I really enjoyed the Mexican themed Metroidvania Guacamelee, the last game from DrinkBox Studios. Severed retains a similar art style, and a small element of Metroidvania, but other than that it’s a different beast entirely, both in gameplay and tone.
Severed takes place in some kind of underworld, with a young woman with a severed arm arriving to find the bodies of her dead family, to attempt to lay her to rest. Along the way she encounters several figures, some friendly, some antagonistic. As you can probably tell, Severed is a fair bit darker than the generally comic and upbeat Guacamelee. I felt like Severed was a little bit too ambiguous for its own good; I didn’t really know what was happening, which made it a fair bit harder to actually care. There are some striking images, such as the corpses of our protagonist’s family and the hollow, dead eyed stare in her eyes, but these images don’t really come together to form a cohesive whole.
Severed was designed for touch screens. The combat involves hitting enemies with your sword, using your finger to swipe across the screen. Longer swipes do more damage. Some enemies will block, meaning that you have to attack around them and some have more interesting defences. You also have to parry incoming attacks by swiping against it. This basic mechanic is a lot of fun. You will end up facing multiple enemies at once, with the need to swap between them and parry when they’re about to attack. This can get hugely frantic, but seriously fun and rewarding. Things are complicated further when enemies get particular buffs, such as boost to attack or speed. The simple act of swiping across the screen ends up being less important than managing a large number of foes, keeping in mind factors like the time it takes to parry their attacks and how many shots you can get in before you have to defend from somewhere else, There’s a surprising amount of depth, with an upgrade tree powered by body parts you sever from your foes. You get interesting attacks of your own and we end up with a combat system which is deceptively complicated and engaging.
Between fights you’ll be wandering the world in first person, through a series of distinct rooms. The different environments represent Zelda dungeons more than anything else, dense and layered. You’ll be collecting keys, backtracking, finding unlockable boosts to health and mana (for special attacks), as well as solving some simple puzzles. Severed ends up having more than a little in common with the much maligned Skyward Sword, in things like combat and dungeon design. You do this exploration one handed, as you need your other for the combat. As a lefty I’m pleased to report that moving with your right hand and swiping with your left feels fine.
Severed has a dark and unpleasant tone, with some genuinely distressing imagery within the cartoonish art style. The horrors that we face throughout the game are also darkly beautiful. The soundtrack is moody and atmospheric. Just as with Guacamelee, the extra layers of polish help to elevate an experience which may otherwise be more rote.
I’ve never quite played anything like Severed. It doesn’t necessarily do anything new, but it takes a bunch of disparate elements I’ve never really seen combined before in interesting new directions. I didn’t like it as much as Guacamelee, but it has cemented DrinkBox Studios as one to watch.