I love to beat on crowdfunding just on principle, I’ll admit, but that doesn’t mean that every crowdfunded game ends up being garbage. Shovel Knight is pretty universally acclaimed, for instance, and even I’ll admit that it’s a classic; likewise, crowdfunded RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin have seen some success. It’s almost like things aren’t necessarily black and white or something! I am again forced to admit that crowdfunding isn’t necessarily a tool of Satan himself when it comes to Sundered, a Metroidvania that uses a unique gameplay twist and lovely animated graphics to portray a world twisted by horrors from beyond the cosmos.
Eshe, a figure clad in a cloak and hood, is wandering across the wasteland when, inexplicably, she comes across a strange structure. After a brief and painful introduction to why one shouldn’t mess with that kind of thing, she’s brought to what appears to be the ruins of a city torn apart by dedication to a mad god or by overstepping the boundaries of science…or perhaps both. Eshe would be defenseless against the horrors that roam the streets, halls and caves of the devastated land, but early on she finds the Shining Trapezohedron, a bizarre shapeshifting weapon with a mind and voice of its own. Armed and guided thus, Eshe delves further into the ruins, seeking knowledge, power and survival.
Sundered’s basic gameplay is similar to most Metroidvania-style games; you begin with a fairly weak Eshe and your exploration primarily focuses on powering her up and gaining new abilities to get around more effectively. Basic controls include jumping about and performing various melee strikes; hopping around and slashing away with the Trapezohedron feels decent enough, though I couldn’t shake the thought that the overall lack of impact inherent in most attacks made Sundered feel a bit like a Flash game from five or six years ago. It’s not the end of the world, though, and for what it’s worth the sheer number of foes that come at you at once means that you’re often better served fleeing instead of fighting. Later upgrades allow for more powerful attacks, which feel much more effective and are more enjoyable to use than the basic combos.
You’re searching for power, as mentioned, and there are a few ways to beef Eshe up. Killing enemies and smashing objects provides Shards which can be spent on an extensive skill tree, boosting various aspects of your character; you can also find Relics that provide boosts in exchange for detrimental effects, like a personal favorite that allows Eshe to deal more damage in exchange for losing some defensive strength. More significant boosts come from shrines scattered throughout the game world, which impart new abilities like a regenerating shield, a double jump and a giant, imposing laser cannon. I was especially fond of that last one for reasons we’ll get into momentarily. Finding new abilities allows you to access more of the game world in true Metroidvania fashion; while Sundered’s areas are largely procedurally generated, rooms that require an ability to unlock or that contain a shrine are clearly marked on your map before you reach them, giving you a general idea of which direction to go.
The big ticket feature in Sundered, though, is the fact that each ability you find has two different forms. As mentioned, the Trapezohedron has a mind of its own, and it’s constantly pushing Eshe to collect and use ominous-looking Elder Shards. Defeating bosses will provide pieces of a Shard, and complete Shards can be taken back to shrines to corrupt the abilities provided by those shrines. That cannon I mentioned, for instance, fires off impressive and deadly blasts of energy by default…but if you corrupt it, the weapon goes out of control, firing a devastating death ray that puts its original version to shame.
Even your shield can be corrupted, giving it a sort of counterattack effect. As you might guess, corrupting abilities is framed as exchanging purity for power, and your decision to give into darkness will have an effect on the game’s ending. Personally, I found the significant and impressive boosts provided by corruption to be more than worth a little eldritch madness. While it’s possible to obtain abilities styled in a more benevolent fashion by simply incinerating your Elder Shards, who would do that? Give in to the darkness!
Sundered’s animation-inspired characters and environments are gorgeous, of course, while still managing to really nail that Lovecraftian horror vibe that the developers were aimnig for. Combat tends to be fast and frantic, but there’s a surprising amount of loving detail put into the enemy designs if you get a chance to slow down and look at them. If I had one big complaint, it’s that the game can be pretty damn difficult; as mentioned, enemies absolutely love to swarm Eshe in groups of ten or more and getting trapped in a corner can lead to a quick death. I’m not sure if I can necessarily call this a downside, though, as it seems to be tied into the game’s overall theme; if I wasn’t already drawn to corrupting my abilities, the fact that doing so could provide some much-needed assistance against the hordes would be certainly be tempting.
As a Metroidvania, Sundered hits a lot of the right marks by encouraging exploration and providing a strong degree of character customization and player choice. The game’s reliance on procedural generation can be a bit of an annoyance at times, particularly when you run into repeated rooms in a single area, but that can be overlooked in the face of the game’s unique take on the genre. Sundered’s definitely worth a try for fans of exploration-focused adventures and Lovecraftian horror alike.