Severed is a first-person action dungeon crawler game available for download from the PlayStation Store exclusively for the PS Vita. DrinkBox Studios was founded in April 2008 by several members of the development team from the closed Pseudo Interactive who had developed Cel Damage, Crash and Full Auto; after the company unfortunately had to close despite having three projects in development. DrinkBox Studios was formed to develop unique gaming experiences which resulted in the creation of their first game Tales From Space: About A Blob released on PS3 in February 2011 followed by a sequel titled Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack which released on Vita in February 2012 and still to this day remains one of the highest rated Vita games of all time, while Guacamelee! was DrinkBox’s third game which released on Vita and PS3 in April 2013 followed by an enhanced version for PS4 in July 2014 titled Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition. DrinkBox Studios have produced a proven pedigree, but will Severed become the new gold standard for not only DrinkBox Studios, but also Vita games in general?

Severed Logo

The story revolves around the lead character Sasha; a one-armed warrior who must wield a living sword to defeat monsters that stand in her way as her family have been taken from their home in which Sasha needs to set off on a journey to bring them back home safely from a nightmarishly dark world.

The combat encompasses some simple yet important gameplay elements such as wider slashes with your weapon will deal far more damage in comparison to smaller slashes, while parrying incoming enemy attacks provides you with an opening to quickly put your enemy in danger from a few well placed attacks. Achieving multiple hits in succession on an enemy without reply will eventually fill your Focus Meter providing a limited period of time to focus on the gruesome concept of slicing off the limbs of an enemy to collect for specific purposes. There are also unlockable powers to master which keep the combat feeling fresh with such powers as the charge power which can break orange armour, while the blind power which is capable of cancelling out an enemy attack when it seems as though there is not enough time to do so, alongside the absorb power that can steal an enemy buff from an enemy that is about to attack which is especially useful during combat against multiple enemies and the rage power which provides a huge amount of damage to enemies when significantly charged.

Skill trees allow players to make upgrades to Sasha’s health, mana, skills and equipment with upgrades made possible by accumulating upgrade points which are earned by collecting severed parts from enemies during combat and can be found in pots. Almost all of the powers and skills have three or five stages to their respective progression such as the Extended Sever upgrade which for level 1 requires nine hands and two eyes from enemies in order for Sasha to increase the duration of Sever Time by 0.5 seconds with level 2 needing eleven hands and five eyes from enemies to receive an additional 0.75 seconds of Sever Time. Further upgrades include level 1 of the Prowess upgrade provides 5% bonus damage to long slashes; level 1 of the Stone Skin upgrade reduces incoming damage by 10%; level 1 of the Critical Precision upgrade provides a 5% chance of a critical hit; level 1 of the Life Leech upgrade converts 1.5% of outgoing damage to health; level 1 of the Extreme Focus upgrade provides a further 15% damage when at full focus; level 1 of the Mighty Charge upgrade increases damage inflicted from your charge attack by 10%; and many more upgrade levels besides.

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The character design is quite varied as the lead character is a brave young girl who overcomes her monstrous enemies head-on and although the perspective is first-person; you can still see how she looks at that given moment by looking in one of the mirrors which can be found scattered around the dungeons. Enemy design varies just as much as the character design with enemies that evolve in their look and attacking approach such as an enemy that resembles a tribal version of a monkey albeit with four arms and legs that is encountered in more than one appearance with the second type of guise having more randomised attacks in which an attack can be quickly followed up by a second attack, therefore resulting in you having to be prepared to react supremely quickly to block an unanticipated attack. Enemies have a tribal meets psychedelic look and feel to them such as a creature with seven eyes and two protective materials which you must aim between to attack the enemy before it builds up the momentum to attack Sasha, while a further enemy looks reminiscent of an eye on two legs which grows a fungus around it that must quickly be removed as it powers their attack, but Sasha can attack the enemy by striking it when they open their eye. There are many more enemies such as a giant skull, a figure with three maracas that have giant teeth and much more besides which provides an appropriate pacing and scale of enemies to encounter and battle.

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The environment design is a massive open-world with familiar mechanics for anyone who has played DrinkBox Studios’ previous games as the surrounding environments can be explored, although the dungeons you roam will provide puzzles that have to be overcome in order to unlock passages to new areas. An important gameplay mechanic is the ability to change daytime to night time after having found and collected a medallion that will not be discovered until a fair duration into the game which works in harmony with a gong located in certain areas that comprises of a sun on one side and a moon on the other to change the time of day with yellow doors open by day and blue doors open by night which actually opens up entire areas that were previously inaccessible and makes the game even more atmospheric at night time in the outdoor environments such as the forest. The idea is taken one step further by learning new abilities and utilising them appropriately when returning to already explored areas to provide access to even more areas including secrets, challenges, rewards and more besides which is certainly one of the features that made Guacamelee!’s gameplay so amazing and works just as well in Severed. Viewing the map provides analysis of how intricate your exploration of each area and the complete open-world environment has been and how many secrets have been found from the maximum amount of secrets there are to be found in each area and collectively throughout the open-world environment.

The controls are well mapped to the Vita with the control scheme consisting of changing the direction of the left analogue stick or alternatively pressing up, left or right or even pressing triangle, square or O to move; pressing select to enter the skills tree; and pressing start to display the menu, while it makes the best use of the touch screen as tapping the top left of the touch screen provides the skills tree menu; tapping the top right of the touch screen displays a map; you can interact and pick up items by tapping the appropriate area of the touch screen; tapping on doors that require a key to be unlocked after the key has been collected; and the combat includes shorter and wider range swipes across the touch screen to perform shorter and wider slash attacks on enemies, although the rear touch pad and gyroscopic motion sensing functionality is not utilised within the control scheme.

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Graphically, Severed possesses vibrant colours and an art style reminiscent of Guacamelee! which stands out even more due to how original such vibrancy and style is when projected from a first-person perspective, while superb characters, environments and animations are complimented by some great detailed touches such as family portraits and paintings, mirrors reflecting how Sasha looks, blood splashes during combat, the tone of the lighting and shadows changing from daytime to night time, leaves falling from trees in the forest and the screen flashing in a variety of colours when Sasha is low on health which provides a real sense of urgency to find health.

The presentation of the game is solid with a great user interface across various menus such as the main menu, options menu and gameplay menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, directional pad, face buttons and touch screen, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and rear touch pad. The background of the main menu implies a struggle is brewing in the local area as a wind sweeps through the air with small homes and tree branches in the foreground, while a fire billowing smoke lights up a dark sky in the distance, accompanied by subdued music.

Voice-overs mostly extend to Sasha’s name being called by her mother and father with mostly mumbles around that which are summarised by speech bubbles. Sound effects include walking through environments, eating fruit to regain health, pots shattering, enemies appearing before they engage in combat, the backwards and forwards slashing of your weapon aimed at an enemy, parrying an incoming enemy attack, an enemy parrying your attack, Sasha’s heart beating rather fast when she is low on health and ambience such as rain droplets hitting the ground and surrounding objects, water rippling, distant birds and more besides. A soundtrack comprising of a mixture of atmospheric and tribal music composed by Yamantaka // Sonic Titan and Pantayo which is available to purchase digitally in its 16 song entirety at http://ytstlabs.com/ on Bandcamp.

The trophy list includes 25 trophies with 6 bronze trophies, 12 silver trophies, 6 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy. Easier trophies include some that can be naturally earned by progressing through the game such as the Tutelage bronze trophy for remembering what your mother taught you, while harder trophies include the Surgical Searching silver trophy for exploring every area to 100% completion; the Detective silver trophy for finding every secret; and the One Hand Tied Behind Your Back silver trophy for receiving no damage in a fight against four enemies. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 10 to 15 hours to platinum the trophy list.

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There are no difficulty levels, although there are ever increasingly harder enemy encounters to overcome which start out as one-on-one and gradually increase the odds of your survival by becoming two, three and even four-on-one encounters in which you have to manage your time and attacking approach between each enemy as you need to attack when enemies are attempting to defend, block when they are attacking and attack after having blocked to maximise your chance of success in battle when up against the odds.

There are no forms of multiplayer, although a pass the Vita multiplayer feature could have seen two players attempting to defeat enemies and complete a specific area of the game in the quickest time, while the online multiplayer could have played out with the first player as the lead character Sasha attempting to bring back her family in the story and the second player could have controlled the enemies in an attempt to defeat the hero. Despite previous DrinkBox Studios games having had online leaderboards; Severed does not, although it could have included speed run leaderboards for each area and the entire game much in the same way as Guacamelee! implemented them or perhaps even speed run leaderboards for how quickly players have defeated each type of enemy.

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The replayability stems from a number of areas such as genuinely engaging combat, engrossing puzzles, unlockable powers, upgradeable skill trees, excellent environment design which encourages exploration including secrets and collectables which will collectively have players returning for quite some time.

Overall, Severed delivers a unique combat system and extremely well paced gameplay that will appeal to fans of dungeon crawler and first-person action genres. If this really is the Vita’s swansong as the final worldwide exclusive game, then it is a fitting tribute for an exceptional game to take centre stage on a platform of equal quality, therefore Severed is legitimately highly recommended to all Vita gamers as one of the standout games of 2016 and one of the very best games to ever grace the Vita.

Developer: DrinkBox Studios

Publisher: DrinkBox Studios

Release Date: April 26th 2016

Platform: Vita

ESRB Rating: T – Teen

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