The loop, the rhythm. Repetition. Restarting after dying mid-battle, picking up the pieces and heading back out. Doing the same thing again and again. But, somehow different this time. Slightly more health, a new skill, more damage output, a better understanding of enemy patterns. These are all ingredients that can make up a great gaming experience. Sundered, from Thunder Lotus Games, is built on these principles of repetition. Its blend of Rogue Legacy progression and Super Metroid exploration make it a hard game to pull away from. You’ll die. Often. But you’ll also get to improve stuff like attack power, shield strength, health, and more before venturing back out into its world.
If you’re a fan of the Metroidvania experience then really, one look at Sundered should be enough to get you interested. The hand-drawn art and animation is often beautiful to look at, and the way in which it blends the industrial and gothic with fantasy and horror makes it all look quite unlike anything else currently available to play. The word Lovecraftian has been thrown around by some, and if I truly knew what that meant I’d probably be inclined to agree. Some of the creature designs are down-right creepy, as is the overall story that deals with themes of power and the sort of dark and evil corruption that feels otherworldly.
And it’s this corruption that also plays into the overall difficulty, as you’re given the opportunity to corrupt an ability to make it more powerful. Where, going corruption happy can lead to an unwelcome conclusion. Or, the bad ending.
It stuff like this and Sundered’s overall blend of multiple mechanics, stuff that one doesn’t usually associate with the genre, that make it such an interesting experience. Typically, a game in the Metroid or Castlevania style is built around an intricately designed map where exploration is rewarded and character progression leads to new short-cuts and pathways opening up. Sundered, which fits into this mould, also adds random environments into the mix. In addition to its Rogue-lite mechanics where dying leads to being able to spend collected shards on improving your character’s abilities. With this sort of setup, going back to square one, randomly generated levels make perfect sense. If this is your sixth time trying to get to a point on a map, then having a bit of variety in what you see and how you get there is a plus.
In Sundered though, to fit within its very particular genre, a few concessions are made with the overall randomness of the world. Mainly in that the locations of bosses, new upgrades, and special areas and short-cuts always stay the same. If you were to draw a few hypothetical lines between a few hypothetical points - A to B, A to C, C to D, B to E and so forth - it’s the ‘to’ which Sundered randomises. This keeps the overall sense of direction and places within the world in-line with what you’d expect with this style of game -- fixed. Whilst also offering large blocks or chunks of the map that will change, flip, and re-arrange each time you die and begin again. In practice it works rather well, with the only downside being that some of the random tiles can look markedly less impressive than those that, well, aren’t.
With a single attack button combat is kept simple in Sundered, arguably too simple. When you add in a horde mechanic that can at any given moment ramp up the music and flood the screen with a seemingly endless number of enemies, things can devolve to the point where all you’re really doing is mashing a single button. But the further you get, the more the environment comes into play and the more you’ll need to dodge and be aware of what’s going on and where everything is situated. As a primarily melee-based affair, it’s only once new moves are introduced that the overall combat starts to flow and live up to the visuals.
And when you get to the boss battles, that’s where Sundered truly shines.
Featuring some truly impressive design and animation, the various mini and large-scale boss battles offer some of the most rewarding and challenging moments. And with exploration and progression that isn’t strictly linear, quite a few of them can be tackled in any order. Or, if you find yourself a little in the weak or not enough oomph department, can be left alone for quite some time as you run through as much of the map as possible to shore up enough shards to buy a few key upgrades. Being able to tackle most of the bosses in any order, whilst also given access to new areas to explore at regular intervals, the overall loop of Sundered is one that’s hard to shake. Even though your journey begins in the same location every time, Sanctuary, there are enough shortcuts and new pathways to open where accomplishment feels earned.
Compared to the originator of the genre, Super Metroid, this means that all new areas are ultimately accessible from the very first screen.
And even though it has its flaws, with progression tied to many upon many upgrades, the experience unfortunately becomes less about the bosses and cool new areas as it is the repetition. But, you’ll keep coming back. Restarting after dying mid-battle, picking up the pieces and heading back out. Doing the same thing again and again. But, somehow different this time. Slightly more health, a new skill, more damage output, a better understanding of enemy patterns. Sundered, from Thunder Lotus Games, is a Rogue Legacy meets Super Metroid experience that is well worth checking out.