The main character in Severed is missing an arm; we're going to assume that it fell off following a particularly furious session with Drinkbox Studios' latest game. This colourful PlayStation Vita exclusive has grand aspirations: it's a first-person dungeon crawler with Punch Out!!-esque combat and enough crafting to momentarily capture the attention of Minecraft maniacs before they get back to their next big build. Unfortunately, it falls into the one pitfall that so often claims touch screen exclusive experiences: its final hours largely consist of you frantically heeding Mr Miyagi's advice with your index finger.
To its credit, it does at least try to be something more than a simple swipe-a-thon: each creature that you encounter in this mysterious adventure game demands a different tactic in order to be dismantled. For example, one monstrosity with four arms will block to the left and then right, forcing you to swipe the spider-like individual's exposed side in order to knock it out. Consecutively attacking the correct area of any enemy increases your focus bar, which will unlock the opportunity for you to sever it once its health has been drained. This is important, because it's the best way to collect body parts, which can then be spent on better gear and abilities.
In other words, the game actively encourages you to be considerate with your swipes so that you can upgrade your character. And, by introducing multiple enemy types at the same time, it forces you to multitask, repelling the strikes of one nasty while dealing damage to another. The problem is that, while this remains fun for the first few hours, the outing fails to introduce a fulfilling number of antagonists, opting instead to pad the closing moments of the campaign with buffed versions of the baddies that you've already fought, and that's when you'll find yourself falling out of love with the experience a little.
Look, it's no secret judging by the comments on our YouTube channel that this author has a strong right wrist, but even typing this review is painful; completing Severed to 100 per cent over the weekend put your humble host's shoulder out of joint. It's a shame because the game does prove early on that it's capable of using its touch screen controls in a positive way, but even the addition of secondary abilities – like a Gorgon-esque eye that temporarily freezes your foes dead, or a magical mouth that lets you steal some of their buffs back – fail to really prevent the game from going all finger wagging mad on your ass.
At least the wrapping is as effective as anything Drinkbox Studios has ever produced – in fact, the Ontario-based outfit may have outdone itself here. The game has that same block colour look as Guacamelee! before it, but it layers a real eerie vibe on top of that. The storytelling is quaint and vague, but the world building is dark and unexpectedly macabre. It definitely draws you in with its curious cast of characters, while – despite being very visually interesting – the protagonist is vanilla enough that you can project yourself into her shoes. And this is important because, without going into specifics, everyone will be able to relate to the title's underlying objectives.
When you're not battling brutes, of course, you'll be exploring labyrinth-like environments. The level design is good, with numerous little puzzles incorporated to keep the sightseeing feeling fresh. Many of the environments do look similar which can make navigation a bit laborious at times, but an extremely detailed map means that you'll always remain on the right track – even if you spend more time staring at it in the corner of the screen than your actual surroundings. Tons of hidden secrets mean that there's plenty of reason to return to the strange world, too – and the title does that Metroid thing where new paths open up once you've upgraded your abilities.
And enhance your capabilities you will, as the title has a surprisingly complex skill tree. It's not built from the true role-playing blueprint where you have multiple different character types to create, but it's one of those where a quick glance at the available options will leave you wanting them all, and so, at first, you'll need to deliberate which upgrades you want the most. You'll have unlocked them all by the end of the eight or so hour campaign, providing demonstrable progression – it's just a shame that the game offsets any genuine advancements with a desire to overwhelm you with buffed enemies who are a chore to fight.
A valiant attempt at creating a touch screen-based action experience with real depth, Severed struts confidently for four or five hours – before ultimately devolving into the same old swipe-fest that it seems to detest. Still, this is a wonderfully presented experience, with a mystifying world and some intelligent level design. If you're the kind of person who appreciates tailored Vita titles, then you'll more than get your money's worth here. It's just a shame that the studio fails to cut the foray off before it gets stale.