Many of you will no doubt recall Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, a wildly inventive and colorful 2D Metroidvania that set the eShop alight when it released back in 2014. We absolutely loved it, and if early impressions are anything to go by, it seems as though DrinkBox Studio's next game - coming to both Wii U and 3DS with cross-buy - may manage to capture lightning in a bottle once more.
The game is called SEVERED, and it represents quite a break from the studio's traditional lineup of platformer games. Rather, SEVERED aims to merge a first person dungeon crawler - think Etrian Odyssey - with the same brilliant artstyle that we first saw in Guacamelee. It's a different flavour than what we're used to, but it's still unabashedly a DrinkBox game and the quality of the product shone through even in the early build that we got a chance to play around with.
The story opens with your character, Sasha, waking up in a mysterious and eerie environment, where she is shortly tasked with finding her lost family. She also is missing an arm, which throws a bit of a wrench into the convenience of achieving this task. From what we can gather, the story seems to be of the type that's gradually given to you in bits and pieces as you progress through the world, and it's a method that works rather well. We didn't really know what was going on, but felt drawn into the world and wanted to know more.
The bread and butter of the gameplay is found in combat encounters, which the developers mentioned were inspired by Punch-Out!!. You fight primarily by making swipes on the GamePad screen (or presumably the 3DS bottom screen) with a stylus to slash your enemies, but there's surprising depth to be found in when and where to slash. Longer swipes do more damage, but the direction is key to everything. Enemies will block or have weak points on certain sides, and you must take this into account in your offense. Swiping against an enemy's attack allows you to parry it, and a helpful gauge on the bottom of the screen tells you when each enemy is about to strike.
Considering that you're usually surrounded and can only have one enemy on screen at a time, you'll have to constantly be turning every which way to efficiently repel your enemies. The system is fast paced and requires a bit of thinking and planning in order to survive, and it's unlike anything we've seen before.
Character customization plays into the experience, too, as this is an RPG-lite adventure, and these elements play into the main gameplay loop in a seamless and logical manner. The game's title comes from a mechanic in the game wherein successfully cutting enemies fills a gauge that, once filled, allows you to "sever" the enemy. This is essentially a finisher move that allows you to collect pieces of your felled opponents, which you can then use as armour or to upgrade your character. A fairly standard skill tree allows you to tailor Sasha to your particular playstyle; you can choose to go offensive and put all your points into those skills, or you can work on upping her HP and other defensive capabilities. The key point is that you never feel like you have quite enough points, meaning that each skill acquired is quite a decision.
A handy map in the corner shows the layout of the floor you're on, and some subtle point-and-click elements come into play as you explore. The environments are very colourful and all have a slightly menacing atmosphere to them, which creates a nice thematic contrast. As you walk through each room it's a good idea to look around to see if there might be any keys or other usable items that might help you later on. Exploration may not be quite as in-depth as in Guacamelee, but there will definitely be some Metroid-like elements present, as you can go back to previous areas and clean them out once you acquire the necessary abilities later on.
All told, SEVERED is shaping up to be an excellent follow up to Guacamelee. Its combat is engaging and strategic, there's plenty of exploration to be had in the surreal environments, and the story just begs for you to keep playing and discover more. Hopefully we'll be playing this one on Nintendo platforms before the year is out; we can't wait to see more of it.