Developer: Thunder Lotus Games Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games Platform(s): PS4, PC
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Hand-drawn animations in video games are having something of a renaissance, and Thunder Lotus’ Sundered might be one of the most beautiful example of just that. Throughout every inch of its eldritch design, it shines as proof of what you can accomplish when you don’t cut corners.
To boil it down, Sundered is a Metroidvania with all the staples you would come to expect. Slow progression tied to backtracking? You bet. Absurdly large bosses that dominate the screen? Don’t doubt it. A difficulty level that will have you smashing your head through a window? And then some.
Sundered doesn’t make a great first impression, even with its sumptuous scapes to admire. It starts off a snail’s pace, making Eshe, your avatar into this underground nightmare, feel severely underpowered and just not that satisfying to play. The basic combo attacks are all you have to get by, but then Sundered begins to bring out the toybox and really let go.
Partnering with the Shining Trapezohedron, Eshe’s guide and the game’s main source of exposition, you are able to upgrade your abilities to either Embrace or Resist the darkness. Embracing is where the real fun lies, allowing you to glide across levels with demonic wings and scuttle up walls like a spider, whereas Resist is more of a neutral experience with plenty of skills that can be unlocked through natural play. If you want to absolutely challenge yourself, Resisting is the way to go, but you will have to be at your very best to overcome the game’s bosses.
Imagine if Shadow of the Colossus was set on a 2D plane and you have some idea of how gargantuan the big bads in Sundered are. During one fight in particular, Eshe is more or less a speck on the battlefield as an enormous “man” on a throne throws all sorts of tricks at her. There’s a lot of scale to be admired with Sundered and especially so for such a small team.
That ambition was tempered by a couple of small problems while playing through on PS4, however. Framerates were often unpredictable at the best of times, though post-launch patches have done a lot to clean things up. Additionally, if you’re looking for a game where you can get behind its protagonist, you may want to look elsewhere – Eshe is a totally blank canvas.
Still, even with a couple of minor bumps along the way, Sundered is a very easy recommendation to anyone with even a passing interest in the macabre. As well as being one of the best games of the year, it’s also one of the hardest, but never unfairly so. Take your time with Sundered and your patience will be rewarded.
“Its lightweight story might not do enough on its own to suck players in, but once everything clicks with Sundered’s combat and exploration, it all comes together as one of the most challenging and rewarding games of 2017 so far.”