Your visceral reaction to that word is going to be the main determining factor in whether or not you are going to want to stop reading this article right now in order to go pledge for Sundered immediately, or if you will need a bit of convincing. If you are still with me, let me tell you why you might want to give Sundered some serious consideration, especially if you are a fan of roguelikes, Dark Souls/Souls-likes, or bullet-hell games.
The first, and most obvious feature of Sundered, is its gorgeous, hand-drawn, smoothly animated graphics. The game looks great, from the shifting, semi-procedural levels and rooms, to the enormous boss enemies, through the extremely tight animations on Eshe, the hero character. I’ve played through the entirety of the game’s second (of three) areas, and even in its pre-alpha state the game had eye-candy galore. Depending on the size of the room that you are in, the camera could be tight in on your character, allowing you to appreciate the little details that go into the character design, or the camera might pan out significantly, giving a broader view of some of the environment and allowing you to see some of the truly massive set-pieces in their entirety.
The framerate is consistently good, with the only notable stuttering occurring after each death, when the game would re-organize the procedural sections of the map. That reorganization is a really neat touch, because it keeps exploration interesting, even when you find yourself needing to traverse an area again and again after death. The overall layout of the level remained the same, but most of the individual rooms would shift around and change, keeping things interesting. It will be interesting to see how, if they take notice of the game, speed-runners react to the procedural nature of the game, and its shifting layout.
Looking good and flowing smoothly give the game a great first impression, but games like this live and die by their controls and, if anything, Sundered’s controls are even more impressive than its visuals. The controls in the game feel amazing (of note: all of my time with the game was spent on PC using a wired Xbox 360 controller), and it’s easy and intuitive to pull off wall-jumps, dashes, and attack combinations. I was actually surprised at how easy some of the moves were. Everything felt tight, and it was easy to flow from move to move without getting frustrated. Eshe moves exactly where you want, when you want, making the process of moving around in the environments as pleasurable to do as it is to see.
Sundered isn’t all beauty and pleasantries though. Enemy spawns are dynamic, and there are times where gigantic swarms of enemies would show up and absolutely obliterate me. Death is an expected means to an end in Sundered, though. As you explore the game and defeat enemies, you will be rewarded with shards, and with each death you respawn in the Hub, where you can upgrade your stats and make you more powerful and survivable by spending the shards that you’ve collected since your last death/trip to the Hub. Areas that were crawling with tough, nearly impossible enemies became playgrounds for me as I grew in power, giving the game a very Dark Souls like sense of progression.
In classic Metroidvania style, there are various skills and powers that can be discovered and unlocked, granting you new moves that can be used to access areas that were previously locked. Where barriers once kept you at bay, new paths and shortcuts open as you play through the world, granting access to even deadlier enemies and even better rewards. Sundered puts its own spin on the major powers in the game, giving players the choice of corrupting their abilities. Corrupted abilities are much more powerful, but they come at the cost of some of Eshe’s humanity and, while the demo I played had essentially no story, the story, and the ending of the game, will hinge upon the player’s choice of whether or not to corrupt their abilities.
Even with the gorgeous visuals, tight controls, fun exploration, and satisfying progression, the absolute highlight (and immense source of frustration) was the ENORMOUS boss that brought the demo to a close. The skeleton-mech-spider … thing … put all of my skills and hard-earned abilities and power-ups to the test in a multi-stage, escalating fight that had me ready to smash my controller to pieces in one moment and pumping my fist in euphoria the next. The boss provides a mix of pixel perfect platforming, chaining mid-air combo attacks, spacial awareness, and even a touch of bullet-hell that really cemented my desire to play more of this game as soon as I can. Not since the Ornstein and Smough fight in the original Dark Souls have I felt that perfect cocktail of ruthlessly outclassed, frustrated, and determined as I did against this boss. I felt like the game was cheating, and I died. I felt like I was getting the attack patterns down, and I died. I got within one hit of killing the boss, and I died. And I died. And I died. And, you guessed it, I died. But, as with Dark Souls, I persevered, and I got better, and I overcame, and I exulted in my win.
All told, I spent a little over three hours with Sundered, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the game has to offer. It’s up on Kickstarter now, with a campaign that runs until February 16th, 2017. All of the early bird pledges are gone, but the game on Steam, PS4, or GoG can still be had for a pledge of $20 Canadian. If you are interested in the soundtrack, you can get both it and the game for CA$30. If you want access to the alpha, a digital art book, and your name in the credits, you will need to pledge $50. A PC-only physical copy of the game can be had for a pledge of CA$100, and if you really want to show Thunder Lotus Games your support, you can pledge at the Resist or the Embrace tiers for CA$250, and you can get immortalized in the game as a fallen Valkyrie Elite or a fallen Eschaton Fanatic respectively.
According to the Kickstarter, backers can expect to receive their copies of the game in July of 2017. Thunder Lotus is only asking for CA$25,000 (the game has already reached that funding goal) because they have already secured most of the game’s CA$700,000 budget from revenues of their previous game Jotun, as well as funding from the Canadian Media Fund.