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Game Reviews

‘Sundered’ Creates a Beautiful Descent into Madness

Sundered
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4
Release Date: June 28, 2017

It’s a very rare occurrence when a game can perfectly meld not only genres, but narrative and thematic elements quite like Sundered has.  The rogue-lite Metroidvania/RPG masterfully crafts a story of intrigue and desperation, set upon a unique take on Lovecraftian lore. Add to this a punishing, yet subtle difficulty curve, varied and interesting enemy types, a gorgeous, hand drawn art style, and a gameplay mechanic that morally rewards the player for not increasing their power, and Sundered comes out as yet another shining example of the power of the indie genre.     

The seamless transition that Sundered makes from action platformer to hardcore RPG is one of the key focal points of the game. As the player explores the three vast and intricate areas of the game, they will come across a multitude of puzzles and obstacles that either requires new skills or abilities the player does not yet have, which makes finding the larger than life ability shrines and duking it out with each area’s mini bosses an imperative objective and forces the player to explore every inch of the game world. This is further deepened by the ever-changing map layout, which shifts the positions of enemy mobs, loot chests, and pathways upon death.  No two run throughs of an area are the same, and one must constantly be on the lookout for secret paths and rooms filled with treasure.  

The difficulty level of Sundered acts more as a challenging hurdle rather than an annoyance.  Enemy groups can range from trivially minuscule to soul-crushingly large and challenging.  This gives the player a welcome variety of combat situations to put themselves through, and can fully showcase the range of abilities at one’s disposal.  With a high difficulty comes quick and constant deaths, but these are not meant to discourage.  Death means a return to the Sanctuary, a hub between the three main areas that allows the player upgrade their skills and re-slot new perks.  Over time, trips to the Sanctuary are looked forward to, as they offer up the chance to reenter the level stronger than before. Despite this, having to run back through the area you just died in can be tedious, especially if you’d made considerable progress into the level.  

Combat is a focal point in Sundered, and couples fluid and engaging combos with unique abilities.  The attack type that Ashe, the main character, uses depends on what direction you force her to move. Pushing up on the directional stick has her perform a vicious upward slash used to juggle enemies, while pushing down has her lash out with her leg, damaging any enemies directly underneath her.  Skills later acquired in the game allow for Ashe to perform the then changed heavy attacks, air dashes, and utilize a massive cannon to clear out waves of enemies. In combat is where the game’s art style truly shines; Vibrant colors clash with beautifully fluid character movements and spectacular death animations.  This is increased tenfold during Sundered’s colossal boss battles, which make Ashe look like an ant compared to the behemoth monstrosities she has to face.

Above all else, the narrative of Sundered is its greatest strength. Perfectly blending sci-fi and Lovecraftian horror, players must guide Ashe through the ruins of a once proud and glorious world, corrupted by the greed of humanity.  Through cryptic upgrade descriptions and large atriums filled with lore spewing crystals, the story of humanity’s collapse and the awakening of the otherworldly Eschatons unfolds.  To guide Ashe and the player, a disembodied voice trapped in a Eschaton dark crystal offers forked-tongued advice, as the nature of his support is not entirely clear.  On top of this, the game has three endings, depending on how far you choose to corrupt Ashe’s physical and mental state.  As the player beats bosses and discovers hidden chests, they’ll come across shards of dark energy.  Collecting three with form them into a large crystal that can either corrupt and upgrade one of Ashe’s core abilities, or be destroyed in a furnace found earlier in the game.  How the player chooses to handle this decision directly affects the outcome of the story, and the final boss you must confront.   

Sundered is a breath of fresh air in a genre that is oversaturated with similar experiences.  Through engaging combat, a beautiful world, and a seamless rpg/platforming systems, players are able to experience gameplay that’s equally challenging and addictive.  Multiple endings and well-hidden secrets make replaying Sundered almost mandatory, and witnessing the spectacles that are the game’s three main bosses again not a negative attribute.  I can say with all certainty that I haven’t enjoyed my time with a Metroidvania as much as I have with Sundered, and gladly recommend it to anyone who enjoys quality gameplay, storytelling, and art design.

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