I truly admire when developers don’t compromise their vision. I understand that, in order to make sure their game appeals and reaches gamers everywhere, you need to make certain sacrifices and cut some corners to ensure that a your creation passes QA, gets approved by whomever needs to stamp it and hits the floor running. You just don’t want the game running with two broken feet and the option to pay an extra one time “foot regenerate” DLC. The new world for game publishing is a scary place, and you’re never sure how something is going to look when you port it to bold, new territory. Which is why I’m thrilled to say that Severed on the Nintendo Switch is the best version of the game yet.
Severed comes to us from DrinkBox Studios, the team that created the amazing luchador adventure Guacamelee, and it brings some of that same beautiful, hauntingly colorful design, but with a completely different story and feel. You fall into the role of a nameless woman, who has awoken on an alien world, alone, and with her arm having been cut off at the elbow. An unknown entity, who may be trying to help you, gives you a sword and the simple task: “Bring your family here and you may be able to return home.” Setting off, you know that your mother, father and brother are stranded somewhere, here, among the ruins and jungles, and you alone can bring them back to safety. As the alien presence yourself, the native monsters are none too happy that you’ve arrived, and they’ll do all they can to destroy you.
Out the gate, Severed takes on one of my favorite interfaces of all time, the first person dungeon crawl. Much like Moero Chronicles, you can see the rooms one at a time, but, I daresay, the landscape of Severed looks much smoother and more well crafted. You flow between different chambers, and you have a bit of free rotation to look around and find different things that may help you. Secrets are marked on your map, but what they do is up to you to discover. I got a distinctly Mesoamerican feel from the landscape and the general tone of the monsters, which actually played out wonderfully with the dungeons that you needed to explore and understand on your quest to find answers and your kin.
Once you do, inevitably, find monsters, there isn’t any random encounters that keep you constantly on your toes. A black/white flame clearly indicates that combat is coming up, but there’s no telling how many or what kind of monsters are going to spawn once you initiate the fight. Monsters will slowly charge up a single attack, which you may or may not be able to interrupt with some swordplay. Monsters will also surround you on all four sides, and they don’t wait turns, so gauges at the bottom of the screen let you know, with a slowly filling yellow ring, who is about to unleash pain and suffering upon your already disfigured person. But you’re not just going to stand there and take it, now are you?The “uncompromising” note from before is directly related to the combat interface of Severed. While you can move around and explore a bit with buttons, the only way to fight is with the touchscreen. Damage is measured by the number of strikes and also the length of your swipe, and enemies need to be parried with expert timing and skill. I wasn’t sure how well this was going to translate to buttons, as I couldn’t imagine the precision working well with a JoyCon, and I’m so relieved that DrinkBox kept it to touch interface only. Of course, this does mean you can’t play Severed up on the big screen with your Switch, but that is a small price to pay for keeping the game true and enjoyable.
The title obviously refers to our heroine’s state, but it’s also how you can power up and make yourself a more formidable protagonist. If you land enough blows in a row without missing or being blocked, you enter focus mode, and that mode won’t dissipate till combat finishes. Drain an enemy’s health in focus mode activates a short minigame where you get to slice off various parts of the monster as trophies that are used for leveling up. If it seems grotesque, it is, kinda, but I argue it’s moreso when you don’t enter focus mode. Finishing a battle without focus just results in an explosion of giblets which, while not exceptionally gory, is still less elegant that surgically cutting all four arms off a single beast. I love this level up mechanic. It’s unique, it’s a little gross but pretty cool, and you can’t get yourself overpowered too quickly. Enemies won’t just spawn over and over, so you gotta pick and choose what you want to powerup next, and some body parts are scarce. You can unlock the ability to transmute limbs from random debris you find, but even the debris is limited.
The reason I mark the Nintendo Switch release of Severed as the best one so far is the combination of performance and viability of the game. When I first played Severed on the 3DS, it was ok but nothing really latched onto me. Even with a 3DSXL, the screen seemed small and cramped, and I felt like there was some choppiness to just walk between rooms. I know DrinkBox did the best they could to make sure the game wasn’t being the wall of only being N3DS, but it suffered as a result. The Switch gives you the maximized real estate of the touchscreen while still having buttons that make navigation a lot more natural than only touchscreen (which was a flaw in the iOS version). I’ve seen some people complaining that it’s awkward to hold the Switch with one hand while swiping with the other, and I agree, which is why I don’t play Severed while I’m trying to go hiking or any other activity where I shouldn’t be staring at my screen anyways. Severed is a great mobile game, but you shouldn’t be actively mobilizing during your gaming session. Sit down, maybe bust out the kickstand if you’re feeling fancy. I should complain because it’s weird trying to use the lower JoyCon stick because I’m left handed, but I found a way to overcome that adversity, I’m sure others will as well.
Everything else about Severed that’s been lauded before – the gorgeous, painted graphics, the suspiciously sinister atmosphere, the haunting soundtrack – still rings true on the Switch, so nothing was given up in order to prepare and present an excellent game for a whole new audience. People complain that ports to the Switch robs them of new titles, but what about people who haven’t played them before? I hadn’t played Fate/Xtella on the PS4 before the Switch release, does that make it a wasted effort? Hardly. Severed is an incredibly unique experience that can and should be enjoyed multiple times by fans of engaging storylines and strong, memorable characters. I guess my only regret is that I had played it before, so some of the twists that occur towards the end of the game weren’t surprising, but I still worked my ass off to save everyone.
If you have never played Severed before and you’re in possession of a Switch, this is the time and this is the platform. If you didn’t like it before because your previous machine didn’t feel right, the Switch could be the glass slipper that gets you to the slaughter ball. If you simply hated the game and found it boring, I can’t help you, and that’s ok. But Severed and Switch are a match made in visceral harmony, and I urge players to take the plunge and find out what awaits them beyond the Temple of the Crow.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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