Sundered Review: Virtual Insanity
Kalvin Martinez / Aug 21st, 2017 No Comments
Genres get stale. Some genres permeate the medium, worming their way into the climate of game development.
Two genres that have been big in the indie scene are roguelites and Metroidvania. Even if you love both genres, the deluge of games in each genre have made it hard to innovate the core elements. It is hard to distinguish yourself in either.
Sundered takes a smart approach to both genres by blending them together, bending what we expect of both genres. What shouldn’t work together does, and the result is an experience that is hard to tear yourself away from.
Resist or Indulge
Eshe finds herself alone in the desert fighting against a ferocious sandstorm. As she moves forward, she begins to feel something isn’t quite right. Black tendrils rollick in the background nearly imperceptible yet a portent of what’s to come. Soon she finds herself in front of an altar and can continue forward no more.
It is at this altar her journey begins as she is swallowed up by darkness. She awakens in a mysterious monolithic room with a devious voice beckoning her to rise. The voice is coming from a dark, red crystalline being who turns the room a terrible red color.
Sensing a dark purpose in Eshe, the voice gives her access to the Shining Trapezohedron, a weapon that will allow her to earn her freedom. All Eshe has to do is follow what the voice tells her to do, which mainly is to bring it Elder shards. The question for Eshe is should she resist or embrace this darkness.
Sundered tells a subtle story that doesn’t intrude upon gameplay except at key points. It help builds a tone and atmosphere without hitting you over the head with exposition or obtrusive story beats. Any story moments punctuate specific points of the game, complementing your achievements. It creates a unique relationship between Eshe and the voice and allows players to buy into the game’s core concepts.
The resist or embrace aspect of the game has specific story consequences. Resisting results in a tumultuous relationship between you and the voice, while embracing keeps you on its good side.
The drawback of using elder shards is you begin to lose your mind. Every elder shard used eats away at your sanity and you begin to see specters that can hurt you.
Embracing the voice corrupts your abilities in intriguing ways by using elder shards to enhance them, while resisting and destroying elder shards gives you other upgrade paths. Essentially, embracing gives you instant gratification but you slowly go insane while resisting provides delayed gratification but you stay whole.
It is an interesting balance between narrative elements and gameplay mechanics that never feels like an afterthought. Sundered creates a story where you’re an active participant in how it is shaped and where choices feel like they have real consequences.
Dodge and Slash
Sundered works on multiple levels that are all equally satisfying. On one level, it is a Metroidvania game with a richness to open up as you gain new abilities. Another level is as a tough hack-n-slash side-scrolling action game. The final level is a roguelite with persistent progress to add meaning and depth to each run. Each level doesn’t operate alone, but mixes together to form a whole that is something special.
The Metroidvania and roguelite elements work closely together to change up both genres in cool ways. Key areas like bosses, road blocks that require new abilities, special abilities, and locked doors all remain consistent. As soon as you find these areas, they are fixed.
What changes is the pathways and enemy density to reach those specific areas. While you’ll always know where a mini-boss or shrine is, every time you die and try to head toward it you’ll encounter different types and densities of enemies. It keeps the game from feeling super grindy or too amorphous.
Not only does the Metroidvania structure keep the game from feeling directionless, it adds a sense of progress to the game, which resolves the sometimes aimless feel of the roguelite genre.
Progression is doubled when you add in the game’s extensive upgrade system. Not only can you work toward beating bosses, gathering elder shards and finding shrines, you can also improve Eshe in a number of exciting ways.
The hack-n-slash in Sundered is good. Eshe is never usually dealing with a single enemy. Enemy density is influenced by a lot of factors, but most often insanity will tip the scales against you, which is a huge drawback to embracing the corruption.
Even if Eshe stumbles upon a lone enemy or pack, it snowballs larger and larger until the screen is filled with enemies requiring you to dodge, attack and pray you can clear it out. More often than not, you won’t be successful, but that’s what shards are for.
Eshe upgrades at the Shining Trapezohedron to improve her abilities. Eshe can become stronger and more capable as you fight more enemies. The longer you spend improving your base-level skills, the easier your battles become.
No matter how good you get or how strong you get, Sundered is always ready to remind you to be on your toes with its boss fights. Whether it is a mini-boss (usually a souped up or giant version of a regular mob) or an actual elder boss, bosses will push your skills to the limit.
Mini-bosses tend to call smaller mobs to their aid, resulting in a screen full of enemies to avoid and attacks to dodge. Bosses are on a much grander scale with a lot of more health and devastating attacks to avoid.
In many ways, battles feel like bullet hells as you try to whittle down the bosses health while avoiding projectiles, powerful attacks and summoned mobs. This makes it is so satisfying when you finally win.
Sundered is cool. It’s really cool. It’s a smart hybrid of the Metroidvania and roguelite genres with clever gameplay hooks, a subtle story and gorgeous visuals.
If you’re looking for a game that you can’t put down even when your skills are constantly tested then Sundered is a game for you.
Sundered was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developer.
tags: review , Sundered , Sundered review , Thunder Lotus Games