Severed Review (PS Vita)
Few games are as stunningly beautiful as Drinkbox Studios' Severed. It's a game that's vibrant and full of life, with colors that pop off the screen. This liveliness is a direct contrast to the story and thematic content driving Severed, which is a somber tale of loss and righting the wrongs committed against our hero's family. It all serves as the foundation for a deep, action-intensive dungeon-crawler, that dishes all its gameplay out in perfectly sized segments. Though some developers have struggled to craft unique and memorable games for the Vita, Drinkbox has managed to do just that and then some with Severed.
Standing alone in her devastated home, Sasha stares into a mirror revealing just how badly she's been hurt. This is her home, but this place isn't where she lives. Her family is nowhere to be seen, but a demonic stranger offers hints as to where they've been taken. It's now up to Sasha to find and rescue them from whatever strange beasts lurk in the foreign landscape where they've all be transported. It's here where Severed first sets itself apart. The design of the game world is beautiful but alien, and there's a hint of weirdness around every corner. That's before you set eyes on the creatures inhabiting this realm.
Severed shares much of its aesthetic with Guacamelee, which makes sense given that it's derived from the same art team, but where Guacamelee was at least grounded in some semblance of reality, Severed goes wild. It's a terrific visual experience, particularly on the Vita's brilliant little screen. The color palette is eerie and captivating all at once, and as you progress further into Severed's world, things get even more twisted and alluring. The core concepts of caves and castles that have been done to death in this kind of crawling explorer are given new life with Severed's design. You might feel like you've been down these roads before, but Severed's visuals are so incredible that every step feels new and different.
Those deformed creatures you come across in your travels won't just be standing idly by as you wander the world looking for your family. Everything is out to get you. Sasha doesn't belong here, or perhaps she does and these monsters are just trying to stop her from leaving. However you chose to interpret Severed's narrative, you're going to have to fight for Sasha. Severed's combat is incredibly easy to learn. All you have to do is swipe the screen to attack, and defense is handled by swiping against the grain of your enemy's attacks. Oh, but there is depth, friend. There is much more to Severed's battles beyond what you think possible from the game's opening areas.
Drinkbox takes a bit of inspiration from Guacamelee here, offering players new powers that unlock previously unavailable areas as they drive deeper into their quest. Sasha eventually gains a heavy strike that smashes armor off of enemies or door-blocking plants. She also earns magical items from defeated bosses that let her freeze enemies in place or steal buffs like improved attack power. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. It's okay that it does though, as again, much of Severed's foundation was laid by games that are decades old by this point. It's all in the execution however, which is absolutely tremendous.
Mastering all these skills is something anyone can do as well, as Severed's difficulty curve is almost note perfect and escalates accordingly to the new powers and skills you unlock. That's not to say Drinkbox is holding your hand the whole time. You will die, but because the combat challenge is so well laid out, those deaths are teachable moments where you'll immediately recognize where you went wrong and how you can do better next time. You won't have to wait long to get back into the fray either as Severed has a generous checkpoint system that saves progress before you enter any room with a new set of monsters to fight. Would that decision have been the same were Severed a console title? That's impossible to say, but you'll be thankful Severed is a portable experience as Drinkbox has perfectly catered to the bite-sized nature of the Vita.
Severed is the kind of game that comes along once a generation, and helps define a console. There's little about Severed that isn't memorable, exciting or beautiful, and it's the kind of game any player can jump in and enjoy without being overwhelmed. Drinkbox has done a tremendous job crafting a hybrid of numerous genres to deliver a familiar and fresh experience that absolutely shouldn't be missed.
This review is based on a download code of Severed provided by the publisher for PS Vita.