You can shut off your brain with some touchscreen games, tapping and swiping mindlessly until something else distracts you. Severed is not one of those games. Lose focus in this new Vita release and you’ll die real quick.
Developed by Drinkbox Sudios, who previously released Guacamelee in 2013, Severed centres on a girl named Sasha. At the game’s start, she returns to her family’s ravaged cottage and is told by a demonic apparition that it isn’t her real home. If she finds her family, she can return to the place of her true origin. In early tutorial sequences with her mother, you’re told that the longer your swipe is, the more powerful the strike will be. The first-person gameplay in Severed starts off simply: swipe at an enemy to attack, swipe against a telegraphed incoming blow to parry it and explore the moody landscapes for artefacts and clues.
But the challenge quickly ramps up. The game starts throwing multiple enemies at you from all sides and soon introduces augmented types who will have different durability, speed and attack power attributes. The trick in Severed is memorising the various enemies’ attack patterns and rapidly juggling attack strategies. The six-armed monkey ramps up to strike quickly while shielded floating eyes take a longer time to zap you with quills. The bipedal plant stalks have regenerating shields that you’ll need to break down so you can chip away at their health.
Dismemberment is the key mechanic in this touchscreen dungeon crawler. If players have chained enough attacks together to fill up the Focus bar, Sasha can lop off creatures’ limbs and use them to unlock upgrades. Some enemies are easier to defeat but harder to dismember. The exploration portions of the games will have players delving deeper into dungeons to find special keys and hidden secrets like the one shown below. And just like any good modern day dungeon-crawler, you’ll open up inaccessible areas once you collect mystical artefacts.
Drinkbox’s action RPG drapes formidable challenges for rapid reflex responses and quick strategising skills over its blocky, Mexican Muralism art style. You’ll need to slash, parry, and keep track of the attack timers on multiple foes.
Certain enemies will jump out of your point-of-view, forcing you to whirl around quickly to keep combo chains going. And just when you think you can take your time soaking up the atmosphere, you’ll encounter areas where lethal gas gets pumped into rooms. The difficulty gets a lot more brutal in the game’s third major area, but a forgiving save point system helps ameliorate any frustration.
Severed reminded me a lot of Atari 2600 classic Adventure, with a bunch of modern game design considerations laid on top of it. Its stylistic choices might invoke the nostalgia for software and systems gone by, but it doesn’t do so in a cheap way. What most impresses me about Severed is that it feels handcrafted for the Vita.
The game’s combat style feels like it needs a thumbstick for the quick, accurate response time a physical input gives you. Having longer swipes deliver more damage as a crucial game mechanic makes the most of the handheld’s big screen and landscape presentation. Sure, Severed could live on other hardware, but it makes Sony’s all-but-irrelevant handheld feel like it’s still a place for sharp, original game design.