Release Date: August 8, 2017
Developer/Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Platform: Switch (Reviewed), previously released on iOS (also reviewed), 3DS, Wii U, Vita
One of the greatest, yet validly criticized things going on for the Switch right now is the rerelease of previous titles. Many chastise them for putting out reprints of Mario Kart or Lego City Undercover with little to add to the game. Meanwhile, individuals who may have skipped out on the titles are getting a fresh chance at something amazing. In order for a rerelease to do well, it needs to bring enough new to the table for an old fan to enjoy while also having lasting power so that a game from a while back can still feel fresh and new to the new player.
Just about a year ago, I was fortunate enough to review Severed during one of it's original releases for iOS systems. The game has been released on Apple products, Vita, Wii U, and 3DS, and is now finding it's way to the Switch as a new downloadable title. Reviewing it at that time, I was amazed at how beautiful the graphics were. Even though they are simple, the graphical style, skewing between papercraft and animation, hold up very well. Much like Zelda's oft-argued at the time Windwaker graphics, by being unique, they create a timeless feel. I also was enamored at it's depth. For an iOS game, there was plenty to do and draw you in. Angry Birds this was not, as Severed tells a deep tale of a young woman on a grim search for her family. The game is made for serious gaming sessions, not the three-minute toilet break most smartphone games entail.
Time went on, the Vita edition has been part of the PlayStation Plus program, the 3DS and Wii U versions came out with a cross-buy scenario, and now the game is getting another shot on the Switch. Nothing has really changed from the initial release, which would hamper some of the old fans from getting this game, unless they love it so much that they want to play it in every medium possible. I originally got to play the game on an iPhone, so there was one thing I got playing Switch that I even requested in my original review: a joystick.
Severed is a game that is centered around taps and swipes to the point that the game runs only in handheld and tabletop modes. Putting the game in the dock at any time only results in words across the screen stating this fact. As you delve deeper into the story using a Joy-Con as your guide, you will encounter enemies and physical puzzles. Pulling switches and breaking pots lead you to power ups and paths through the mazes you will encounter. When facing enemies, they will have traditional attack patterns that you must learn how to exploit. They will either have a notable spot on their body you must attack or a particular time in their attack pattern that you must hit to do damage. All combat is done on the touchscreen. You slash across the enemies to cause damage, with more damage being done on longer slashes or lining up the hits perfectly. While tedious at times, the game can be very satisfying after a four-enemy ambush surrounds you. As you have to manage turning four cardinal directions, watching attack gagues to appropriately attack and block, and whittling down then finishing off your opponents, victory can be tiresome but sweet.
Severed extends gameplay time with a bit of MetroidVania action. Clearing the enemies from a dungeon does not mean that the area is complete. As you progress you obtain new weapons and equipment that allow you to reach new areas and obtain new power ups. Truly leveling all of your powers and skills require a deft hand to sever limbs from your opponent and a smart brain to remember what you can do when you return to an area.
"But Ryan," you say, "you've reviewed this game before. I'm an avid fan of your work and already know what you think of the game. What's the big difference on the Switch?" Well, you've come to the right place.
Severed on Switch offers one of the biggest screens short of an iPad to play the game on. This is both a blessing and a curse. The forceful blows that you must give the enemies via swipes requires a solid control of the physical machine itself. While the game runs in tabletop mode, the flimsy Switch stand doesn't really hold the machine still without your hand doing a half grip on it. Keeping it in handheld mode, you find yourself dealing with the heft of one-handing the Switch. Most of my game time involved the Switch being flat on a table or in handheld mode in my lap. Straight up holding the machine led to fatigue, so you've really got to literally get yourself into position to play this game. I do like that either Joy-Con could run the game, meaning lefties and righties have equal chances of success, but I did wish I could perhaps only attach one Joy-Con and take a little heft off, but that is likely a limit of the Switch itself, as a single Joy-Con does not recognize as a controllable unit when attached to the unit. The developers have adjusted the game in prior releases to account for large screens for the grand swipes needed to deal maximum damage, but I still find my arm getting tired after a particularly deadly combat scenario or two.
As I played with the Joy-Cons, I noted two things. First, the game cannot be played in non-'Con mode. I thought perhaps since the unit was both touchscreen and joystick capable, you might be able to do the iPhone "double tap" or "two finger draw" used for no-button control, but you do have to completely rely on the joystick option. Not a deal breaker, but I thought that it might be nice if I ever wanted to just sit down and play the game in full "tablet" mode. I also noted the frustration of the "down" position doing nothing. A few times I wanted to back up (the game moves you one "room" at a time, like being stuck to driving blocks in a small town) or perhaps use the down option to do a quick 180 (either walking or in combat) but it is not to be. I suppose adding those kind of things could greatly change how the game is played, so I understand their omission, but I still mourn their loss.
Second, comes the other inherent issue with Severed. As a dedicated swipe and tap style game, Severed would not port well to the big screen. In my interview with the developers, they stated they took a few tries but were never satisfied with a direct controller based attack in Severed. The game truly revolves around the swipe, much like being forced to play Duck Hunt with a controller and reticle for the gun. Doable, but I suppose they listened to Dr. Ian Malcom's advice in Jurassic Park and realized that just because they could doesn't mean they should. I see both sides: I understand losing the artistic integrity and changing the gaming experience, but I also know gamers are going to be bummed their new game won't work on the big screen. i wish there was a way around this one, but I know this can't be avoided. Add another Switch game that doesn't switch to the small pile of quality games with that flaw.
Gamers new to Severed's adventure are bound to be just as delighted as I was the first time I played the game. The art, animation, and story are deep and enthralling, and draw you in more than you expect on first glance. New gamers may be frustrated with some design decisions, but can be thoroughly entertained if they can overlook them or understand their need. Previous owners of Severed on any of the previous releases will not find anything new to whet their appetites, but those who truly enjoy the game and never got to play it portably or want a bigger screen to enjoy it on will be pleased as well. If you want more direct information on the game, be sure to read my original review of the iOS version, and also check out my interview with the developers to understand a bit more about this exciting title.
-Beautiful graphics and artwork
-Surprisingly deep storyline
-Surprisingly deep touchscreen-based combat
-No logical way for docked play
-Doesn't bring anything new to the table for previous fans
-Let me do a 180!