Jotun, the first game release from Thunder Lotus Games, was a total breath of fresh air right when the indie revolution was starting to stall out a bit. Featuring hand drawn artwork, punishingly difficult gameplay and massive bosses, the game was heaped with praise, including in our own review. Now the makers of that game are back with Sundered, tackling the Metroidvania genre this time around. While it certainly borrows a lot from other similar titles, Sundered stands head and shoulders above its competition, once again offering a truly unique and fantastically crafted adventure.
In Sundered you play as Eshe, a blank slate of a character who is stuck within an underground labyrinth. By exploring the caverns, fighting enemies, and collecting power ups and abilities you will slowly make your way to freedom. There are bigger forces at play here though, and players will have to choose whether to embrace this dark power, or resist it. But the real star here isn’t the bare bones story, the plot really just colors the experience. Instead it’s all about the gameplay as you adventure through massive areas, unlocking new areas along the way, and exploring three distinct levels full of dangerous foes, including some tough bosses. As expected, this involved a lot of backtracking, power unlocking, and all the usual Metroidvania tropes.
And not to avoid any indie game trend, Sundered also fits in some Rouge-like elements. Death is a part of the game, as you are immediately transported all the way back to the Sanctuary, Sundered’s main hub. The whole world won’t change around you, thankfully, though some parts will shift around a bit. Before diving back in though you will spend XP on various powerups spread around an unlock tree. Deal more damage, beef up your armor, or add abilities to your character. Each time you come back to the Sanctuary you leave in better shape to beat the game.
There’s certainly no shortage of indie Metroidvania games out there. It feels like a new one is announced at least once a day, and the genre quickly became saturated. This has been compounded recently by Early Access, with tons of indie devs releasing unfinished projects then iterating on them endlessly. Sundered waded right into all of these things that annoy myself as well as tons of other gamers, but they came out the other side having proven their ability and showing others how it should be done. This was apparent early on as I played the early access version of Sundered, coming away saying “Sundered should be on every gamer’s “must-play” list for 2017”.
Sundered takes the indie, Metroidvania genre to new heights
The final release of Sundered delivers on all of the promise that its early access build held. The game is simply a blast to play and hits all the right notes for a Metroidvania style experience. Controls are tight, the map is full of interesting nooks and crannies, and it’s simply a joy to explore the map. The levels are well designed, and it was a very wise move to not go completely down the Rouge-like path, with only certain rooms altering their layout throughout the game. This does cause some frustration though as the map can be filled with odd dead ends that don’t really make a lot of sense.
Exploration is key, as expected from a Metroidvania style game. Players will come to roadblocks that they can’t pass, then find the power that gets them through. Heading back to the area with this new ability, such as the double jump, unlocks whole new sections of the map to explore and plunder. You’ll end up spending hours of your time backtracking though, which can be a fun experience of course, but will grate on some as the time stacks up.
Each of the three levels has a unique look and feel, including its own slate of enemies to fight. Combat is mostly done via melee weapons, though some later abilities allow ranged attacks. The game often throws tons of enemies at you all at once, with the screen filled with creatively designed monsters. Things get pretty frantic, especially in the larger arenas, as you have to dodge attacks, fight whatever is near you, and avoid traps and pitfalls. And it all looks gorgeous as Thunder Lotus once again delivers a hand drawn masterpiece.
Sundered looks like almost no other video game, save the developer’s previous work, Jotun. Hand drawn worlds are populated by beautiful and colorful creatures. Animation is the real wonder though as characters move fluidly, hearkening back to old school cartoons. There were times where I simply sat and looked at the game, marveling at what Thunder Lotus had developed. There is some repetition in design, including both creatures and environments, but there’s no doubt that Sundered offers a unique and wonderful visual presentation.
Bosses are the final piece of Sundered’s puzzle. These tough foes will take some time, work, and dedication to defeat, but doing so will yield some solid rewards. Elder Shards offer the player a choice of whether to “embrace or resist”. I won’t go too in-depth into this, but just know that depending on how you choose these powerful objects can boost your abilities and alter the endgame scenario.
Sundered takes the indie, Metroidvania genre to new heights while showing just how good these types of experiences can be. The game is a blast to play, and its high challenge level, even after you’ve powered up your character, will ensure you are able to put a solid number of hours in. Great gameplay could have carried this game far enough, but Thunder Lotus once again went for hand drawn art and the result is truly remarkable.
- Score: 5 / 5
- Available On: PS4, PC
- Published By: Thunder Lotus Games
- Developed By: Thunder Lotus Games
- Genre: Adventure
- US Release Date: July 28th, 2017
- Reviewed On: PC
- Quote: "Sundered takes the indie, Metroidvania genre to new heights while showing just how good these types of experiences can be. Great gameplay could have carried this game far enough, but Thunder Lotus once again went for hand drawn art and the result is truly remarkable. "