Imagine if Legend of Grimrock took place inside an MGMT music video. That’s pretty much the visual style of Severed. The art style is similar in some ways to Drinkbox Studios’ last game, Guacamelee, which is still one of my favorite platformers of all time. Severed is colorful and very unique visually. Unfortunately, on the original 3DS at least, the visuals are a little blurry or grainy much of the time. It doesn’t look quite as crisp as Guacamelee did.
The game has an old school, dungeon crawler style of gameplay outside of combat. Combat is done entirely through the touch screen. Your stylus is essentially your sword when fighting monsters. You attack by slashing monsters’ weak point or a place they’re not defending at the moment. A meter on the bottom of the screen fills up for each monster individually, and when it’s full, they attack you. You have to parry the attack or stop them from attacking, which adds a lot of strategy to fights with multiple monsters at once.
When fighting more than one enemy at once, you can still only see one at at time. The others are around you in a circle, meaning you have to change your focus from enemy to enemy during combat. You can see how close each enemy is to attacking, so it never feels like you unfairly took damage. This turns into a juggling act where you have to quickly recall how each enemy reacts to damage and parrying.
Longer slashes do more damage, which encourages you to not just frantically swipe your stylus as quickly as possible. Severed‘s combat is a very cool way to do stylus-based combat that is a bit more engaging than something like Phantom Hourglass (as much as I love that game). It feels like the stylus becomes your sword rather than fighting against the controls as many touch based games feel.
If you complete an encounter well enough (by filling up your focus meter), you can cut off their limbs to use for upgrades. It’s a bit dark, but I love it. It gives the dungeons a bit more weight to them. What’s great about the upgrade system is that you have to use different parts for different upgrades, meaning you can’t just grind to overpower yourself. Later upgrades require pieces of later enemies. You can’t grind the early areas to optimize all the upgrades for later in the game; you have to actually progress to pick up those upgrades. You also only get rewards if you do well in a fight, which discourages you from getting sloppy as the game goes on and keeps you on your toes.
Severed is not really a Metroidvania, but it is similar to one in how it does backtracking. New abilities are unlocked, but backtracking is done mostly through activating things like statues so that more doors are open and others are closed. However, I think most of this game’s problems stem from the backtracking in one way or another. The idea is that since different doors are open, you can go back to areas you’ve been through and they feel different because there are more places to explore. Unfortunately, the game is too linear for that to be interesting.
The puzzles in the game are not hard at all, and all the enemies stay dead when you go back through hallways. Backtracking becomes boring very quickly, especially since it happens a lot. Too much of the backtracking feels unnecessary or padded. In Metroidvanias (such as Guacamelee), you backtrack with new abilities that help you progress. You get a few abilities that unlock new areas in Severed, but not very many. Going all the way back through a large area to go through a new door seems pointless when the door could have easily been straight ahead.
On a related note, you have no inventory in this game. If you find a health item, it will sit in the room you found it in until you consume all of it; each bite restores some health. This means that if you’re low on health, the best strategy is to waste a lot of time going back to those rooms where you left the health items sitting before moving on. If the optimal way to play the game when low on health isn’t fun, it should be changed. This problem could have easily been solved with an inventory.
Fortunately, movement throughout the world doesn’t affect how great the combat is. Severed‘s combat is amazingly fluid and refreshing. I always love to see a combat style that is seldom used make a revival, and it actually works.