Severed is a first person, touch-based dungeon crawler released for the PlayStation Vita on April 26, 2016. It was developed and published by @DrinkBoxStudios. For more info check out the game’s gorgeous site. Screenshots taken by myself.
First person dungeon crawlers are a rare breed of game. It’s a genre that had its heydey in the late 90s and hasn’t really been heard from since. But the opportunity for immersion that comes with this sort of game is quite high if it’s done right. It’s even rarer to see a game from a high profile studio release exclusively on the slowly dying PlayStation Vita. What’s rarest of all is for one of these types of games release on the Vita AND be an incredible experience from start to finish. This recipe for success is what makes Severed a marvellous game and a must play for Vita owners and fans of the genre.
Right of the bat Severed wowed me with its gorgeous art style. Inspired by their previous game Guacamelee! Drinkbox Studios has stuck with the bright colours and graphic novel style visuals. It almost leads me to believe that they could be in the same universe at different times. But whereas Guacamelee! centred around the day of the dead and luchadors Severed takes a different approach, one much more serious and dark. The world of monsters where the game takes place is extremely disturbing and isolated but none the less beautiful. It’s just a different beauty than Guacamelee! but the comparisons between the two games are inescapable.
With the serious and dark world comes an equally serious and dark story. Sasha is a woman torn from her family by monsters in the underworld and in the process she loses her arm. Equipped with a long sword in her remaining arm, Sasha goes out into the underworld in search of her lost family. The themes tackled in Severed are real and dark: loss, isolation and death complemented perfectly by the eerie visuals and creepy music. Every corner of Severed‘s world is thoughtfully crafted to add to its amazing atmosphere. There aren’t many characters but the ones that are present I came to adore over my short playthrough. While I originally feared them at the start, by the end I had spent enough time with them and learned enough about them to sympathise with them.
The gameplay in Severed is just as perfect and immersive as every other aspect of the game. Players use swipes on the touchscreen to simulate Sasha’s sword slashes. By swiping in different directions at different lengths Sasha does varying degrees of damage and can land critical hits. Swiping for sword attacks combined with tapping to switch between up to four enemies requires a great deal of coordination and skill. When I successfully took out four enemies in a battle without getting hit, swapping between targets right before they attacked, it was incredibly satisfying.
The difficulty ramps up at a challenging yet still reasonable rate. Enemies get magical buffs and increases to their damage dealt. The progression in enemy difficulty and my own increase in power felt very fair and thought out. As you play you collect body parts from dismembered enemies. Using these parts Sasha can upgrade her various skills and abilities to become a sword-fighting master. At no point during my playthrough did a death feel like it was unfair. Each death felt like my fault for not being quick enough or focussing too much on a single enemy. This is a hallmark of excellent game design.
I would be hard pressed not to talk about Severed‘s use of a handicapped, Latino woman as the main playable character. In a medium where the majority of games star Whitey McStubbly, it’s extremely refreshing to experience a game that explores different characters with emotion and depth to them. Sasha is a woman struggling with very real issues and exploring her relationship with her family and showing how she deals with her issues makes for an incredibly engaging story. Sasha is an extremely relatable character, and while I may not have been able to relate to the loss of her entire family and an arm I definitely connected with her as a character and felt like she was very well realised. There were parts of the game that genuinely scared me, more than any AAA blockbuster title in recent memory ever did. Then there were parts that struck me with how it was presented in a very deliberate way, not just for shock value. Severed’s story is absolutely worth experiencing even if you’re not a fan of touch-based games.
If you own a PS Vita you need to play this game. It takes touch based controls from gimmicky and annoying and makes them meaningful and enjoyable, something few games have been able to accomplish with the Vita. This is a must play for Vita owners and fans of first-person dungeon crawlers. Severed takes what I love about slash, touch-based games like fruit ninja and adds layers of depth, upgrades and exploration to create a gorgeous and wonderful experience.
Thanks for reading my review! If you liked it be sure to check out my other reviews and the rest of the content on our blog. Also please let us know what you think about Severed or any interesting thoughts you had in w2the comments!