Posted on 13 Sep 2017 by KillingArts

Sundered

The Defence

Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie
Platform: Consoles, Mac, PC
Review copy: No
Release date: 28 Jul 2017

The Prosecution

Minimum
OS: Linux, Windows
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.8 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 260
AMD equivalent
RAM: 4 GB
HDD: 3 GB
DirectX: 10
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

Sundered is a metroidvania-style platformer with beautiful, hand-drawn, Lovecraft-inspired graphics from Thunder Lotus Games who are known for Jotun, their first game. Sundered has, quite similar to Jotun, an art style that reminds very much of 80s cartoons, though gameplay-wise, it is very different. While Jotun was extremely slow (remember the two-second-long heavy attack?), Sundered is the exact opposite. Quick movement, hordes of fast enemies and a constant feeling of urgency.

The Trial

We play as a woman called Eshe wandering through a sandstorm, on the search for something, when suddenly tentacles rise up, pull us beneath the ground and leave us in a strange underground world. We are alone – at least for the tutorial section of the game. We are trapped in this place and we need to find a way to escape. Soon we encounter the Shining Trapezohedron, a dark spirit that offers to be our weapon (yes, he will literally be our melee weapon) and to guide us through this world and its dangers. We are glad to have at least a chance to survive this nightmare but at the same time we can’t help but doubt the intentions of this mysterious being.

After this we delve right into the first of three big sections of the game. The sections differ in terms of enemy types, difficulty and the art style. Although the landscape looks quite lovely at first, it doesn’t take long to realize that this world is full of aggressive creatures that want nothing more than our death. Here we already reached the first element of the game that might not be for everyone; enemies spawn randomly in Sundered, and they often do so in hordes. It is not uncommon to see 30 or more creatures, all trying to deplete both your HP bar and your recharging shield as quickly as possible. Sometimes these hordes are simply overwhelming. Make no mistake, you will die, more than once, and sometimes – especially in the first few hours of the game – it will feel as if you didn’t even have a chance.

Getting new abilities never gets old.

On top of that, Sundered has a slight rogue-like element to it, meaning that if you die you will always respawn back at the Trapezohedron’s Tree. So, if you died in what you felt was an unfair situation, right before you reached your destination, you are back at square one and have to travel the whole distance again – this can occasionally be frustrating. In Sundered’s defence though, travelling long distances and backtracking is part of most metroidvania games. Often you have to travel through ten rooms again anyway which doesn’t make it that different from Sundered. The levels are designed in a way, so that the travelling distance is always manageable. There are shortcuts that can make your life a lot easier, and the three main sections are all easily accessible from the starting point. So, while I believe the rogue-like attempt was unnecessary in this game, at the same time it’s not nearly as inconvenient as it might first seem. I should also mention, that you don’t lose any of your progress when dying, you keep everything you collected so far.

Anyway, we just died our first death and are back to the beginning – Trapezohedron’s Tree. This tree lets us buy upgrades for all the orbs we collected on the way. Defeated enemies sometimes drop these orbs, and there are treasures hidden everywhere that hold large quantities of them. Upgrades can be divided into two categories: first there are small, incremental stat upgrades, lots and lots of them. You can boost your HP or shield, your damage, or other values with these. Then there are bigger upgrades, that usually give you a very noticeable boost. This can be something like 30% more damage, or even a new perk slot. Did I already mention perks? Those are really important and can heavily influence the way you play the game. For example you could increase your damage by a considerable amount while at the same time decreasing your HP by that same amount with Sharp Edge. If you are confident in your evasive abilities, trading HP for damage might be exactly what you need. You could also try to use this perk just for a specific boss fight. Not that good for boss fights, but all the better for fighting the hordes is Shield Absorb which gives you back a percentage of your total shield capacity every time you kill an enemy. Combine that with Shield Converter, which converts half your HP to shield energy – but sets your HP to 1 – and you can confidently confront the biggest enemy hordes. As long as you manage to regain more shield than you lose by killing enough enemies that is. Do you want to casually farm the earlier stages? Then equip Golden Charm and enjoy a higher orb drop rate when defeating enemies. Perks have a big impact on the game and discovering new ones is always exciting.

We bought as many upgrades as possible and made our way back to where we last died. The enemy hordes are tough but we manage to stay alive. We find our first ability shrine, and we now have a recharging shield! That makes life a lot easier. There are quite a few abilities to be gain in Sundered. Over the course of the game you will find a double jump, a dash move, a laser gun, a grappling hook, and more. Every new ability allows you to access new areas you couldn’t reach before. While the abilities are certainly fun, I personally was hoping for more. There are only seven of them, most being pretty standard, like the double jump. The shield we just found is even a passive one. Two or three more abilities, maybe with a little more creativity, could have worked wonders.

The third section has the most interesting enemies and extremely vertical gameplay.

We encounter our first mini-boss. Each of the main sections has three of them and one actual boss. The mini-bosses are usually a bigger version of standard enemies. They are different enough to be interesting though. In this case it is Model LutherX09. This is the big version of the meteoroid, an enemy you will encounter often in the first section of the game. He is accompanied by lots of his smaller brothers and the fight gets very hectic very quickly. Still, we manage to defeat him and get our first shard fragment, three of those form a complete shard. Later we can use those shards to corrupt our abilities, meaning we alter them to our advantage. For instance we can use a shard to alter our double jump so that we can glide long distances after making the jump. These corrupted abilities can be of great help in certain situations. But be aware that corrupting abilities also means you give in to the evil spirit. This significantly affects the finale of the game. Not only do your choices determine which of the three endings you will see, there also are two completely different boss fights, depending on whether you chose to become evil or resisted.

We fight our way through the rest of the section, defeat the two other mini-bosses and make our way to the section boss. We now reach what are the obvious highlight of the game. Bosses are huge, extremely well drawn, and have just the right difficulty. They all are quite challenging, but it usually won’t take you more than a few tries to defeat each of them – maybe with the exception of the final boss, and even then depending on which one you face. All bosses are well designed and impress with their size alone. The camera usually has to zoom out so much that it is easy to lose track of your character.

We continue to fight our way through the world of Sundered, we get stronger, find new perks and abilities, and fight new enemies. While we do that, we notice more and more how uninspired the generated rooms are. Here there are fixed rooms that are the same in every run, those are the big ones that contain something special. This can be a boss fight, an ability shrine or something of the sort. The rooms in between are randomly generated though and while I generally don’t despise the idea of keeping the world fresh and presenting something new to the player after every death – it’s just not very well implemented. You quickly notice the patterns they use to form those rooms. Sometimes you enter a new room and experience déjà-vu. You see the exact same treasure, hidden behind the exact same arrangement of pipes. The random generation also produces unnecessary dead ends. It’s not fun to decent into an abyss just to realize that there is absolutely nothing at the bottom.

Sundered deserves an award for the visuals alone.

Nonetheless, we fight our way through hordes of enemies, gather all the abilities and most of the perks, and get strong enough to master the third section of the game. This is by far the biggest one and has way more verticality than the other two. It also has the hardest enemies in the game. We defeat the nine mini-bosses and three main bosses and feel great while doing all that. The typical metroidvania rush consumes us. After we defeat the final boss, which was by far the hardest one, we are very satisfied with the game. Still, we can’t help but think this game could have been so much better if it weren’t for a few questionable design decisions.

The Verdict

I enjoyed my time with Sundered, a lot. If you like metroidvania games, you definitely should take a look at this one. The art style is fantastic, the controls are smooth, and the boss fights are impressive in their design and sheer scale. The question you have to ask yourself is, can you overlook the lackluster random room generation? Is the horde system something you are able to enjoy? If there is a horde that simply overwhelms you and leaves you with the feeling that you didn’t have any chance – will might get frustrated, or do you rather see it as a challenge and head on back right away? I personally loved the horde system. But know there are people who will hate it, maybe even to the point that will make them stop playing. Sundered is a good game but it certainly is not for everyone and it could have been so much better with just a few tweaks here and there. It is a worthy new entry in a long list of metroidvania-style games…but it can’t quite keep up with the big ones. Still, I had a hell of a time with it.

Case Review

  • Art Style: The beautiful hand-drawn graphics and animations are reminiscent of old 80s cartoons.

  • Enemy Variety: Enemies look and behave very differently. Small and fast, or big, slow and with extreme range. It’s all there.

  • Spot-on Controls: Even near the end of the game with all abilities unlocked I rarely miss-controlled anything.

  • Brilliant Boss Fights: They are huge, challenging and pretty to look at. They also have a tendency to get harder the more you hurt them. The bosses really get the adrenaline pumping!

  • Horde System: Some will love it (like me), some will absolutely hate it. The difficulty spikes will definitely throw some people off.

  • Random Room Generation: Luckily only parts of the world are randomly generated because it is easy to spot it. You can sometimes make out reoccurring patterns in these generated rooms and you will encounter unnecessary dead ends.

  • Lackluster Abilities: There are not enough of them nor do they stand out.

  • Cluttered Upgrade System: Could have been more interesting. There are too many small incremental stat upgrades.

4 Score: 4/5
A great metroidvania game held back by some questionable design decisions.

Evidence

  • Video: It is a 2D game, so not that much to configure here. You can set texture detail and toggle VSync. 21:9 resolutions are properly supported.
  • Audio: Five separate audio sliders leave little else to be desired.
  • Controls: Both keyboard and gamepad are fully rebindable. As with most platformers, I recommend a gamepad, keyboard works fine as well, though.
3.5 Score: 3.5/5

Sundered might be all about nightmarish Lovecraftian monsters and Cthulhu’s horrific extended family, but for as monstrous as the creatures look, the game is a beauty. The affectionately self-dubbed “meat swamp” and “Angels May Cry” areas are gorgeous zones to run, leap, climb, and plummet through too as the camera zooms in and out to show you the scale of the world you’re exploring. Somehow Thunder Lotus Games have made gnashing teeth and sloppy tentacles nice to look at through gorgeous animation, and that visual quality is something special in the rogue-lite genre.

As with most metroidvanias, the beginning is slow, but as you unlock abilities that can be used both to navigate the environment and fight enemies, things become more interesting. While it’s sad that most of the ability’s utility are zone-specific, and that the rogue-lite’s few generated tiles wear out their welcome a little too quick, opportunities to use and master the abilities are satisfying, especially if you level them up with elder shards.

The hordes that swarm you are what make Sundered unique though. After an unmistakeable gonging, you’ll be pursued by seemingly endless (well-animated) enemies. It’s frantic, it’s thrilling, and it becomes tedious after the twenty times. While Eshe has good attacks, there’s no block in Sundered, meaning that your choices boil down to rolling and attacking like in Dark Souls, or running away. The closest thing I can compare it to is a zombie horde in Left 4 Dead where the numbers are unbelievable and chances of survival are low, but unlike Coach, Eshe gets a double jump, roll, wall jump, and other metroidvania movement abilities that make flight WAY easier than fight. While it’s an interesting mechanic, it can make combat easier to ignore than to play at times.

Comments (1)


Posts: 286
L Coulsen
Posted 14 Sep 2017, 06:40
DX10? Dafuq o.O