Drinkbox goes out on a limb in its riski­est project to date


Vita’s touch­screen is surely the most un­der­used in­put de­vice of its kind. Af­ter some launch-win­dow fum­blings and the odd ex­cep­tion like Tear­away, it has been all but aban­doned. Four years af­ter it hit shelves, Vita it­self has been largely for­got­ten too, which puts Drinkbox Stu­dios in a rather awk­ward po­si­tion. Sev­ered is a touch­screen­fo­cused game for a con­sole on the wane, and it’s al­ready run­ning late, the orig­i­nally planned sum­mer release long gone and the most re­cent de­lay, an­nounced in Oc­to­ber, not even re­veal­ing a vague release win­dow.

The stu­dio is clearly strug­gling to get its head around a quite fun­da­men­tal cre­ative in which you must per­form a se­ries of pre­cise swipes within a tight time limit that will shred your op­po­nent to rib­bons. Get­ting there isn’t as sim­ple as it sounds – en­e­mies have their own de­fen­sive op­tions, and if your at­tack’s blocked, the me­ter de­pletes a lit­tle. As we progress through our one-stage demo, op­po­nents be­come more com­plex, re­quir­ing we meet cer­tain con­di­tions be­fore we can be­gin to deal dam­age. And just as we think we’re get­ting a han­dle on that, they start at­tack­ing in groups.

This, cur­rently, is Sev­ered’s great­est trick, as a sim­ple game of look­ing for tells and wait­ing for your turn to at­tack be­comes a fraught is­sue of time man­age­ment. Now there are mul­ti­ple turn me­ters at the base of the screen, all fill­ing at dif­fer­ent speeds, and we pri­ori­tise tar­gets on the fly. It’s not just a mat­ter of play­ing against the me­ters, ei­ther, since some en­e­mies grow ex­tra ap­pendages as they pre­pare to at­tack – the later you leave it, the more times you’ll need to hit them to stop them from lash­ing out at you, never mind find­ing time to deal some dam­age. It’s an abrupt change of pace for a game that is a good deal slower and more ex­ploratory than any­thing else Drinkbox has ever made. Our one-level demo merely hints at what lies in store, but what is al­ready clear is the ex­tent to which Drinkbox is work­ing out­side of its com­fort zone. Per­haps the great­est de­par­ture will be in nar­ra­tive. A soli­tary, mute pro­tag­o­nist, alone with the mon­sters in a twisted world, presents a new sto­ry­telling chal­lenge – and a 3D world to ex­plore in first­per­son, at a leisurely pace, presents an op­por­tu­nity to solve it. Ad­just­ing from Gua­camelee’s cheeky di­a­logue boxes to mys­te­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal sto­ry­telling is just one of many chal­lenges in a project that is clearly test­ing a stu­dio famed for making plat­form­ers. We hope there’s still an ap­petite for a touch-driven Vita game when Drinkbox fi­nally fig­ures them all out.

Level headed

Drinkbox isn’t shy­ing away from the chal­lenges it has faced making in­deed, it’s be­ing quite hon­est about them, and re­cently spoke about its changed ap­proach to level de­sign. In plat­form games – the genre in which the stu­dio made its name – you de­sign spa­ces around a set of abil­i­ties; in the Metroid­va­nia-like

where the player’s abil­ity set grows as they progress, lev­els can grow in com­plex­ity ac­cord­ingly. Sev­ered’s lim­ited move­ment op­tions mean a com­plete change in tack; level de­sign is now more about world-build­ing, at­mos­phere and pac­ing than pix­elper­fect jumps or sur­prise spike pits. If it means we won’t see a re­peat of Tule Tree, no­to­ri­ously cruel late-game pre­ci­sion­plat­form­ing sec­tion, we’re all for it.

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