Sundered Review — A Beautiful and Dangerous World
The “Metroidvania” genre is one that needs little introduction outside of Sundered: The player runs through levels and discovers a wall that they can’t get behind until they acquire a certain skill. Yes, there might be way more to these games that that, but for most part Metroidvania games are driven by responsive gameplay and upgrades that keep the player interesting in coming back. Throughout most of the genre’s titles, story takes the backseat and allows the gameplay to take the wheel at delivering a solid gaming experience.
Sundered is no exception to having the core elements that fans request from the genre. However, after playing through the game, it’s evident that developer Thunder Lotus wanted to squeeze a little bit more out of what people expect from a Metroidvania. So let’s take a look at these systems and see just what this indie team has brought to the genre and to gamers everywhere.
Sundered opens up with little narrative about what is going on in the world or where you’re at exactly. All the player is given is a scene where protagonist Eshe is walking through a desert and stumbles into a hidden world full of secrets and power beyond anyone’s dreams. After gaining the power to attack at the game’s HUB area, the Sanctuary, It’s clear that Eshe is motivated by a goal — but you’re not sure what that is. From early on in gameplay to later parts of the game, Eshe’s secrets are what kept me wanting to go forward.
Throughout Sundered, players are offered powers that can definitely make the game easier. However, by doing so, it’s clear that Eshe begins to go through physical changes as she gains more of these strange powers. That being said, I didn’t have to accept the power, but during my time with the game, I definitely did because who doesn’t want more power? These choices do have an affect on the outcome of the story.
The areas crafted within Sundered are as beautiful as they are dangerous. The game allows little time to soak in your surroundings before a horde of enemies comes rushing at you. With only a general direction to go in, there are procedurally generated sections of the game that will change after every death. From time to time, I encountered the same room layout that I remembered passing through from a past life, but this approach to level design kept me on my feet and never allowed me to feel comfortable in any area.
I’d also like to add that I never felt like I was lost when trying to get from point A to point B, a typical downside when it comes to Metroidvania type games. The map is rather useful and displays locked paths and explorable door ways. When passing through to a new area the game will tell you the name of the area you are in, but a change of theme is usually a good clue that you’ve made it to a new place. These themes change quite often depending on which part of the world you are in. There are three main zones divided by separate pathways from the Sanctuary, two of which are locked at the start.
While attempting to explore every inch of the map, I came into contact with a lot of enemies. Depending on where you are, the enemies will more or less fit the theme of the setting. For example: you wont seen a Hunter enemy in the jungle, but you’ll be sure to encounter many of them in the more industrial type levels.
I must admit that it’s tough to quickly attempt to destroy these enemies because part of me just wanted to stop and look at how cool their designs are. The animations of Eshe’s attacks and the enemy’s movements flows perfectly as if you were watching a cartoon. My favorite animations from the game would have to be the explosions because they remind me so well of television shows that I loved growing up such as Batman: The Animated Series.
Every enemy design is unique, which in reciprocated by the enemy’s attack pattern. Some will shoot at Eshe, attempt to sneak up under her, or simply run into her for a melee attack. There are times when exploring where you’ll encounter a special area with an item, which should be a good thing, but instead you are locked in and enemies will rain down from every direction in an attempt to kill you. It’s in these hectic moments where your skills up until now are tested in how well you utilize Eshe’s abilities, but we’ll get into those soon.
In addition to enemy rushes, there are mini-bosses that will need to be taken out in order to acquire shards, which will grant the player hidden powers. However, none of these enemy’s can be compared to what awaits players at the main boss rooms. These enormous and beautifully designed bosses are as difficult as they are fun. The first boss took me around ten tries to master his pattern and take him out. The rush of excitement and joy I felt after that battle was indescribable, I felt like I could take on anything only to die minutes later in the following area.
Dying isn’t the worst thing that can happen in Sundered, that spot is saved for when a horde rushes you when you have extremely low health. Although, a semi-long load time follows each death which can add to the frustration of losing your progress. Instead, death is celebrating by giving you a chance to upgrade Eshe and take her back into the cave one more time. You’ll acquire more abilities in the later parts of the game, but everything stems from a path in the skill tree, which is accessed at the Sanctuary. This is your chance to spend gems obtained from fighting hundreds of enemies in your travels. Thunder Lotus included a nice table that shows exactly what was upgraded and all of Eshe’s stats. By spending gems on Armor, Shield, Health, Gun Damage, etc. Eshe will become more and more powerful making traveling through the early parts of the game much easier in case something was passed up.
In addition to stat upgrades, perks can be added to Eshe, which are found while exploring and from enemies. However, these perks usually have pros and cons that needed to be taken into consideration. There was a perk that I found made the game a lot easier as it restored my shield after every enemy I killed. Meaning, it was possible for me to survive long battles if I just save the smaller enemies for later and use them to generate shield. There are plenty of perks to be discovered and played around with, which adds to customizing Eshe as you see fit.
Sundered is chaotic, beautiful, and addictive. The passion and dedication that developer Thunder Lotus put into this game is shown in every second of gameplay. I’m sure there are some that feel like the Metroidvania genre is overrated or overused, but Sundered is so much more and their approach is truly refreshing.
The story of Eshe is confusing and mysterious. Throughout the game there are many questions to be asked about what her goal is or how she feels about her unfortunate predicament. However, these questions fade as the drive to fulfill Eshe’s unspeakable goal consumed me. I didn’t care why she was doing it, I just knew that it must be important enough to put up with all of this to obtain it and that was enough for me. Parts of me wish Sundered never ended, but I was satisfied with the conclusion which made me look back at the choices I made and wonder: if I did it again again, would I embrace or resist this power?