With Drinkbox's Severed, Touch-Based First-Person RPGs Go Off the Rails

With Drinkbox's Severed, Touch-Based First-Person RPGs Go Off the Rails

The creators of Guacamelee debut an intriguing new game that shatters the tyranny of linear design. And, possibly, the very earth itself.

Severed, the latest project from Guacamelee developers, reminds me of nothing so much as Adventure Time. Not aesthetically; if I were going to make any Cartoon Network comparisons for the visuals in Severed, I'd probably go with a Genndy Tartakovsky joint like Samurai Jack. It has that same angular look, the same staccato movement, the same painterly otherworldliness.

No, the vibe I'm talking about comes more from the game's themes. Severed puts players in the role of a young, dusky-skinned warrior woman who loses her arm and pursues the lost limb – which seemingly has a life of its own – into a vast dungeon. Along the way, she evidently acquires a cursed sword, and ends up absolutely laden with equipment and armor collected along the way. As Drinkbox designer Chris McQuinn walked me through the game's trailer, I was struck by how much it reminded me of Adventure Time protagonist Finn: Every alternate reality version of the character always appears with his right arm missing and replaced by some sort of mechanical limb. He wields a cursed sword. In an earlier life, he was a young, dusky-skinned warrior woman. And then there was that episode where he kept fighting through the haunted battle train, piling on more and more spoils with each victory....

Then again, maybe I just know too much about Adventure Time.

Drinkbox's concept video for Severed. If you watch only one video trailer for a first-person iOS dungeon crawler possibly inspired by Adventure Time today, make it this one.

"I've never really seen the show, but I know the game's writer is a fan," McQuinn told me at a PAX East meeting, laughing. "I guess that's something else we've stolen."

By "stolen," he was jokingly referring to his own description of the game, which he reluctantly parsed in terms of other games: "It's part old-school dungeon-crawler, part Punch-Out!!, part Infinity Blade." Severed is targeted toward touchscreen devices, and indeed the mechanics appear to work much like Infinity Blade's, with action taking place in a first-person perspective. Swipes and gestures serve as the basis for executing combat skills. What sets it apart from similar titles, however, is the fact that it won't be a rail-driven experience. Players will be able to explore the game's dungeons freely, and in a nonlinear fashion.

"You'll get different weapons from each section of the dungeon that are good against different enemies, like in Mega Man," McQuinn explained. "Because we like Mega Man, too! So maybe you'll go into a dungeon and be unable to beat it. So you leave and beat a different area and earn a new weapon, then return and destroy the boss you couldn't defeat before."

Spoiler alert: He's not trying to hug you.

Like so many other independent games I saw at PAX this year, Severed combines many familiar influences to create something quite unique – or that's the impression it gives, anyway. McQuinn admits that much of the game's design remains undefined as of yet, as does the list of target platforms. While Drinkbox would like to bring Severed to any device with a touch screen, from tablets to 3DS, the needs of the game will ultimately dictate the hardware it appears on. Specifically, the need for multi-touch mechanics would rule out non-capacitative screens (namely Nintendo devices).

"It could be that [if the game goes the multi-touch route] we come up with ways to make those mechanics work on systems without that feature," McQuinn said. "But if we find that multi-touch is essential to the game, then that means it'll only show up on devices that support it. We want to do what's best for the game."

Whatever the final decision on Severed's design and platforms, Drinkbox's concept trailer looks spectacular. Its brash visual style, intense music, and over-the-top vibe (watch carefully and you'll see the heroine slicing apart mountain ranges and even the sun itself) combine for a tantalizing glimpse of a game that works on its own terms and promises to offer another welcome challenge to the notion that touch-based games have to be simplistic, or casualties of casual appeal, or completely derivative.

"We always want to work on new things," McQuinn said. "That's why we're making Severed rather than Guacamelee 2, or whatever."

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