Drinkbox Studios is an awesome bunch of people. They created Guacamelee, one of my favorite platformers of all time, and possibly one of my favorite games period. It is packed with color, charm, and Latin-lore. Same goes for their latest title, Severed, which I just had to play after I saw that Drinkbox was behind it. It has been out for some time now, hitting Vita and iPad some time ago. I had the chance to finally play it when it released in August for the Switch, which has been becoming home to many great titles as of late. After a full play through of the games story, I am impressed yet again as it is one of the coolest touch screen based games I have played. Severed is not a gimmicky on the go type title, but rather a fully realized first person RPG with some dungeon crawler-esque like features that make it totally memorable.
In Severed, you take control of a young heroine who is lost in a dark place. Missing an arm and separated from her family, she has no choice but to fight for survival and find them along the way. This realm she is in is not familiar to her, and is definitely not home. Dark creatures lie around every corner, determined to destroy her. With sword in hand, you will fight them off, growing stronger in every battle. This is where the touch screen comes in. Players will slash and swipe across the screen to fight off many of the games twisted and gruesome creatures. Monsters will defend and attack in unique ways that you will learn about as you go on. Some slowly build up, others are balanced, but how you approach the battle is up to you. Small strokes across the screen mean quicker attacks with less damage, while longer strokes do heavier damage to your enemies. Those that attack with strikes themselves can be parried with a similar strike. One on one fights can be quite the combative experience, testing your skills with class and precision. But in this underworld like place, the fairness of a one on one fight is not guaranteed.
When fighting for your life in Severed, you may be doing so with up to four enemies. This can be quite the task, as you have to bounce back and forth between enemies with the left or right analog stick. To help you keep track of who is about to attack, there are meters for each enemy. These circles display both their health and an attack meter, which fills up to help you anticipate when they are going to strike. That is again where the parries come in handy, but in addition to that you can use magic attacks to even the odds. One magic attack lets you freeze one or multiple enemies, allowing you to cancel out their attack (or attack meter) and strategical continue the battle. Later on in the game, you get a magical jaw that allows you to steal buffers from enemies. Enemies in the later portions of the game will have magical buffs like increased attack damage or faster attacks. With the jaw equipped, you can steal up to two of these buffs from an enemy and use them for yourself. With these equipped, your skills will be much improved. Be warned though, some enemies have a natural magic defense, which allows them to not be damaged or altered by your magic attacks.
The combat is incredibly fun, and often challenging. I did not die much in my playthrough, but was constantly contested by foes in the later portion of the game. Thankfully one of the key components of Severed is, well, severing your enemies’ limbs. After killing an enemy, you have the chance to slice of some of their limbs which will then be yours to collect. With these, you can upgrade a variety of stats and abilities, which is where the RPG side of it comes into play. This feature was perfectly balanced, as I finished the game with all but one stat fully maxed out, which could have easily been attained had I chose to pursue it. The game never felt grind-y or forcing you to seek upgrades, it all just comes pretty naturally. The only downside to the combat is comfortably holding the Switch during long play sessions. This is not the best game to play when laying down, as the system’s weight can lead to hand fatigue, and if someone is laying with you I doubt they will want to feel the motion transfer of your rapid flailing.
The art style is killer; pun, as usual, intended. It’s a very slick art style, with ridged edges and popping colors that make it feel like you are playing a story book. And this really fits the style of the overall game as well, as the whole thing plays like a folk lore featuring a hero and plenty of monsters. The monster design, which I thought was going to be repetitive initially, was actually really impressive. More and more designs and variations of enemies emerged the further I got, and the more gruesome or grotesque they became. Same goes for the stellar boss designs and the awesome fights that came with them. The level design was pretty solid itself, but that aspect was a bit repetitive itself, making many halls feel eerily similar to the floor above or below. What was great though was the occasional mystery or puzzles that were scattered about. Simple as they were, they felt really old-school in a good way, making flicks of a switch or item usage unlock a hidden door. This was a nice kick of nostalgia.
Aside from visually speaking, the audio was quite good too, when it was actually present. Most of the game is shockingly quiet, which is fine considering the circumstances, but it can sometimes be really lonely in a matter of speaking. Your character does no speaking of her own, but you can hear her parents in certain situations. There is an endgame song that was great, as well as some cinematic songs that were impressive themselves too. A few npcs along the way also help by delivering some text dialogue to keep the story moving and make you feel not so alone. The main one (or two) is a two headed bird-like creature that gives you tips and some motivation along the way. While they are initially confused and disgusted at the site of a human, they grow rather fond of your character along the way and become genuinely endearing. They were quite the pleasant surprise when you look back on them.
Severed is quite the title, especially considering it is almost entirely played on a touch screen. I have not been this impressed and initiated with a touch-screen combat game since I first played Infinity Blade, and I was in love with that game. Severed is awesome, through and through, and aside from some quiet moments and some discomfort playing, it is a fantastic experience. The middle portion of the game feels a little dull at points, but the final act reels you right back in towards a very satisfying ending. If you are looking to test out your Switch’s touch capabilities, this is the best touch title I have come across yet, and it may hold that title for some time now. Drinkbox does it again with another beautifully designed and well played title.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8.5/10
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