It is exciting to see what comes next from a beloved creator. This is a universal feeling for fans across all forms of art. Once a particular piece of media is encountered, analyzed, and enjoyed, it makes sense to seek out the other creations from the same artist. When all of the available options are consumed, eager eyes look to the creators for the next great thing.
Two years ago, my wife and I played Gucamelee! from DrinkBox Studios. The game was a gorgeous and fun platformer, perfect for couch co-op. We quickly devoured Guacamelee! over the course of a week, and the soundtrack has nestled into our regular rotation ever since. After enjoying the game so thoroughly, I was eager to see what DrinkBox Studios would produce in the future. Equipped with my Wii-U stylus and a unique brew from DrinkBox’s neighboring Canadian province, I dove into the dreamlike world of Severed.
Based in Saint-Jérôme, Quebec, Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! has made their name by brewing bold and innovative beers. As their website proclaims, Dieu du Ciel! values audacity, integrity, refinement, and collaboration in their brewing. I have only recently discovered Dieu du Ciel!. While scanning the shelves of my local bottle shop, I was caught by a collection of imported beers with striking and surreal labels. There were painted images of stoic samurai, lonely hermits, and melancholic dryads. After much deliberation, I settled on Rigor Mortis Abt- an Abbey-style brown ale with a label that could be called both haunting and beautiful.
This Quadruple ale comes from the Momentum Series by Dieu du Ciel!, an annual cycle of twelve unique beers, released one after another, in limited quantities. Rigor Mortis Abt has a murky character, the color of tanned leather with burnt sienna hues and a fizzy bone-white head. A pungent nose of warm bread pudding with raisins rises from the glass. The first sip has a syrupy mouthfeel and a mildly sweet flavor of figs. This initial fruity note unfolds into a body of toasted brown bread with honey and a tangy hint of balsamic reduction. The lingering aftertaste is a mix of toffee and muscat grapes.
There is a bittersweet dichotomy when drinking Rigor Mortis Abt. The flavors are warm and inviting, but the name and label are unsettling and melancholic. The entire experience is reminiscent of what is left behind in the loss of a loved one: happy memories that we wish to cherish and the physical remains that must be dealt with in their time. With those themes in mind, Rigor Mortis Abt makes an ideal companion to the narrative of Severed.
Severed is rather different from previous games released by DrinkBox Studios. Instead of resting on their success and making a sequel to their action platformer Guacamelee!, DrinkBox Studios created a surreal RPG-light adventure with touch based combat. While I was initially disappointed to hear that I wouldn’t be playing another great co-op game with my wife, I was quickly engrossed by the gameplay of Severed.
At the risk of using gaming jargon, Severed is an interesting mix of first-person dungeon crawler exploration and Punch-Out!! style battles. Players guide Sasha through maze-like areas filled with puzzles and traps that reminded me of the challenges in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Along the way, Sasha must battle various monsters in touch based combat, using frantic swipes to weaken enemies into a vulnerable state. Once the creatures have had their health knocked to zero, Severed showcases its namesake, requiring the player to execute well-placed slashes to remove enemy limbs.
Historically, I have had limited success with touch based games that require precision strokes. Titles such as Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow have shown me that forcing players to draw perfect strokes on a tiny screen leads to frustration from a clunky interface. However, Severed proved that such mechanics can work, offering a responsive and accurate system that was very satisfying to play. With each well-placed slash, I hacked arms, wings, and other organs from monstrous foes. In addition to the visceral satisfaction of felling nasty beasts, the remaining limbs serve as currency for the various upgrades for Sasha’s battle skills.
These additional skills offered interesting twists on the flow of battle. Over the course of the game, both Sasha and her enemies gained abilities that provided a puzzle element to each fight. While I gained the option to stun a monster or steal their advancements, they would have various buffs that could increase their health or make them invulnerable to my magics.
At first, these nuances made battles interesting, especially when I had to manage multiple enemies with different buffs and fighting styles. However, once I started the last third of the game, the battles hit a wall of monotony. Instead of presenting new skills or unique combinations of monsters, the latter areas of Severed felt like a slog through boring battles of endurance. Monsters would appear in combinations that provided no clever use of skills, especially when every enemy would be immune to my magics, AND a particular baddie would grant additional buffs to his comrades as the battle progressed.
As a result, the end of Severed was a chore instead of a delight. Even during the final boss fight, I was fatigued from so many gauntlets of uninspired battles that I could not appreciate slaying the very creature that took Sasha’s family from her.
This is a shame, since I had previously been engrossed with the narrative of Severed. I appreciated the look of this nightmare world. The monsters were universally unsettling and unique, presented in non-humanoid and well-animated forms. The music was engrossing and reinforced the atmosphere. And I was rooting for Sasha, as she traversed this alien landscape to recover her family’s remains and find her peace. Despite all of these positive aesthetic elements, I grew tired of Severed by the end of the second major dungeon.
It is a rare creator who has a catalog that is universally loved by their fans. Even my most beloved artists have produced items that simply do not resonate with me. That being said, I do not think Severed is a failure. I love the aesthetic and mechanics presented by this game. I only wish that the last third of the game built on its previous successes, instead of simply placing uninspired battles to obstruct the player. So I would recommend playing the first two dungeons of this unique game, which should give you enough time to enjoy the delicious Rigor Mortis Abt from Dieu du Ciel!.