You guard your face as a sand storm rages. You push forward, rocky spires and broken stone structures just barely visible around you, breaching the desert sands. And there it is, the purple light you’ve been following, hovering just above you, the shadowy lines that define an invisible chapel flicker.
Suddenly, the ground shakes, and black arms and tendrils reach up and smash down into the sand, tentacles dragging you down. Death must have taken you, but no, you find yourself somewhere lush and green underground. Something calls, and with no other option, you follow.
“Sundered” is the second game released by Thunder Lotus studios, the makers of “Jotun,” which is an isometric action adventure game exploring Norse myth. “Sundered” brings us something different with a side-scrolling Metroidvania that has its own take on Eldritch mythology and history. The story isn’t given to you up front, and it is actually told through a couple of different factors.
The main chunks come from the Shining Trapezohedron, one of H.P Lovecraft’s many myths, namely from the story, “The Haunter of the Dark.” As I write this, I still don’t know the entire story of the game, but it’s an interesting tale about the follies of man, the history of the eldrich lands and the battle between new technology and the old ways of gods.
I’m not going to spoil anything, but if you’re looking for more story, you’ll need to do two things. Read the notes that are attached to the skill tree and make sure you play the game twice: one “Resist” playthrough and one “Embrace” playthrough. Full disclosure: I have yet to beat the game even once, mainly because it’s a pretty long game with lots to see and do.
With that said, let’s talk gameplay and style. “Sundered” feels so so so so so good to play. Running and jumping around the map is beyond satisfying, especially as you get better at the game and can sneak past ability gates with pure skill. And don’t get me started on the fighting. Chaining together attacks and knocking around hoards of little creatures feels fantastic. However, that does not mean it’s easy.
This game is hard. Like, really hard. But, in its rogue-like nature, you get better every time you die. That’s where the skill tree comes in. As you slay hordes of Eldritch horrors and Valkyrie brand robots, you’ll get “shards,” which you will spend to improve on your abilities, such as health and damage. You will also get new skills like a grappling hook and wall climb that you can use to battle the fiends that stand in your way to freedom.
Taking a quick step back, I mentioned two playthroughs. That’s because of the multiple endings to the game, “Resist” or “Embrace.” Every time you beat a boss or mini-boss, you’ll get a piece of an Elder Shard. With those, you may decide to incinerate it and resist the blessings of the gods or give it a skill shrine and corrupt yourself, which will strengthen and add to your abilities making the game “easier.”
I’m doing an Embrace run right now, and man, the way the game alters the base skills is super cool. Take the double jump, for example. If you choose to corrupt that skill, you gain the ability to glide through the air, and while you are gliding, you essentially turn into an eldritch being. It’s not a subtle change — the art style makes it clear that you are now one with The Shining Trapezohedron and the other gods.
Oh look, a segway into talking about the art style. I don’t have too much to say about it, but it is all gorgeous, hand-drawn art that sets a stellar tone to the game. “Jotun” was also hand drawn. Both of Thunder Lotus’s games came out before “Cup Head,” which was praised for its hand-drawn art style, however, “Sundered” was kinda swept under the independent game rug, which is sad, because it deserves more attention. (I don’t want to detract from “Cup Head’s” accolades, I just think that Thunder Lotus Games need a little more publicity).
That’s not to say there aren’t things wrong with the game — nothing gameplay wise, just the occasional frame drop, and maybe a crash or two, but nothing terrible.
On a final note, I was originally going to do a review for “Super Smash Brothers Ultimate” (5/5 stars, fantastic solo or party game), but I ended up getting distracted by “Sundered.” With that being said, I think Eshe, the main character of “Sundered,” would be an awesome fighter in “Smash Bros.” If you play both of them, you’ll get what I mean. The way she moves and battles would fit right in and be fairly unique. Sadly, I don’t think it will happen, there are too many characters people that want more than in an indie cult classic.
“Sundered: Eldritch Edition”
Available on Nintendo Switch, PC (via Steam), Xbox One, and Play Station 4.