Quick Note: The touch controls will turn many away from this fantastic game, but don't be fooled: Severed isn't a shallow recreation of Fruit Ninja or similar, simplistic titles. Beneath the surface Severed has a deep battle system that requires timing and skill from the player, which is joined by the wonderfully sparse, yet emotional, story the game delivers to make an instant classic for Sony's handheld.
Touch screen gaming has built up a bad reputation for itself. Much like the dreaded motion control scheme, the mechanics of using one's finger to deal damage to the opponent or move the character on screen has been tainted by the hundreds of games that use them all wrong. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with touch controls, most 'hardcore' gamers won't come anywhere near a game that uses touch screen mechanics as a staple to gameplay. If Severed has taught me anything, it's to not be so judgemental about a game using mechanics I do not prefer. Severed uses touch controls so well I can't imagine playing the game any other way.
Severed is the follow up to the excellent Guacamelee from the indie development powerhouse DrinkBox Studios. The desire to develop for the handheld stems from the support of players on the handheld for Guacamelee when it first released in 2013, and though it is unfortunate that DrinkBox will (probably) not be able rake in all that much from Severed, Vita owners should show their appreciation to the developer for taking such a risk and making a game that is not only an exclusive on the handheld in 2016 (when Sony itself won't even make PS Vita exclusives), but create a great game that honestly feels like it can't be played on any other platform.
|One of the opening stages that serves as the perfect view to show off the distinct, creative art style of the world.|
|Mysterious figure that helps add to the creep factor of the world of Severed.|
This sparse feeling works so well with the game and the story and I'm glad that DrinkBox decided to lean heavily on it's excellent art direction and animation over filling the game with dialog. It's not to say that the studio doesn't have the writing chops, because Guacamelee's humor and self awareness shows that DrinkBox can write. Rather, the decision to not use as much dialog adds more to Severed's story, and adds deeper emotion. Sasha is in a stage of mourning, with the only thing pushing her forward is her task of retrieving the bodies of her dead family. By not filling her mouth with words, the feeling is more impactful, and easier to relate to the player. You don't just hear that she feels lonely wondering the fiendish countryside; you feel it with her.
So that may have been a bit too much analysis of the story, but you get the gist. The story is interesting, but where Severed really struts it's stuff is in its gameplay. The first person dungeon crawler focuses on the Vita's touch screen for combat, and it pulls this combat off beautifully.
|A map of the first dungeon Sasha must journey through.|
This balance of striking the enemy and swapping between the next attacking enemy is what Severed is all about. Not only is it important to strike back at enemies that are ready to take out Sasha, but it's also layered with a focus meter that fills with each successful hit, but lowers with each of Sasha's own attacks the enemy deflects. Once full, Sasha can use her abilities to defeat the enemy and enter focus time, which allows her to sever parts off of the enemy that can be used to make her stronger. Once again, this adds to the balance of attacking the correct enemy at the right time. If you kill an enemy before the focus meter is full, you essentially wasted an opportunity to collect parts to make Sasha more powerful.
|The upgrade tree for the sword has many useful abilities to help Sasha adapt to combat.|
|Mmmm... heart. Just so....chewy...|
From start to finish Severed is a perfect Vita game. Yes, DrinkBox has announced an iOS port of the title, but the movement of Sasha with joysticks feels just as satisfying as the combat with the touch screen. If you own a Vita, spend the $15 on Severed. The gameplay is satisfyingly deep and the story is emotional and interesting without having to be too wordy. If this is the last exclusive for Sony's handheld, at least the system will go out with a strong, demonic bang.