[Disclosure: I supported Sundered on Kickstarter, though it has no bearing on my final review score.]

It takes a lot these days to really set yourself apart in the Metroidvania pool. You’ve got to have all the standard bases covered, such as the sprawling map, ample amounts of backtracking, secret areas, and locked gates that are opened by finding new tools. Sundered has all of these, but manages to stand out by being a feast for the senses. The team at Thunder Lotus games excel at artistic design and that’s immediately apparent when play begins.

While wandering through the open space of a seemingly vast desert, a warrior is dragged down into a massive underground lair via some dark tendrils. She meets soon after with the Shining Trapezoid, who speaks to her in a language crafted specifically for the game. It’s always a disturbing experience when its voice echoes through the chambers – a demonic resonance with gurgling and guttural noises that makes it sound as if it’s bubbling up from somewhere deep. These moments are brief, though, with major events of the past only revealed through interacting with special crystal chambers. Piecing it all together takes some work and, even then, a majority of it is left to speculation.

One of the many shrines you'll come across while playing.

One of the many shrines you’ll come across while playing.

The dark voice is merely one aspect of a fantastically atmospheric game. As one might expect from a work that draws so heavily on the Lovecraftian aesthetic, the mood is conveyed more through its look than almost anything else. Almost everything is hand-painted, be it the twisted landscapes or the animation of each of the creatures. The areas range from wide, open-air regions to cramped tunnels which wrap in and around themselves. They each have their own unique style when it comes to their landscape design and the enemies that await within. While exploring, the sound design lends an additional layer of tension, barely there until the blast of the dreaded gong signals the coming of something terrible.

As Eshe explores the compound, she’s hounded by the relentless pursuit of its demonic occupants. Rather than focused fights dealing with a small number of enemies at any given time, though, the warrior is tasked with facing wave after wave after wave after wave of enemies any time the gong sounds. They will follow her through rooms, past barriers. Flight is an option, but it’s almost as difficult as standing to fight given that enemies are relentless and often just as fast as Eshe. Plus, many can fly and/or attack while passing through walls that Eshe cannot.

Against overwhelming odds

Against overwhelming odds

One thing that really impedes the choice to flee is the procedurally generated sections of the game. Though the overall map will always be the same, with the boss rooms and shrines in the same place no matter what playthrough it is, certain “rooms” are divided into segments which are randomized each time the player dies. This can be incredibly aggravating when, as often happened to me in the second area, I was trying to go from one area to another and hit dead end after dead end in the same room, forcing me to turn back and take huge detours while baddies were in hot pursuit. So often it was just slightly less irritating to choose to fight.

The gong is an ever present threat from start to finish, no matter how many areas have been completely cleared out. Unfortunately, there’s hardly any strategy involved in taking a single enemy out – they have incredibly predictable patterns, usually consisting of just one attack repeated over and over, and rely on sheer numbers to wear down the player’s health. Given the overwhelming numbers of baddies, it can be exhilarating to dance around the screen, using every skill at your disposal to take on all comers. But it can also be incredibly frustrating – knowing how to take out the enemy but dying simply because there’s a large swarm. And this will likely happen quite a bit. At the beginning of the game, it’s slightly aggravating, maddening at worst, especially given the atrociously long loading times on the console version. But even at the end of it all, when I was more than capable of handling a hoard with minimal damage, hearing that gong elicited a sigh and another eye-roll of annoyance.

The extensive skill tree

The extensive skill tree

Survivability is all about getting a handle on Eshe’s skills. She starts out with a very limited set of skills – jump, attack, and dodge. She has different ways to grow up, though. One is through the shrines placed in various areas. Find one and it will unlock useful skills like the double jump. Another is through collecting currency from defeated enemies and spending them at the shrine hub to increase stats. Defeating bosses and sub-bosses also leads to new paths for empowering the warrior via the shards and crystals they drop. There are also a number of perks to find in the field, which provide a powerful benefit when equipped, but they also come with some sort of drawback. For example, one perk will raise your chance of a critical hit by 20% but lowers your health by 30%, while another regenerates ammo for your cannon but lowers your melee damage.

There are a number of different ways to play, and the game does have multiple endings to encourage players to come back and try out something new, though it is worth noting that the only real change is the final boss. An entire playthrough will likely take about 6 hours, though subsequent games will likely be shorter once the routes are known. As much as the atmosphere makes for a powerful first impression, the combat is really the hardest sell here. Given how often it occurs, how exactly you feel about being constantly chased by massive hordes of enemies will ultimately determine just how much you’re likely to enjoy the game.

KAIJU VERDICT

2/4 Pops: Decent  There might be problems that mount up and prevent it from being a top tier game, or it might not do enough to quite make it stand out, but a 2 can still be an enjoyable experience that the curious should try.

Review based on a digital version of the game played on a PS4 Pro.

Review code supplied by the developer as a Kickstarter reward.

 

 

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