I think of my Vita like the blazer that hangs in my closet: they're relatively expensive possessions that I'm glad to have, but rarely ever use. As a rule, I tend to avoid touchscreen controls for fear of imprecise inputs, and I'd rather just enjoy all my cross-play games on a full-sized TV screen. But Severed is the kind of exceptional game that makes me thankful to own a Vita, breathing invigorating new life into a system that's literally been gathering dust underneath my desk for over a year. And honestly, the Vita is the perfect platform for this one-of-a-kind game; I can't imagine it working so well anywhere else.
If you've somehow missed Severed's eye-catching trailers (like the one above), the art style is simply fantastic; as it turns out, the clean, bright hues of Guacamelee's aesthetic pair beautifully with ghastly monster designs, giving Severed's sometimes gorgeous, sometimes grotesque world a distinctly bizarre feel. Sasha also makes for one hell of a cool hero, determined to recover her family no matter the cost - even if that means donning bits of slain creature carcasses to serve as macabre armor, or ingesting ancient hearts and brains to increase her health and mana pools. While side characters are few and far between in your quest, the few you do meet are the perfect mix of intriguing, endearing, and repulsive all at once.
I'd have bought Severed for its unique style alone - but fortunately, the gameplay is equally fantastic. It blends the pattern recognition and twitch reflexes of classic Punch-Out!! with the angled sword-slashing of Infinity Blade, as you artfully swipe the screen to deflect incoming attacks and strike back at a host of freakish horrors. The trick is that you'll typically be fighting off multiple enemies at once, so you need to spin around using the D-pad (or face buttons, if you're a lefty) to engage your foes one at a time, keeping a watchful eye for incoming attacks on your unprotected sides. Imagine if Little Mac had to box with four or more opponents at once, and you've got a small sense of the intense plate-spinning sensation inherent to Severed's tougher encounters. The reward for felling these monstrosities is exhilarating: a few seconds of slowmo kicks in to help you slice up your opposition with surgical precision, claiming their severed limbs as upgrade materials for your organic armor.
The combat is perfectly tuned, keeping you on your toes but rarely overwhelming you. And despite my distaste for most touchscreen controls, Sasha's sword-slashing feels so right; the Vita screen looks and feels so much better than the obscured interfaces and fudged inputs I often struggle with in iPhone games. There's also a subtle musicality to your swordplay: deflected attacks ring out with a satisfying wooden DOK! while later abilities reverberate with El Kabong guitar clangs or guttural bass riffs. There's also a eerie beauty to Severed's quieter moments, as you take in all 360 degrees of each 'room' or scrutinize your surroundings in search of secrets, akin to classic first-person RPGs like Eye of the Beholder.
For all those reasons and more that I don't want to spoil, I'd put Severed right up there with Persona 4 Golden on the list of 'Reasons to own a PlayStation Vita'. Its vibrant artistry comes through so clearly on the Vita's bright screen, and the touchscreen-plus-D-pad control scheme feels so much more responsive than the tap-to-move frustration common to the iOS ecosystem. If you have access to a Vita - even one that's been sitting uncharged for ages like mine - you'd be a fool not to set aside time and money to experience Severed. It is, in a word, essential.