks, you’ve got the skill tree – which extends past your weapon and health to include upgrades to your mana, your additional abilities, and more. Upgrades are forged with parts amputated from enemies (or found in breakables), though if you get a specific upgrade you can make things much easier by gaining the ability to craft parts from giblets – which are more common than parts, and also found in breakables.
Also included in the upgrade repertoire are heart and brain pieces, which upgrade your health and mana reserves respectively. Individual pieces will simply restore your health and/or mana completely, however completing a heart or a brain will upgrade your reserves by a small amount. This is easier said than done however, as most pieces are hidden and/or hard to get to. It’s an uphill struggle for small gains, but they’re worth it. Taking on late game enemies without some upgrades to back you up is suicide.
Getting beyond the mere mechanics of things, the look and feel of Severed is mainly fueled by the graphical response and quality views that you get in the game. It’s not all chopping and killing, as there are many chances for you to simply stop and enjoy the beauty of the world. There are many little dead ends and viewpoints you’ll find that offer something helpful like a fruit (for health) or a couple of breakables – but many also (or alternatively) offer a gorgeous view. It’s one of those bits of unnecessary polish that make that game that much more immersive and interesting – and usually points to a destination you’ll be visiting soon enough. That Drinkbox secret sauce makes a definite appearance here, and the level of detail and quality work that has gone into the title really shines. I thought I was impressed by Guacamelee, but they’ve one-upped themselves this time.
The sound is also very beautiful in a way, giving an atmospheric feel that matches each of the areas and situations you’ll encounter. Little things like the cawing of birds, the rustling of moving bodies, and the wind serve to further enhance the experience of being “alone” in these creepy purgatory-like areas. The air swipes as you attack the enemies on screen work well to draw you into the adrenaline rush too.
In the end, there’s very little that I can say about Severed that isn’t a glowing praise. They’ve pulled off a unique mix of dungeon crawler, touch battle, and puzzle game that had me floored right ’til 100% completion (which my #1 spot on the PSNProfiles platinum list will attest), and then had me go back for yet another run through soon after. The one thing that I will say however, is that I wish there was simply more to play. While my first play-through took me eight hours on the clock (which should actually be plus any reset time from dying, and the ending of the game which it doesn’t record), and the platinum took a total of eleven as I got stuck, a second play-through of the game where I simply aimed for the ending showed it could be done in under four hours total (including endgame and any death resets).
So if we come down to it, if there’s one thing I took from Guacamelee it’s that Drinkbox Studios has found the formula for the gaming equivalent of “special sauce.” The good news is that they’ve poured it on with Severed, and what a tasty treat it is. Like the lip-smackingly good special sauce on your favourite burger however, once you’ve finished your portion you notice that you’ve enjoyed it so much that you simply engulfed it – and now want more.
Severed is a bloody masterpiece in this very same realm of tastiness, so all that’s left to say is… can we have some DLC, please?