When the original Nintendo DS launched back in 2004 it saw a plethora of games that tried to make use of the touchscreen in unique ways. There were some successes, like the hand recognition in Brain Age and actual sword combat in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Some developers were very keen to try and use every feature the DS had in its arsenal and that sometimes led to game mechanics that were shoehorned in just for the sake of having a bullet point on the back of the box.
As time moved on, games began to drop the unnecessary and frivolous gimmicks and focus on what best suited each individual piece of software. That’s why when the Nintendo 3DS rolled around, most games relied on traditional controls and didn’t use the touchscreen as the main control mechanism too often. However, every now and again a title can capitalize on the idea of touch controls to make a truly great experience. Severed is just that.
You play the game as Sasha, a young woman who sets out to rescue her family from monsters that have taken them captive in a surreal underworld. She is missing an arm, but is quite adept with her sword, which she must use to vanquish the various entities that stand between her and her family. Simply swiping the screen with the stylus allows you to do damage to the enemies. Long slashes will do more damage than smaller ones, and each hit will show how many hit points are removed from the adversaries’ health bar.
Everything in the game is from a first-person viewpoint. In many ways walking around the environments feels like early PC dungeon crawling games. Just like in those it’s easy to get turned around or lost, so thankfully the 3DS’s top screen features a map. The bottom screen shows off the game’s unique graphics and is also where you do battle. Many times you’ll encounter a group of enemies, but they aren’t on the same screen. Rather they will encircle Sasha and attack from the sides and behind. Each monster has its own icon with a gauge that fills up, showing when they’re about to perform an attack. Half of the strategy is to block their attacks by swiping in the opposite direction of where their attacks are originating. Once their attack cycle is over, the gauge will start over and have to fill back up again before they get another chance to deal damage.
Very quickly you will learn that you need to constantly be putting out small fires to avoid getting hurt. This often results in dealing attacks as quickly as possible, and then turning to block another attack, and then turning back to the original enemy to deal more damage. The quicker you can take out the various monsters, the easier the battle will become. Early in the game you will earn a focus meter that is filled by successfully dealing and blocking attacks. Once filled, when the enemy is defeated the game will enter a slow motion phase that will allow you to dismember the monster. Grabbing its severed appendages will allow Sasha to upgrade her skills and become stronger than before.
Much like DrinkBox Studios’ prior game, Guacamelee, Severed has a very distinct and appealing graphical style. At first glance the visuals may seem rather basic, but as you proceed through the various environments the game really shows off its artistic nature. I really appreciated the subtle hints that the various rooms provided, and the enemies all look great and animate well. The flat-shaded solid colors of the backgrounds and items really give the game a unique look that will be remembered for a long time to come.
The audio is fairly minimalistic, but it gives the game a very eerie vibe that perfectly suits the game. It’s not going to win any awards, and the lack of memorable melodies means I won’t be whistling it anytime soon, but it works for this type of game. Some of the sound effects are a bit 8-bit sounding, but it’s nothing I’d really complain about.
Severed is a great portable game that has more depth to it than you might initially expect. Just as you’re settling into slashing enemies in a specific manner the game will switch it up and you’ll have a new enemy type to deal with. There are small puzzles to solve throughout your adventure and they’re a joy to solve. The game has some surprising twists and I actually gasped out loud at one point. The game’s $14.99 price gets you a copy of Severed for the 3DS and also a free copy for the Wii U. I personally think the game plays slightly better on the handheld because of the proximity of the two screens and the ability to quickly check where you are on the map. No matter how you slice it (sorry), you can’t go wrong with Severed.
- Graphics - 8.5/108.5/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 8.5/108.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8/108/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Making wonderful use of the touchscreen, Severed is an entertaining hack & slash game with unique visuals and an engaging RPG-like leveling up system. Although it’s minimalistic in many ways, the story still manages to shine through and the adventure is very memorable.