If DrinkBox Studios were Francis Ford Coppola, and Guacamelee! was The Godfather, Severed would be The Conversation. Not a movie buff? That’s fine. Let me try to breakdown that comparison in plain English. I find it important that we get this out of the way early on. Guacamelee!, as I have pointed out in my reviews (plural) of the game, is a masterpiece. Severed is not Guacamelee! Now, that’s not to say that Severed isn’t exemplary in its own right (it is), but we should set it apart from its predecessor as best as we possibly can. Like The Conversation to The Godfather, there are stark differences between these two projects. Severed is a first-person dungeon crawling game focused on narrative. Guacamelee! is an action-platformer focused on combat and movement. Severed contains action, too! The game’s combat system is perhaps the best use of the Vita’s touchscreen in the console’s entire library. But the overall mood of Severed is something completely different coming from DrinkBox. I liked Severed a whole lot, and I think you will, too, but there are a few attributes inherent in its genre that chipped away at its charm over my six to seven hours with the game.
You play as Sasha, a young woman whose family has been ripped from her by mystical forces. The environmental backdrop of the game is a supernatural, slightly horrific, wonderfully colorful mundo de los muertos. The artist, Augusto Quijano, was the lead for Guacamelee!, so Severed sports some recognizable palettes/styles to players familiar with DrinkBox’s last offering. (I repeatedly tried to surprise people by telling them that DrinkBox made Severed. However, after a peek at the screen, they would say some variation of “looks like it!”.) The main gameplay mechanics are turning and walking with the analogue stick (or D-Pad, or face buttons) and fighting by using the Vita’s front touchscreen.
A great mash-up of titles to quickly explain Severed‘s combat is Punch Out! meets Fruit Ninja. Each enemy you encounter has a set attack pattern or two with weak spots that must sometimes be unearthed before being wailed upon. This is perhaps the best part of Severed. After learning how to handle different enemies one on one, you’ll soon be facing off against several baddies at once. The relatively straightforward (yet fun) loop of exposing a weak point, attacking it, and countering incoming attacks becomes a fast-paced, strategic juggling act when several enemies are simultaneously coming at you. The game ramps up in difficulty at a decent pace, making for a modestly challenging experience the whole way through. That being said, I died a lot while playing Severed. I think there was something in my brain that equated touchscreen swiping with casual play that had to be broken if I wanted to succeed in this game. Severed is not a casual videogame. It demands your full attention, especially during battle sequences.
Outside of battle, Severed is a relatively simple first-person dungeon crawler. Thanks to the art, the music, and the writing, the worldbuilding is excellent. You truly feel like you are on a grueling quest, traversing bizarre territories to piece together your family. Some of the scenes are deserving of the PEGI 12 rating for “images or sounds likely to be horrifying.” Even the fruit-eating sound effect gave me the creeps. The movement itself, along with the simplistic puzzles, is what tarnished the game a bit for me. I confess that I have not played many first-person dungeon crawlers. They don’t appeal to me. They seem relatively immersive at first, but over time they inevitably feel tedious. Severed is not immune to this unfortunate effect. The more I progressed through the game, the more I found myself staring at the mini-map or else bringing up the full map to chart my path to an objective. A few things help in this regard. When you kill an enemy and sever its limbs, you have to tap them to pick them up. There are jars strewn about the dungeons that have crafting materials in them. There are also mimic jars that will harm you if you slash them instead of the genuine ones. Switches need to be pulled, rotated, or gonged (is that a verb?) to open up new passageways. Still, there were times when I would look at my sleeping Vita and think, “I don’t really feel like traveling to that other dungeon to 100% explore it. Maybe later.” What’s interesting is that the FAQ site shows off some environmental severing, which would have undoubtedly shaken up the monotony of traveling. As it stands, you’ll need a bit of patience if you want to play Severed through to completion.
Severed sports a solid story and a great combat system. The characters are memorable (especially the two-headed, wise-cracking bird), and the world is fleshed out in a way that few other games on the console have achieved. Despite inherent first-person dungeon crawling drawbacks (namely, walking), Severed is a standout offering from one of the PlayStation Network’s most consistent developers.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Colorful landscapes
- Combat is fast and demands your attention
- Upgrade system
What I Dislike:
- First-person dungeon walking is not conducive to Metroidvania attributes