When I think of gameplay control schemes I prefer, touchscreen isn’t high on the list. And neither is Star Fox Zero\’s dual screen setup for that matter. Sure, I’ve played my fair share of iOS games, but before long I found myself coming back to my 3DS and Vita. There’s just something about physical controls that I love while our friend of the site Ryan is all about touch controls. I don’t despise swipe and tap based games or people who play them, gamers are gamers in my book, but they’re just not my cup of tea.
I’m going to be completely honest here before I start—I wasn’t particularly excited for Severed, and I love everything the talented indie team at Drinkbox Studios has put on Vita ever since their first title Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack to their critically acclaimed hit Guacamelee. I also admire their loyalty and passion for the Vita platform in a world where most people, other than us Vita faithful, don’t give a shit. Including Sony.
And that’s a damn shame.
I gotta hand it to the talent folks at Drinkbox because they proved me wrong and showed me that touch controls can take center stage in a game and that game can still offer a deep experience. That’s not meant to discredit standout mobile titles like Monument Valley or The Room either, but I\’ve found the majority of phone games to be quick, shallow experiences. Severed challenges this archetype with a strong battle system that has many layers.
Lets dive in. You play as Sasha, a one armed young woman desperately searching for her family. And don\’t let her one arm fool you, because this woman is a badass with her sword that is controlled with swipe gestures. The first few battles are one on one and are meant to provide a taste of the gameplay and enemy types. It starts out easy enough but don\’t get too comfortable because before long you\’ll be facing off against multiple enemies at once with each enemy displaying a timer at the bottom of your screen. When the timer\’s outline fills in yellow it signals that enemy is about to attack. While you\’re slicing and dicing its imperative you keep an eye on all timers during battle and parry to break incoming attacks which will work most of the time. Some enemies, however, cannot be blocked and instead need to be attacked frequently enough in order to hinder them from being able to attack. Each battle ends up being a delicate dance between blocking and attacking enemies to avoid becoming mince meat. As you progress further you\’ll be introduced to magic and spells along with faster, stronger, and more difficult enemies up to bosses. It\’s this battle system that prevents combat from strictly being a swipe fest and instead makes it more rhythmic with each enemy having a distinct attack pattern as well as a weakness. To change up the gameplay is some first person dungeon crawling along with an upgrade system for your health and stats.
Speaking of the combat and the upgrade systems, remember when I said this game has layered complexity? Let me expand on that. Sasha has something cool called a focus meter and you want to fill that thing up baby! Because when she’s at full focus time freezes momentarily allowing her to perform finishing moves on enemies and sever their body parts to harvest them for upgrades. Yeah, it’s awesome. Each enemy offers different body parts and upgrades have varying recipes that require this arm and that eyeball. If the thought of this makes you squeamish then please step away from your computer because vomit isn’t covered under your warranty.
Feeling better? Okay.
Anyway, if the though of severing and collecting body parts makes you want to pull an exorcist sans the demonic possession part then perhaps you\’ll take comfort in knowing that Severed\’s visuals aren\’t going for realism (in case you haven\’t noticed). That\’s what the Ninja Gaiden series is for. Instead, Drinkbox opted for their signature flat, simple aesthetic with bright and bold colors. When I look at all their past and present work I feel like this game is a hallmark of their art direction. The games bright and beautiful style juxtaposes the dark and grim story perfectly and really is never a bore to look at. The creature design is fun as well and really fits with the overall style, which is good because in between battles you’ll be doing some good ol’ dungeon crawling. As expected each dungeon holds multiple secrets and pathways, some of which you can’t access without finding specific items. It really is a nice break from battling and I found the balance of enemy encountered and exploration to be just right.
When I received Severed I first started playing on my commute to work, but quickly stopped after a few days. The trains here in New York are pretty packed and I felt like I was an annoyance swiping like a madman with two people so (unfortunately) close to me. I then switched to playing during my lunch breaks and in bed at home which seemed like the ideal environment for me. One thing I can say though is no matter where you choose to carve out time to play you’re likely to enjoy Severed. It’s available on the PlayStation Store for a cool $14.99 exclusively for PlayStation Vita.