Stylish Stylus Swordplay on the Wii U

Instead of playing it safe by returning to Mexican Metroidvania with everyone’s favorite video game luchador, DrinkBox Studios’ follow-up to their acclaimed Guacamelee! is a less festive, more contemplative action-adventure relying on sharp reflexes and a sharper sword. Severed has players hacking and slashing their way through a twisted netherworld, leaving a trail of body parts behind them on a mission of both rescue and revenge, but does sword-swinging gameplay that relies on the Wii U’s touchscreen controls ultimately make the cut?

Game Name: Severed
Platform(s): Wii U (Reviewed)/3DS (Fall 2016)/iOS/Playstation Vita
Publisher(s): DrinkBox Studios
Developer(s): DrinkBox Studios
Release Date: September 22, 2016 (Wii U)
Price: $14.99 (Wii U)

Taking control of a one-armed warrior named Sasha, Severed has players wandering a bleak landscape full of enemies and traps in a search for the corpses of the young woman’s lost family. The details on exactly what happened are vague, but when a mysterious robed figure appears out of nowhere and hands over a red cutlass-like blade with an eyeball hilt, there’s no question what must be done. What follows is a unique, melancholy quest centered around swipe controls and meticulously designed dungeons, each stocked with plenty of puzzles and secrets.

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Setting off into this strange situation is quite easy, thanks to some quick tutorials that will get players acclimated to Severed‘s eerie world and intuitive battle mechanics. Swiping the stylus across the screen simulates a sword swing, with short bursts producing a multitude of small lacerations, while longer strokes create deep gashes that deliver more damage. Direction of the strike also matters, as many enemies will be quick to defend themselves against open onslaught by covering up, perhaps leaving only one side exposed. It’s an engaging system that requires paying close attention to patterns and attack meters, with each monstrous encounter its own little puzzle. When surrounded by a host of different creatures, many of which later possess various buffs that increase the challenge, it can be a bit of a juggling act to pivot from one to another, holding some back while wearing others down, but these tense moments provide an excellent punctuation to the otherwise quiet exploration.

Give Me Back My Hand

True to its name, success in Severed also relies on the ability to remove limbs, eyes, and other body parts from foes with the skill of a rampaging surgeon. Landing enough consecutive attacks builds focus, while a glancing blow reduces it. When the Focus meter is full and a enemy’s health is depleted, time momentarily slows down and displays areas where incisions can be made. Players both swift and precise will be treated to glorious dismemberment, the results of which can be collected in order to purchase new abilities and upgrades via an RPG-lite path structure. These enhancements are often quite worthwhile, easing some of the tougher tests later on, making the mutilation all the more satisfying.

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Like anything touch or motion-based, there are times when seemingly perfect slices don’t register correctly, which can lead to a tiny bit of frustration during battles where every movement counts, but Severed is fairly forgiving on this subject for the most part. At times I was reminded of Skyward Sword‘s duels, where precision was often required of an instrument that couldn’t quite produce it, but those moments are fewer and farther between here, and for the most part the puzzle combat stays interesting, fun, and very doable.

The well-crafted dungeons give off a Zelda feel as well, and are where most of the game’s exploration will take place. While still using the same guided path-style map as the overworld, the track feels more spacious thanks to an architecture that opens up as keys are found, switches are hit, and hidden doors are discovered. These labyrinths are wonderfully thought out so as to reduce backtracking to a minimum, yet still feel like a dense maze that must be solved. Some special items (like actual pieces of a heart) can be found only by returning later with new powers, but the efficiency of even going off the beaten path lessens the hassle and increases motivation to find everything.

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Look, Don’t Touch

Of course, simply seeing everything that the world has to offer is motivation enough. The stylish visuals in Severed stand out stunningly like a pastel pop-up storybook, each step taken through the cool pink and lavender-treed forests or dank stone dungeons like the turning of a page, with the soft clip-clop of footsteps and rustling leaves a soothing substitute for the crinkle of paper. Stark imagery gives off a distinct, ancient vibe, with a Mexican/Central American flavor not often seen, beautiful in its confident design and pleasant in its serenity. Until, that is, when the bizarrely grotesque monsters attack and bright red blood begins to spurt in every direction. Enough can’t be said of the absorbing environment the developers have created, and its ambiance is a big part of what makes the experience so enjoyable.

Interactivity with this gorgeous playing space does feel a little on the light side, however, especially in the tree-lined overworld. As I started out on my quest, I was excited to examine each section of the map, checking each direction for whatever items I could collect or objects I could engage with. Unfortunately, I found out fairly quickly that there is little to actually do besides moving on to the next empty room until a burning flame that signifies an enemy is sighted, or an obvious lever can be pulled. Occasionally some tools are hidden behind breakable vases, but for the most part players can avoid inspecting a room too much, as anything important will be highlighted on the map. This took away from any real sense of discovery in this strange land, and caused me to rush a bit from one dungeon to the next instead of stopping to smell the dead roses.

Dead Alive

Still, it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise fantastic Wii U downloadable. The story stays wonderfully ambiguous, designed more to evoke a mood rather than manipulate specific emotions, and over the course of the 4-6 hour adventure the gameplay never wears out its welcome. Anyone looking for some stylish action, an absorbing ambiance, and some clever light puzzling should no further than Severed.

*This game was provided to The Outerhaven Productions by the developer for review purposes.

  • Severed's stylish swordplay is a cut above

Summary

Utilizing the Wii U gamepad's touchscreen controls, Severed serves up a fantastic adventure with plenty of engaging swordplay and a healthy dose of monstrous bodily dismemberment. The beautiful art style and a subtly-told melancholy story keeps players absorbed in the bizarre world in between bloody battles and the clever, Zelda-style dungeon puzzles.

Pros:

  • Visceral combat that requires some strategy
  • Stunning, colorful visuals
  • Clever puzzles and efficiently designed dungeon exploration

Cons:

  • Touchscreen controls occasionally don't register properly
  • Overworld contains little interactivity
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About The Author

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours playing Nintendo games and watching movies while waiting for baseball season to start again. When he’s not writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s thinking about his next Legend of Zelda post.