Severed (iOS) Review
Even though Drinkbox Studios doesn't have many games under their belt, I already feel they have a pedigree about them. My experience with Guacamelee Super Turbo Championship Edition was one that I won't soon forget: the bold colors, sharp humor, unique world, and Metroidvania concept really hit a sweet spot, and my only complaint is that I live the small-town life that doesn't allow me to get four people together for couch co-op on such an epic scale. The company has recently put out Severed, a new game exclusively on Vita and iOS devices. The artistic brilliance and fun gameplay shine through. Despite any flaws, it continues to draw me in and encourage me to see what comes next.
Severed masks a deep game under the simplistic looking veneer of a touch screen game. Most touchscreen games these days are manufactured for short-term entertainment, like Angry Birds and their three-star freemium ilk. Severed is a full-blown game, though. Starting as a young girl whose family was attacked and no memory as to how or why, you are given a sword by a mysterious entity and you begin the search for your family. I figured that, as a mobile/touchscreen game, I could pound through it quick and give a full game experience review. But, as the minutes tick into hours, and I still haven't seen half the things you see in the preview video, I can tell you that this game pulls you in for the long haul, and your average playtime isn't going to be on the toilet break.
Severed is a full-on touchscreen game done right. Much like how the Dance Central series gives you the prefect reason to own a Kinect, Severed shows what can be done with touchscreen gaming when implemented properly. Taps on the screen move and turn you, slashes break open pots and are used for combat, and levers and cranks get activated with pulls and twists. Moving can get tedious, and there are times I wished for an analog stick to better maneuver the hallways without tap-tap-tapping, but this is made up for in the combat. Each enemy has old-school patterns, and you have to determine how to best attack in order to expose their weakness. As you progress, you meet new enemies, or have multiple enemies attack at once, requiring you to keep spinning and slashing until you are the only thing standing in the room.
Battle can get daunting at times, as you may find yourself in a poisonous room slowly leaking life while three different enemies with totally different attack patterns assail you from all sides. As the game continues, the exciting variety does dwindle, and you find yourself facing palette swaps of slightly more difficult versions of the same enemies. Boss battles, however, are distinct and a thrill all their own.
As you proceed, our protagonist Sasha comes across equipment made from her fallen enemies. New weapons and abilities are dropped by bosses, while pieces from general enemies can be used to upgrade her skill tree. Adding in secret paths to old levels that can only be accessed with an item from later in the game extends replay value as well, letting you go back into the catacombs to get that one extra power up.
As I continued, there were a few issues that flustered me about the game, proving that while the control scheme is ideal, there are a few things that didn't lend well too the mobile experience. First and foremost was save states. There is no save button, you rely on the game deciding when the save should happen. Sometimes I would explore, then hit the home button to go do something else, only to come back later and find my save file back behind my ideal spot. Also, while it is possible to play in short bursts, some puzzles required remembering things from a couple sessions prior for me at least. Plus, at times I felt frustrated when I hit a wall of a particularly difficult battle. The game doles out enemies at it's own pace, only respawning enemies in an area after certain plot points, so if you aren't particularly good at keeping up with the skills you need to farm upgrade pieces, you can end up underpowered without much you can do about it other than persevere and try harder. And as a small nuisance, their "recommended hold style" plus the default device orientation results in your hand covering the speaker if you're a righty. Flip it over.
Severed offers a new take on many things. It's a full-blown game on iOS (and Vita) with a thin yet engrossing story, an RPG upgrade tree, and a combat style that requires dexterity. While there are a few flaws, the level of polish by Drinkbox Studios is notably present. I love how Drinkbox took an action as simple as swiping a sword slash and crafted completely different strategies for varying enemies.
Currently, Severed is $6.99 on the iOS App Store (and, sadly, $14.99 on the Vita). While I haven't played the Vita version, I don't see much different it could have, short of better sound thanks to the stereo speakers. The game asks more of you than quick, sit-back-relaxed sessions, so prepare for a more intense gaming scenario than you are used to on your phone. Despite the issues I had, I can't help but recommend this polished gem of a game to anyone looking for an engrossing tale of revenge and mystery.
Thanks to the developers for providing a copy of the iOS version for review.
Final Score: 4.5/5