Mobile games are put in an interesting position by the lack of buttons available to your average phone. in terms of immediate usability, a touchscreen is a viable interface, but it’s been going on a decade since these things became common and it’s still unusual for mobile game developers to effectively utilize a touchscreen. This can even be true when a game was originally developed for a touchscreen-ready platform like the PS Vita.
Often the best way to address this is to make a game that’s all about touch and the possibilities offered by a screen you can interact with, as we see in the iOS port of DrinkBox Studios’ Severed.
Sometimes it’s just not easy growing up. It’s especially hard when your whole family is murdered by monsters and you lose an arm in the attack. That’s the situation heroine Sasha finds herself in; now she needs to find the bodies of her family and maybe get some revenge along the way. Despite having one less arm, Sasha is a fan of the Code of Hammurabi, the ancient law that refers to taking an eye from one who takes your eye; in other words, she’s going to give as good as she got with regards to slicing off limbs.
Severed’s gameplay transfers nicely to the iOS format: you’ve got a sword and you swipe on the screen to use it. You can’t just swing like mad and hope to win, though, since your enemies tend to be pretty good at defending themselves. The various foes you take on all have different ways of toying with the combat system.
There are monsters that grow explosive polyps that you need to regularly trim before they explode and damage you, for instance. While those aren’t so bad alone, they tend to come in groups or with more directly dangerous foes. When you’re trying to take advantage of the brief moment where an enemy isn’t blocking, it can be difficult to remember to turn and clip the polyp monster you’re also fighting, and losing that balancing act can be lethal. Unsuccessful hits will result in a brief moment where you’re defenseless, so precision is the way to go. Even the upgrading system encourages precise play – winning battles offers a brief moment where you can slice off foes’ body parts and use them for crafting.
It’s a cute idea that works, and it’s an interesting way of approaching the limitations forced upon developers by the mobile format; notably, you still had to play this way on the Vita, so it’s not like you had an easier time there. This isn’t really a game made for playing at long stretches, since furiously swiping the screen can get tiring. Extended battles later on can also get a little dull, since the combat system doesn’t change significantly throughout the experience, but this one ends fairly quickly and doesn’t outstay its welcome. If you don’t immediately hate the combat then you can probably stick with it long enough to hack your way through to the end.
The game’s presentation offers a sort of Mexican Day of the Dead style similar to Guacamelee, meaning it looks pretty good without having to push its platform technically. The monsters you battle are bizarre and interesting; I found myself looking forward to whatever I’d have to fight next, especially since they each require unique strategies to conquer. As for the plot, it’s there but generally fairly subdued in favor of endless battles; the idea of exploring Sasha’s grief is an interesting one, but it’s clear that the focus of this game was on the unique combat system.
Still, a game that can turn a liability like a mandatory touchscreen interface into an advantage in the way that Severed does is rare and unusual. It’s also worth playing. If you enjoy the thought of furiously swiping at your screen to chop off some limbs, instead of just stealthy fruit, then here’s a game for you. Just keep a cloth around to wipe that thing off, you savage.