With Sundered, Thunder Lotus Games (the developers behind action-adventure game Jotun) tries something new, offering players a 2D action-adventure Metroidvania title that brings their signature flare for epic, hand-drawn animation and challenging combat to the mix. While their newest offering isn’t perfect and the difficulty might be quite high for some, Sundered is a worthy adventure for those that can muster the challenge.
Developed and published by Thunder Lotus Games
Available on the PC and PS4. Reviewed on the PC.
*Review code provided by Thunder Lotus Games
Sundered tells the story of a young woman known as Eshe, a wanderer who upon journeying across a punishing desert arrives at a mysterious location where she is consumed by horrible, reaching tentacles. Summoned by the unknown eldritch being known as the Trapezohedron who resides in a crystal, and who offers her a weapon to defend herself in the dangerous caverns below that are full of deadly and strange creatures, Eshe must fight to survive and find a way out alive, either by embracing the alien power offered to her or by rejecting it completely.
The plot in Sundered is light but also very intriguing, as it develops slowly through the actions of the player and is hidden in the details of the environment itself – such as players encountering strange sentient crystals that reveal some of the backstory, and backgrounds that are full of revealing alien tools and architecture – rather than walls of dialogue. It’s a great way to tell the tale as players slowly unravel the mysteries of the caverns, the beings in the crystals and those who originally explored the alien ruins naturally, rather than relying on heavy exposition.
The presentation is also superb, with Thunder Lotus once again nailing the hand-drawn visuals, presenting an excellent mesh of fantasy and sci-fi that is gorgeous and frightening at the same time. The animation is silky smooth, and the backgrounds present a beautifully detailed, colorful, enthralling and dreadful world where mad science is entwined with the ruins of a foreign world. The character and creature designs are also fantastic, with a nice variety of enemies composed of robotic contraptions and alien monstrosities, as well as epic bosses that surprise both in detail and scale.
Sundered’s gameplay is familiar if you’ve played any Metroidvania game, with players exploring a large, mysterious world full of multiple paths and areas from a 2D perspective and doing battle with hundreds of enemies who stand in the way as you seek upgrades to traverse previously unreachable locations. Players initially start out with a basic set of skills, like an attack and a dodge roll, as well as the ability to heal themselves by using health orbs collected from fallen foes. This will limit players to only exploring certain areas until they find an upgrade that gives them additional abilities, such as a shield, a double jump, a grappling hook and more, allowing them to revisit areas that were previously unreachable in order to move on and get access to even more powerful additions to their arsenal. Additionally the resist or embrace twist comes into play here, as players can improve their abilities by corrupting them at the cost of humanity, gaining additional features but transforming Eshe.
Along the way, players will encounter enemies that will attempt to defeat Eshe, and combat in Sundered is both enjoyable and annoying. The reason why is because it seems that enemies are randomly spawned as players navigate the labyrinth-like caverns, and they spawn in waves of dozens that can easily fill the screen and overwhelm Eshe easily. While it’s quite enjoyable at first to swing a blade around and hack into monster after monster, it gets tiresome pretty quickly when every couple of screens a new wave of enemies surrounds the player and relentlessly attack, causing Eshe to dodge and retaliate over and over again to clear them out. It also seems that enemies also follow you and spawn at your location no matter where you go, so it also hard to run through areas to get to the next point without having to clear hundreds of enemies standing in your way, which can be aggravating if you’re trying to get back to a place quickly. Boss battles are actually the highlight the game though, as players face off against massive and dangerous foes and learn to recognize patterns to get the edge in battle. They are extremely challenging, but the scale, beauty and epicness of these encounters makes the struggle worthwhile.
While combat is repetitive and Eshe will die quite often thanks to neverending swarms of enemies that love to fill the screen with their numbers, players will be able to upgrade their stats by collecting essence dropped from fallen enemies and corrupted treasure sacks found throughout the caverns. The robust upgrade system offers the chance to improve Eshe’s attack, armor, shield, health and more, as well as upgrading her stamina meter for dodging, adding the use of perks, etc. Players will always get a chance to upgrade upon death or a return to the sanctuary, so while dying is always annoying, at least players can come back stronger as long as they collect shards.
The biggest difference that sets Sundered apart from your traditional Metroidvania game is that the cavern changes every time Eshe dies, presenting different layouts, rooms, enemy waves, and more when she dives in again. While the overall layout remains the same, and players known where they have to go thanks to a map, each section has transforming rooms that change within. This adds challenge to the game by keeping players on their toes as they navigate the ever dangerous caverns and face the unknown horrors within, and is a nice touch that adds tons of replayability to the game.
When it comes down to it, Sundered is a solid Metroidvania game that has some great elements, and some that are not so great. While the hand-drawn animation is top-notch, the story is thrilling, the procedurally generated stages are fun, and the boss battles are fantastic, the general wave-based combat is extremely tedious and repetitive, and fighting against huge hordes of enemies at the same time gets tiresome quickly. Still, with various paths to take through the game as well as different endings to experience, Sundered is a worthy adventure to check out despite its flaws.