I am… Sasha Fierce?
DrinkBox Studio first hit our radars back in 2011 with the release of Tales from Space on PlayStation 3. The game was an oddly cute looking 2D side-scrolling puzzle platformer about a race of blob-like alien lifeforms, it was good fun to play but far from perfect. It was followed shortly after by the improved Tales from Space, Mutant Blobs Attack. Importantly both showed a glimpse of hope for future DrinkBox releases if all went to plan and to our pure joy, they haven’t disappointed thus far. The game that really put them on the map was the excellent Metroidvania Guacamelee!, in its various editions, and sequel but sandwiched in between was a little gem called Severed.
When originally announced in 2014 the studio was coy about the exact platform Severed would release on, with many speculating it would be a mobile-only game due to a reliance on touchscreen controls. Severed eventually released on PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, iOS and has now found a new home on Nintendo Switch.
The story follows Sasha, a young girl who must journey through a harsh demonic land in order to save her family. Initially armed with only a sword she must hack and slash her way through a series of dungeon-based locations that are both mind-blowingly pretty and sinister. Oh, and did we forget to mention she only has one arm due to some unforeseen story-related events but that’s enough of that.
Gameplay is classic dungeon-based action ripped straight out of 90’s DOS-based titles. Movement is slow and rigid with the sticks (or face-buttons) used to direct Sasha around the environment one step at a time, exploring each area by spinning on the spot with ninety-degree steps. Sword and counter-attacks utilise the touchscreen and by crowbarring this mechanic on top the devs have seamlessly given this adventure a fresh undertone. Swiping in a near rhythmic fashion to sleigh a plethora of beasties that spawn from glowing fires in your path renders a great sense of pleasure. Most have a set attack pattern that is easy to learn and all have a weak spot to exploit, as you progress new variations of these hell-born creatures confront you. Some will have amour points to break down or bear stat upgrades, such as in defence, speed or attack. With this basic formula nailed it’s time to begin Sasha’s quest.
This is a story-driven adventure that sees you visit a number of unique areas solving simple puzzles to progress. The top corner of the screen is host to a mini-map which can be expanded to give a detailed view of the area you currently traverse. This feature came in at number one in the essentials list when stuck or confused simply plot a course on the map and remember the steps, although many areas are locked initially.
As alluded to earlier Severed could easily be dismissed as a simple mobile title but the inclusion of a skill tree upgrade system adds an RPG-lite dynamic to proceedings. Each beast defeated will earn you focus points that once full will allow you to finish the battle in a timed event that leaves you frantically swiping at the screen. Upgrades come in the form of collecting limbs of the disembowelled enemies that you encounter or smashing ancient-looking vases, but with all that’s going on, I’m sure that even the Antiques Roadshow would turn a blind eye. You are also awarded upgraded abilities at key points in the storyline and backtracking becomes prevalent with newly accessible areas to explore.
Visually the game is vibrant, bursting at the seams with colour and crisp character design. There’s nothing too processor happy so performance was perfect throughout but let’s not forget this is a port of a game designed to be played on mobiles of a couple of years ago and the 3DS. The soundtrack is charming which is accompanied by a robust set of slashing sounds and the odd piece of voice acting.
A start to finish run with Severed will take around 4-6 hours and entertains throughout. The story is good enough to keep you interested and the drive to upgrade and unlock all features will remain strong but there are a few issues that could detract for some. The Switch version is handheld only so no hooking it up to a big screen and the size of the console makes it a little cumbersome to hold while frantically swiping away. For once maybe the Switch isn’t the ideal place to play. Overall Severed is well worth a look.