Love that craft!
Way back in April I took a look at Thunder Lotus Games gorgeous hand drawn action adventure game, Jotun, which had just received a release on the Switch in its Valhalla Edition. It got a healthy 8/10 and I came away heartily looking forward to the upcoming Switch release of their follow up title, 2017’s Sundered – well, I’ve finally got my hands on it and I’m here to tell you, this might just be the Christmas present you need for your Nintendo hybrid!
So, what is Sundered? Well, it could be described as a Metroidvania but that would be doing it a disservice. Is it a roguelite game? Well, yeah, it’s that as well. It’s also got a little bit of Souls in its DNA. So, it’s a Metroidvania Roguelite Soulslike… then… Umm. I get that probably doesn’t sell it entirely so I’ll dig a little deeper. Sundered is a side scrolling Action RPG that takes place in a dilapidated, interconnected world. The player takes on the role of Eshe, a woman who loses her way in a sandstorm and becomes trapped in this foreboding and hostile environment. Guided by the sinister, disembodied voice of the Trapezohedron, Eshe explores this surreal world and discovers the very Lovecraftian tale of humans trying to trap and tap the power of old gods. Of course this goes horribly wrong.
Along the way Eshe picks up different abilities which she can use to both traverse the world as well as improve her combat skills – she starts out with a basic sword combo but soon gets access to a double jump, a gun, a wall run and other toys. She also has a recharging shield and a certain number of health top ups (TOTALLY not Estus flasks) which are essential as the combat in Sundered gets REALLY hectic. You see, this is really where the Roguelite elements come in.
The world map is comprised of a number of fixed rooms which can contain new abilities, shortcuts to open, story elements or bosses. Between these are empty space in which random rooms generate. This means that, on death, the world resets and you have to traverse the same spaces in different ways. Maybe the path went up last time but now it goes down. That means that enemy placement is random and, on this, your mileage may vary. The random enemies can feel somewhat disconcerting at first, but soon become an intense addition to the game. Without the ability to learn routes, every journey, even when revisiting the earlier areas, can be quite tense as you never know when you’ll get mobbed by enemies. Constantly upgrading Eshe’s abilities is essential and that’s where the Souls influence comes in.
Defeating enemies and breaking objects in the world earns you shards. Sometimes you’ll find chests or other pockets of shards to greatly boost your reserves and, upon death or by choice, you can return to the world’s central hub to spend these shards on your skill tree. Basic abilities like strength, health and shield can be increased, but there are also special abilities in the tree that, for example, give Eshe large boosts to stats or extra health refills. Planning ahead here is essential, as is careful use of perks which can be found in randomly generated challenge rooms while exploring. Eshe starts with one perk slot which can be upgraded ultimately to three and each perk comes with an advantage or a disadvantage – increase the chances of enemies dropping health refills, for example, at the expense of an overall decrease in shard drops, or increase the number of shards dropped with the downside of not seeing a single health refill.
Visually, Sundered is a stunner. Sharing the same hand drawn art style as Jotun, it’s got a unique aesthetic. The environments are evocative, Eshe’s animation ebbs and flows, the enemies with their Lovecraftian influences, all tentacles and unspeakable horror, squelch and glide around the landscape in a gloriously grim manner. And the bosses. Oh my, the bosses. The mini-bosses that scatter each of the three main areas of the map are big and challenging enough, forcing pattern recognition and repeat assaults, but the main bosses are simply gigantic. More imposing than the large enemies of Jotun, these screen filling nightmares are a huge challenge and massively rewarding to defeat. Beating these bosses also introduces the final compelling piece of Sundered’s puzzle – the Elder Shards.
Another Souls like influence, these shards can either be absorbed or destroyed. Taking the former route will “corrupt” Eshe’s abilities, making her stronger but at the expense of ebbing humanity, while destroying them will give her a large amount of normal shards to level up with, but will deny her the stronger powers. However you choose to progress determines the eventual ending of the game, so choose wisely!
On a whole, Sundered runs incredibly well on Switch, however load times can be a bit extreme and I did experience the odd hitch while changing areas, presumably while the game was catching up with the randomly generated environments. This new Eldritch Edition brings a host of small tweaks throughout the game as well as the addition of four player local co-op and a completely new quest line with unique areas. The great news is that this update will also be hitting the PS4 and PC versions of the game and it will also be launching for the XBox One; with a remarkably generous launch price of £15.49, no one has any excuse to NOT play this excellent and unique game!