Sundered is a great example of an independent studio building on an earlier success - that being the fantastic Jotun in this case - to create an underground, Metroidvania, corker. The game boasts beautiful art, a soundtrack that perfectly fits the creepy underworld-meets-science-fiction setting and glorious button-bashing combat, but, in the grand scheme of things, is that enough to make it a first place competitor, or just an also-ran?
Sundered’s map is set partly in stone; boss and mini-boss rooms, key corridors, ability rooms and the incinerator are in a constant position. The rest of the map, though, is procedurally generated, changing everytime you die - something that will happen regularly, especially in the earlier stages and during boss fights. Unfortunately, this does mean that many of the areas appear identikit and hollow, which is a real shame considering the quality of everything else on offer.
First and foremost among those elements is the gameplay, which offers a wonderful blend of genres. The irresistible sense of adventure that goes hand-in-hand with the best Metroidvanias, frenetic and thoroughly enjoyable combat, Rogue-like and RPG elements all bind together beautifully. Exploring Sundered’s labyrinthine world of ruins, treasure, foes and platforming puzzles is an endless pleasure, in spite of the repetitive, randomly generated sections.
The combat is a cracking mix of swashbuckling swordplay, gymnastic rolls and leaps, and cannon mastery. What initially feels like a senseless, button-bashing game of luck quickly turns into something all the more meaty, as timing your rolls and jumps helps to not only deflect foes’ fists, but to keep Eshe in constant violent motion.
Believe us when we say, it’s worth playing Sundered just for the sheer awe you’ll feel when the camera pulls back to reveal the full scale of each boss - it really is stunning.
Perfecting these skills comes in very handy, as you’ll find yourself set upon by vast hordes of beasts during your adventure; these hordes can feel unfair as endless waves of the buggers attack - almost always when you’re lacking in health elixirs - so honing both your bashing and weaving to overcome these swarms is essential.
The final rung on the gameplay ladder is of course the RPG and Rogue-like elements. Plundering procedurally generated corridors ticks the latter, but it’s in the former where additional depth lies.
Everytime you die you’re sent back to the Sanctuary (which can get frustrating when you have to constantly backtrack to the same area or boss fight), where the Trapezohedron will turn your shards into enhanced abilities from the skill tree. Want to improve the length of time your deflecting shield lasts? No problem. Want to enhance your health or luck? Likewise. This adds the final touch to Sundered’s quality mix, which will likely keep you coming back for more.
So, the gameplay is great, but we have to give a special mention to the audiovisual presentation, as it just takes Sundered to another level. The gorgeous, hand-drawn art manages to evoke memories of classic Disney - think the underworld palette in Hercules, or the lair of the nasty Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid - the ‘90s games of developer Treasure and mythological tales. Believe us when we say, it’s worth playing Sundered just for the sheer awe you’ll feel when the camera pulls back to reveal the full scale of each boss - it really is stunning.
The aural tones further aid the gloriously dark atmosphere, as foes’ screams blend with the flicker of candles, swipes of sword, moody keyboards and the patter of Eshe’s feet. We also have to shout out Olivier Barrette, the man behind the Trapezohedron’s voice, as his performance perfectly encapsulates the darkness at work in the underground tunnels and rooms.
In summary, the facts are simple: Sundered is a triumphant blend of genres focused in a beautiful, Metroid-style world that just falls short of reaching all-time classic status at the hands of a few niggling niggles. Put the issues (did we mention the loading times are rather painful?) to one side and you have a memorable adventure well worth the £15.99 price tag. The atmosphere alone will have you coming back for more, even if the multiple endings don’t. To buy or not to buy? Don’t let the decision split you in two: go and get Sundered.