The 2014 Playstation Experience was the first videogame convention I ever covered. I was fresh-faced, new to the scene and excited to get my first chance at gaming coverage direct from the show floor. My first appointment was with a Vita game, at a moderately sized booth with a few chairs, tables and a general low-key vibe. Having never picked up a Vita before, I started my demo of Severed, and was so immediately sold on it that I went and bought a Vita three days later in anticipation.
Over a year later, Severed finally comes out this week, a Playstation Vita exclusive game at a time when that has become a rarity more than a common occurrence. Developed by Drinkbox Studios, the same team behind Guacamelee!, Severed makes excellent use of the form factor and design of the Sony handheld, in a way few others have managed to do. It utilizes both the touchscreen and the computing power of the Vita to create something that wouldn’t work as well on any other platform.
Essentially, Severed is the perfect Vita game. It just came at the end of the system’s life.
The Playstation Vita launched in Japan five years ago, with a North American release a short while later in February 2012. It was everything you could have wanted from a Sony handheld—powerful, slim and a battery that could easily sustain a small star for several eons in rest mode. It packed in two analog sticks and a touchscreen, as well as a responsive back panel to accommodate for only having two shoulder buttons. The Vita was a system build to explore new concepts in handheld gaming, to experiment with game types not previously possible and to put some “oomph” in a handheld form factor, in an industry that was looking increasingly towards mobile.
But the games rarely came. Only a few titles released at launch, and the Vita failed to find any significant “killer app” to convince wary consumers to buy it. Those few titles that did make use of the system were often Sony developed; games like Gravity Rush and Tearaway stood alone, and now sit more comfortably in the ecosystem of the Vita’s older sibling, the Playstation 4, as remasters.
Enter Severed, Drinkbox’s hail Mary for the Vita that breathes more life into the system than any game in recent memory. It’s a tale of a girl who loses her arm and family to mysterious forces, who must fight through a demented and torn land to free her loved ones.
Releases on the Vita have always skewed towards ports, or games already releasing elsewhere and making an afterthought appearance on the Vita. The few games truly exclusive to the Vita were niche titles, ones that wouldn’t always appeal to a wider audience, and even some of those (like Persona 4 Golden) were remasters of other games from previous Playstation generations.
Severed is something new, and something fresh, for the Vita. It’s not a port-forward or a reduced version of a console game, but an original game, tailored for the system. As your protagonist Sasha ventures through the lands of Severed, you combat enemies with a sword, slicing and dicing foes into small bits using flicks of your finger on the touchscreen.
Each enemy requires precision and forethought, and as the numbers grow, you have to learn to address threats as they come. One enemy might buff others if left alone, but another outputs a constant stream of offense, a thorn in your side as you try to kill other creatures.
Besides just slashing foes, though, you use the touchscreen for almost everything. You open doors by lifting switches, tap medallions to change day between day and night, eat a fruit (or heart) by tapping away at it, like biting into an actual fruit (or heart). The touchscreen adds a physical feeling to the world of Severed, one that games like Tearaway worked towards creating on the system.
More than that, Severed could have been something to push the Vita further. It’s got a unique look and style, one that is reminiscent of the strange, sometimes-niche games that populated the Vita’s ecosystem. Games like Gravity Rush, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Hotline Miami were defined by their style and look as much as their innovative mechanics, and represented the kind of eccentricity often found on Sony platforms.
But the Vita was never supported enough to give those niche games an audience, and so the tiny console toiled in obscurity. After several years, the Vita has become little more than a bastion for handheld Japanese role-playing games and console indie ports, with the only support from its creators being remote play functionality with Sony’s home console system. It seems almost strange to consider Severed the final point of the system’s lifespan, because it’s felt like the Vita has already been gone for a good while.
Severed arrives as a somber note for the system it was built for. It’s the last note of life for a neglected handheld that’s been slowly dying since the day it was released—a swan song for a handheld long forgotten, and a glimpse at what might have been. If you still own one of Sony’s consoles, you owe it to yourself to pick up Severed; it’s the main reason I bought a Vita, and now, it’s likely one of the last reasons I’ll turn mine on.
Eric Van Allen is a Texas-based writer. You can follow his e-sports and games rumblings @seamoosi on Twitter.