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.
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.