When I first heard that the good folks at Drinkbox Studios, responsible for the critically acclaimed “Guacamelee!” was hard at work on a brand new IP, my interest was piqued.
However, that was a long time ago, and news about their progress seemed few and far between amidst delays. Such is the trend for game development that loses its focus and often gets sent to limbo, where it awaits the cancellation notice.
Luckily, such fears were wholly unfounded, as “Severed” not only proves itself an excellent game, it does so while severing all expectations I’ve had about touch controlled games in general.
The story of Severed revolves around a young woman named “Sasha”, who finds herself in a nightmarish world with the sole drive to find her family.
While the setup is simple enough, much of the tale is left up for interpretation, as plot elements are purposely left vague, with only cryptic hints to piece it all together.
Still, it’s plenty compelling enough, as I was eager to continue my adventure to see what would happen next.
As for the combat and indeed, the vast majority of the gameplay itself revolves around using the touch screen of the Vita and yes, I know what you’re thinking.
Sure, I certainly can’t blame you, because I was thinking the exact same thing when I first heard of it as well.
After all, touch controls and precise combat mechanics go together like peanut butter and broccoli.
This of course is not to say that touch controls are inherently bad, but historically speaking, most of the time they have been used to control precise, quick actions it was lacking to say the least.
However, the case for Severed proves the exception to the rule, as not only are the controls perfectly integrated to the core mechanics, it’s adds a layer of flexibility that would otherwise be impossible with standard analog/d-pad controls.
A typical fight begins when the player walks into an area that’s clearly marked with an encounter.
The player is introduced to each of the monsters in order, which there are several of most of the time. When the battle starts, the player can face different enemies by using the d-pad and begin dealing damage to the monsters one at a time.
The enemies aren’t kind enough to just wait their turn, so their actions are always progressing as a each monster icon represents how close to attacking they are.
So the player must quickly and efficiently go back and forth between different enemies, interrupting their attacks while piling on the damage at the same time. Using slashes and power slashes at the right time, at the right angles to stagger opponents to reveal their weak point, all while juggling a bunch of other enemies at once is a bit frantic, but fun all the same.
It seems a bit much at the start, but it all felt very intuitive, and I was taking on four different monster types at once and finishing the encounter without taking a single hit.
Each fallen foe also gives the player the opportunity to sever body parts which can be used to upgrade Sasha’s abilities.
It’s a mechanic that reminded me of Metal Gear Revengeance’s Zandatsu.
As this is a first person dungeon crawler in terms of exploration, it features a map that gets filled out as new areas are explored and offers some clever level designs where I had to think outside the box to solve some environmental puzzles.
Powerful new abilities are also gained by defeating bosses, which adds another mechanic to the combat and also serves to open up previously inaccessible areas on the map.
Lastly, there’s a skill tree of sorts, but I felt there wasn’t really any strategy involved in choosing what skills I wanted, as I had ample material to fully upgrade Sasha well before the final boss encounter.
After their well deserved success with Guacamelee, the folks at Drinkbox Studios took a big risk with Severed. After all, a Vita exclusive first person dungeon crawler RPG with touch controlled combat seems rather long in the genre definition, and a rather insane proposition all things considered. However, despite all odds, they’ve managed to craft a title featuring a fantastic world that begs to be explored, and a combat engine that’s intuitive and the finest use of touch controls since Tearaway. It’s simply the best title to come out for the Vita in some time, and one worth adding to the library of every Vita owner.
Fun Tidbit – First person dungeon crawlers tend to have a reputation for being very difficult and while Severed isn’t quite “Easy” per se, it has a very generous checkpoint/autosave system and dying isn’t really a big deal so players of all skill levels should be able to play this one without issue.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.