System: Wii U (eShop)
Release date: September 22, 2016
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Publisher DrinkBox Studios
Severed is a really interesting experiment in nabbing some popular mobile game mechanics and fleshing them out into a unique dungeon-crawling RPG with combat that plays out more rhythmically than statistically. Really, Severed takes a bunch of concepts and fuses them together in a very fun way. It’s hard to compare it to any one game in particular, but easy to see the little bits and pieces of inspiration it grabbed from here and there.
You play as Sasha, who has been dropped into a colorful but nightmarish underworld with one of her arms severed clean off. Fending for herself with just a single arm and sword, she attempts to rescue her family members imprisoned by monsters. The game doesn’t give you a lot to go off of with the story – just enough to make the nightmare into an intriguing mystery.
If you’re familiar with DrinkBox’s Guacamelee, then the look of the art here should be very similar, albeit applied to a first-person dungeon-crawler instead of a 2D brawler. The art is ominously colorful, sort of in what I’ll call the Majora’s Mask school of art design, where bold colors create an air of uneasiness. Of course, Severed is far more gruesome with a world that starts opaquely ambiguous and largely remains so.
Severed is a very aesthetically-pleasing game, but how does it play? How can bite-sized mobile game mechanics be applied to a longer (and we’re talking about eight hours-to-completion longer) game? In short, it does so very well. The battle mechanics are simple: think Fruit Ninja slashing controls mixed with Infinity Blade enemy encounters. There are stats and upgrades, but it’s not particularly deep as far a being an RPG. The joy of combat comes more from the satisfying feel of strategically slashing and rhythmically managing the different kinds of enemy encounter combinations. Severed isn’t an easy game, either. By mid-game you will probably die quite a few times when figuring out the best ways to juggle the new mixtures of enemies in encounters.
Combat would be pretty tiring given how focused you have to be to do well, so it’s good that the developers paced encounters just right in the labyrinthine world. The navigation is more involved than just moving for space to space on the grid. Even though you’re stuck to grid movement, you can freely look around within the confines of each square to interact with different switches and special objects that have other sorts of puzzle solving effects on the environment. Despite the superficial similarity it might have to an old school first-person dungeon-crawler or its contemporaries like the Etrian Odyssey series, traversal feels almost akin to a traditional Zelda dungeon. These mazes are carefully laid out in sections where you solve a traversal puzzle to get to the next self contained section of puzzling maze rooms and corridors. Unlike most dungeon crawling RPGs, traversing the environment feels just as mechanically fleshed out and carefully designed as the combat encounters.
My only real complaint would probably just be that Severed doesn’t particularly feel like a game that needs to be on a console. Don’t get me wrong – it works just fine on the Wii U’s GamePad, but the TV is unnecessary. This was originally a PlayStation Vita game, which was ported to mobile and now the Wii U. I find myself thinking the same thing I did while playing 2015’s Kirby and the Rainbow Curse: while, sure, I can display the beautiful art in HD on the TV it’s really impractical (and most of the time impossible) to play it while looking away from the touch screen you’re interacting with. After my first time booting up the game to find out what the TV does, I ended up playing Severed with the TV off and wishing that I was playing it on a brighter and higher resolution screen. All of that is to say that you should play Severed because it’s great, but consider your options given the platforms it’s available on.
Severed is a great game with beautiful art that feels a little held back by the Wii U GamePad’s screen. Everything from a design standpoint, from its art, world, and tight game design focus are excellent. For as derivative as it is of a lot ideas found in other games, it’s hard to pinpoint one exact title to compare it to. Given the bevy of platforms it’s available on, it might be wise to look into the version that best suits you. If I could say anything with certainty, it’s that no matter where you play Severed, this is a game worth playing.