Sundered can best be described as a hand drawn Metroidvania with buttery smooth combat mechanics. That might be enough to convince some people to try the game but it’s really so much more than that simple one-sentence pitch.
During my almost fours hours with the pre-alpha build of the game, I went through quite the journey. Things started off simple enough: you are free to explore the 2d world and soon begin to be chased by monsters. You see, enemies in Sundered aren’t just waiting around in rooms for you to take them on each time you visit. Instead, these creatures suddenly appear out of the corners of the screen and race towards you. They are fast and aggressive but easily dispatched with your robust arsenal of melee attacks– at least at first.
Melee combat is all handled via one button but there are different moves on the ground vs in the air and different control stick directions alter the attacks. Think Super Smash Bros. but ten times faster. The system works well and feels fantastic. You’ll also be all but required to use the different directional attacks as a means of much needed crowd control. When things get a little too hairy, you can turn to your handy and powerful gun to blast away enemies. However, it has a limited ammo supply and its knockback is enough to toss your character across the room. Smart usage of this powerful weapon is advised.
The bulk of the combat sticks to melee where the combos are seemingly endless and many enemies cannot fight back when they are hit. This might lull you into a false sense of security during the opening moments of what I played. But after some more exploration, you fall down an enormous pit and the camera pans backward to show the massive scale of it all. It is at the bottom of this pit where you’ll fight your first of many enemy swarms.
The ground is covered with them. They run up and down the walls, constantly seeking to do you harm. In the air are several demons coyly firing projectiles as three hulking creatures teleport closer to you. It’s pure chaos but after a minute, you’re able to fight your way through it all, albeit barely. It is during these moments that the potential of Sundered truly shines through. And there are many, many moments like that.
Sometimes, the screen ends up being so covered with enemies moving every which way that you’ll lose track of where you are, often ending in death. It’s an annoyance that can happen in an instant but it can be mostly avoided by smart positioning.
The world itself is mostly procedurally generated and exploration is a lot of fun. The cavern I explored twisted and turned in unexpected ways, moving almost in circles sometimes. It’s unorthodox but a very welcome change from the traditional Metroidvania style. This is amplified by the new abilities you’ll find.
I got to test out two new abilities in the pre-alpha, but I won’t spoil what they were. I will say they had great implications for both combat and exploration. The new abilities also unlock more branches of a skill tree for you to use to improve your stats.
Everything from gun damage to shield recharge can be upgraded. That’s right, there’s a rechargeable shield ala Halo in this game. It’s a super smart idea that I can’t recall being in a game like this before. There are also perks to further augment your character, although many of them have significant trade-offs.
Exploring and leveling up creates a fun loop that encourages you to dive deeper into the world. Each time you die, the general layout of the world remains unchanged — the boss will always be to the left of the main room — but the path to get there will be different. This, and the fact that enemy attacks can happen at almost any time, makes each venture unique.
The Sundered pre-alpha ends with a boss encounter on the scale of Shadow of the Colossus. There were other mini-bosses before, but this thing is the real deal. While it doesn’t have too many attacks, learning its pattern was a blast and watching its final moments was tremendously satisfying.
I have minor gripes with Sundered such as the double jump feeling a bit floaty, and getting lost in large scale battles, but I really enjoyed my time with the pre-alpha. The excellent combat propels the exploration and is encouraged by the unlockable abilities that are amplified by the skill tree… it’s fantastic. This game has the potential to be big hit when it releases this July and I can’t wait to experience the final game and explore to my heart’s content.