Sundered comes from Thunder Lotus games, the studio that also brought you Jotun in 2015. It’s also worth pointing out that the game was successfully funded on Kickstarter back in February of this year, which allowed the developers to get extensive feedback from player throughout these months, during the Alpha and Beta testing periods.
If you haven’t noticed already, or if this is the first time you’re hearing about the game, Sundered is a metroidvania with a mix of hand-crafted levels and procedural generation, as well as a strong focus on combat, persistent progression and replayability. You start off with pretty much nothing but your basic attacks and you’ll slowly acquire new abilities as you explore new areas. Like any other metroidvania, you’ll come across some zones that you might not be able to access when you first find them, you’ll have to come back to these later down the road. These obstacles are in place so that you know that you need to go and find some other ability or do something else before proceeding. With that said, there isn’t really an objective, the only thing that resembles any kind of indication as to what you should do next is presented on the map by icons, usually pointing out bosses, minibosses or abilities.
The abilities that you acquire are necessary in order to progress to new areas, considering that these are mostly related to how you move around. For instance, you have the ability to wall jump, run up walls, use a grappling hook or dodge, which makes you invulnerable for a few frames at the cost of energy, which takes a while to restore itself. You also get a cannon fairly early on the game, which requires ammo in order to fire but it’s very effective in dealing with hordes of enemies. While at first it might seem that the combat and the movement is extremely simplistic, it soon becomes apparent that different abilities create new and different ways of dealing with your adversaries.
“Death is not the end” is something that you should keep in mind when playing Sundered, and in many ways this part of it reminded me of Rogue Legacy. By defeating enemies, destroying chests and other things you’ll get shards, which is the game form of currency. When you die you’ll return to this hub area, which you can also go to at anytime. Here you can unlock passive upgrades such as, increased maximum health, increased melee damage, faster shield regeneration, extra health kits, things like that. However, with each upgrade you purchase the cost of the next upgrade increases, so it’s advisable to plan how you’ll want to proceed throughout the upgrade tree. You’ll also come across perks, which offer a boost in something but with a disadvantage associated with it, such as more armour but less maximum health points.
While pretty much the rest of the mechanics might seem familiar, replayability, on the other hand, comes in a rather unique way. By defeating bosses and minibosses, you’ll get fragments of an Elder Shard. Once you have enough fragments to make a whole shard you can use that to corrupt one of your abilities. Now, corrupting something might sound bad, but in this case, it upgrades your abilities at the cost of your own humanity. Still, if you don’t want to sacrifice that, you can destroy these shards, in exchange for other goodies.
Now, the thing that probably stands out the most when someone looks at Sundered are the visuals, the vibrant, vivid and colourful hand-drawn art. The game is divided into three major different zones and each one of them has their own unique design and enemies. The animations are also something that really surprised me. From running around, dashing in the air to unleashing a combo of attacks, everything feels and looks very smooth and the controls feel extremely responsive and aligned with the animations. Seeing hordes of enemies get destroyed and their bodies dispelled is really satisfying, all thanks to these great animations. The sounds and the music also manage to do a great job in fully immersing you into the game world. From the eldritch-like horrifying sounds that indicate that creatures are coming to get you, to sudden alarms, to the intense tracks played during the massive boss fights and hordes that make these segments a whole lot more intense, it all comes out as a really well done presentation, and one which I can’t commend enough.
Still, despite everything that this game does pretty well, there are some things that I wish that were improved. For instance, while each region has its own specific enemy types tied to it, it would be nice to actually see some more variety, since these tend to be divided into enemies that straight up try to swarm you and those that stay back and send projectiles after you or that try to trap you. In the same way, while I can’t really complain about the current set of moves at the player’s disposal, it would’ve been nice to see some more variety of ranged attacks and perhaps even melee combos.
In terms of actual story I do have to admit that I was somewhat confused at times as to what was really going on but the more I played the game the more I realized it actually suited the game’s mysterious and daunting setting. There isn’t much focus in the narrative, and the moments where you’ll get to know more about it are somewhat few and far between. Still, the only voice-over that’s in the game is extremely well done. This one incorporates the Trapezohedron, this mysterious eldritch artifact that you come across right in the beginning of the game. Its voice is really quite something, and I’m not even sure if it’s an actual language, but it really adds a lot of character to the world and everything in it. Besides that there’s only some rooms scattered throughout the game that have some story bits to tell, that do provide some sort of background but, other than that, it’s up to you to draw conclusions about your surroundings and what led to the current state of things.
Sundered clearly shows an evolution of the studio if you compare it to Jotun, that is unquestionable. Sundered is an extremely enjoyable metroidvania, albeit somewhat lacking in variety. In any case, the boss battles and the world created here are clearly its strongest component. Every time I came across a new type of enemy, it felt as daunting as the last, but soon after, once I knew my way around, what was once a challenge became trivial. If you fancy a surprisingly immersive game world, with a stellar soundtrack, boss fights of an epic scale, multiple endings and an extremely competent gameplay loop, Sundered will most likely not disappoint you.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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