Ever heard the name DrinkBox Studios? You should have by now. These are the developers of great platforming-action indie hit, Guacamelee, that was released on Wii U 2 years ago. Drinkbox has returned to Wii U today with their newest game titled Severed. Severed is a touch-based, first person dungeon crawler with minor puzzling elements.
You play the role of a girl named Sasha whose right arm has been ‘severed.’ If that wasn’t enough to spark her craving for revenge, Sasha’s family has been taken from her and now it’s up to her to rescue them from the underworld. After a quick conversation with Death nets Sasha a sword, she begins her journey across three distinct areas, and an over-world of sorts, connecting them, called The Wilds. Severed doesn’t force feed you details about what is going on as much as it provides an occasional hint- just enough to dangle the carrot to keep you playing. Overall, the story serves its purpose, but I will admit that I wish there was a much more detailed narrative.
The world itself is full of bright colors: reds rub against deep purples, lime greens connect earthy browns with mild oranges, and it is an impactful and unique palette choice. The art of the characters and the objects themselves is very similar to those found in Guacamelee relying on simple but effective sharp edges mixed with contrasting colors to display the world and characters almost like an animated popup book.
What’s So Good About Severed?
Gameplay is king and here’s where the best of Severed is discovered: Playing Severed is a fairly simple task. Swiping on your Wii U gamepad using a stylus or your finger produces a sword attack that grows in strength the longer the swipe across the screen. Each enemy poses a challenge to Sasha in the form of a defense that will require you to identify an opening and then swipe in the correct direction to inflict damage or stunt enemy attacks. Severed’s simplicity honestly serves as a testament to DrinkBox studios. They hook you with simple controls and then build on top of that foundation as you play through the rest of the game. It might be the most complex game I have every played that didn’t require buttons.
While many may compare the swipe to attack system to the hit mobile game Fruit Ninja, I would disagree and compare Severed more to the combat found in Zelda: Skyward Sword. In both Skyward Sword and Severed, the player is required to learn the enemies’ defense, attacks, and then respond appropriately. Adding an extra layer of complexity, Severed will quickly have you dealing with up to 4 enemies at a time by the time you complete the first puzzle. Enemies are mapped with icons at that bottom of your screen that when ‘tapped’ will target that enemy. Circling 360 degrees while feverishly swiping your stylus to attack and defend is a solid take on what I’d like to see in more touchscreen based games. I actually rubbed down the pointy tip of my Wii U gamepad stylus from a couple of bosses that left a trail of plastic shavings across my screen. Needless to say, its a little more advanced than ‘swipe at the watermelon.’
Severed offers more than just a touch-based attack system. Each dungeon also presents mazes and puzzles between enemy battles that will need to be solved to obtain a key or switch to access the next floor and/or a hidden room. You will accomplish these tasks over and over until you gain access to the final boss. Along the way, you also gather materials to improve Sasha’s stats by completing a skill tree. I can’t say that I found RPG-lite process rewarding, as it didn’t really offer much in terms of customization outside of stat boosts. Having beaten the game, I presume all players will come close to 100% completing the skill tree possibly in a similar pattern (boost attack power, then health, then special effects). One thing that I did enjoy about the system – no grinding was necessary in my play-through of Severed.
Puzzles provided the a welcomed break from battle and a minor challenge throughout the game. I do wish there were more of them in different varieties. They’re not overly difficult but at times I had no clue what Severed wanted from me. Hints are available along the way if you can find them, but even with them in hand, I was still stumped at moments.
What’s Not So Good Then?
Movement is controlled using the left stick to allow the player to move forward and look around 360 degrees. You cannot, however, look to the sky, toward ceilings, or the ground to really investigate your surroundings, which at times makes Severed feel like it is on-rails. It really doesn’t matter which path you take; all players will all be required to visit and navigate the same ares, eventually making one wonder why you even have the ability navigate between dungeons at all. My biggest complaint with Severed on Wii U is the lack of any real character interaction in the over-world and inside dungeons once cleared of enemies. Sure, there’s the occasional experience to be had, but it’s far too-infrequent, making the world feel unfinished. After enemies are dispatched, all you have left are similar looking rooms and hallways with very little incentive to really explore and look around. This ultimately led me to pay more attention to the map in the top-right corner of my screen than the world itself.
Severed’s visuals have a similar style to sibling Guacamelee, and the style is definitely unique to DrinkBox. Unfortunately, outside of each temple’s unique color scheme, the overall style is just repetitive. The Wilds looks the same outside of the day and night cycle and each of the areas inside the dungeons are more or less exactly the same minus a pot, painting, or statue. When I think back to my time with the game over the last 3 days, most of my memories of the dungeons blur together and only the cut-scenes and boss battles stand out.
Finally, though I did just previously say that the combat and puzzling is the best that Severed has to offer, the lack of any world building or gripping narrative puts too much focus on the combat throughout the game. During my last session, I found battling becoming more chore than fun as I raced to get to the end. I think that some variety might have lessened this, to a degree.
Severed costs $15 on the eShop but is available for the next week at the price of $13.49 for the Nindies of Summer promotion. The game is hard to compare as there isn’t quite anything like it on Wii U. There’s nothing wrong with paying $15 for the game though, as its 6-7 hour campaign is mostly an enjoyable experience.
Severed is available on the Wii U, PlayStation Vita & iOS devices. A 3DS version is reportedly still in the works and arriving soon (this fall). Severed was reviewed using an Wii U digital code provided by the publisher. You can read additional information about PSVG’s review policy on our disclaimer page here.
I have the urge to tell you that Severed is really good. Compared to most indie releases and especially the indies available on Wii U the past six-months, Severed is a great addition to the library. However, Gucamelee wasn’t just a great indie game, Guacamelee was just a great video game. When I compare Severed’s pros and cons to other games on the market that’s when the flaws become a bit more impactful to my score.
Therefore, Severed is well worth the cost of admission and provides a unique experience that’s hard to find. If you’re a Wii U only video gamer, I strongly urge you to pick this title up. Just know that Severed also has flaws that made the experience less enjoyable for me. Most notably the repetitive combat and tedious exploration that wears on you after the first half of game. If the story was deeper, if the world had more life to it, I think these issues wouldn’t have been as memorable. I also think this game is better suited for shorter play sessions than longer home console sessions on the big screen.
I also didn’t enjoy playing on the Wii U gamepad as much I think I would enjoy playing on handheld device. The gamepad is a bit heavy to hold in one hand while swiping with the other hand. The dungeons also lend themselves well to the pick up and play nature found on mobile compared the extended TV sessions at home on the big screen.
If you are interested in Severed’s pros more than the cons, I encourage you to absolutely check out the game, but I recommend grabbing this game when it comes to 3DS or on Vita if you have one over the Wii U version.
- The swipe to attack is a lot of fun.
- Dungeons provide a rewarding challenge to clear.
- Music and overall style are both great.
- I think the game is better suited to smaller screen devices than the Wii U gamepad.
- The world is repetitive, which lead me to looking at my map more than the environment.
- Overall gameplay loop grows stale with repetitive enemy combinations.