Just one glance at the visuals, and I was immediately reminded of DrinkBox Studios' outstanding Guacamelee! The same distinctive visual style including vibrant use of color just leaps off of the Vita screen. However, as great as Guacamelee! was, it never really felt unique. There are a handful of other games similar to Severed, but this title stands out for several reasons of its own.
Everything about Severed is at the same time simple yet nuanced. The introduction is handled brilliantly, telling you nothing before showing you everything. Of course the game's title serves two purposes as it references our protagonist's missing arm, but also in a single word describes the primary gameplay mechanics.
Too often the PlayStation Vita's touchscreen either goes completely ignored or comes away from a game feeling tacked on and unnecessary, but here in Severed it serves a very distinctive purpose and the game benefits from this clarity in game design. Admittedly the controls are pretty awkward at the beginning as you navigate your hero using the directional pad in a first person dungeon crawling style. However, you are not using the face buttons on the other side to attack, which means you are playing with the lightweight device using a single hand most of the time (not unlike our heroine wielding her sword, which was a cool revelation when I allowed that notion to sink in). With your remaining hand you are performing sweeping/swiping gestures across the screen.
While fans of swipe games such as the popular Infinity Blade mobile games should feel right at home here, the control scheme can get pretty tiresome. Not in how the system itself works - I just mean my arm felt uncomfortable from time to time when I let the play sessions go on too long. It was awkward at first, but I adapted well enough mentally, but physically was still an issue a day or two later. While the mechanic is undoubtedly great, this physical aspect to it is somewhat frustrating.
The way that the mechanic works is awesome as you have to pick your spots on the screen when combat occurs. One-on-one fights turn into a more strategic affair as the enemies tend to be a bit beefier in these situations. Do you go for the damage or try to keep the creature from harming you by trying to lop off an appendage? When you have multiple enemies on the screen, the real question becomes an order of operation challenge as you weigh the risks and rewards in taking down which enemies first. The combat is frantic and thoroughly entertaining.
Aside from the somewhat odd control scheme, my only other real quibble with how the combat functions is that by nature your hand is going to live near the bottom of the screen. So why were so many of the more important icons set there and not across the top unobstructed? Aesthetically I get it, because it would potentially draw some of the focus away from the beautiful creatures and scenery, but from a pragmatic standpoint they should not be across the bottom where your hand is in the way and often shielding these things from view.
Severed is helped by an interesting upgrade system and falls back on Guacamelee!'s Metroidvania routes as earlier paths in the game will open up as you learn new upgrades. Combat is also aided by the materials aspect where you have to balance just finishing off the fight to allowing it to reach the point where you can fill the focus meter and pull off satisfying finishing/severing moves that gives you useful upgrade components. It is a nice system of risk versus reward that pays off nicely throughout the course of the game.
In truth Severed is an awesome game with some really great music, visuals and some systems you just do not see in most games. This makes it one of the most interesting PS Vita games to date conceptually. The one thing holding Severed back is its unwieldy control scheme. Perhaps it is just because the PlayStation Vita is so wide in design that not having that second hand on the opposite side makes it so uncomfortable after a while, but this one drawback is a somewhat serious one. However, this is a flashy game with some uniqueness to it and decent depth to back it all up.
Article by Nick