Title: Sundered: Eldritch Edition
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
Available On: Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows, MacOS, Linux
Official Site: https://thunderlotusgames.com/sundered/
Release Date: December 21, 2018
Metroidvania is a type of 2D action platformer that combines features from Metroid and Castlevania games of the 80s and 90s. Key among these features is the presence of a large-scale, interconnected world map and a progression model that opens up new areas of said world. Some of the greatest Metroidvania titles ever made include Owlboy, Ori and the Blind Forest and the Shantae series. The last of which may or may not be a Metroidvania depending on who you ask but the Shantae games are so good I included it anyway.
Sundered: Eldritch Edition is a recent addition to the Metroidvania genre. Inspired heavily by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Sundered focuses on a narrative tale between Trapezohedron, a demonic artifact, and the protagonist, Eshe. Eshe is a talented mechanic who travels across the wastelands with her trusted group. Gradually, members of her group go missing and Eshe is forced to try and find out what happened to them. In the midst of a vicious sandstorm, Eshe gets lured into a dark pit that happens to home a truly evil force responsible for the world’s demise. To escape she either has to resist Trapezohedron and trust in her own strength or cave into the artifact’s incredible demonic powers on offer.
Whilst exciting on the surface, Sundered’s narrative is surprisingly hollow. The choice between resisting Trapezohedron or embracing him isn’t as substantial as you might think. It impacts the final boss of the game and tweaks specific dialogue interactions but at its core, you’re dealing with yet another generic moral compass. Consider how Fable 2 handled morals and at the time how impressive that level of player choice was. Unfortunately, over a decade later, we still tend to get similar levels of player choice. It’s been done before and unless it substantially changes the way I play the game, it’s unlikely to impress me anymore. The difference in skill trees between endings are fairly minor and whilst the final bosses are in themselves very good, it isn’t enough to give true value to Sundered’s self-proclaimed non-linear story.
How much this negatively affects your overall experience comes down to how much you value lore in an indie action platformer. I do not consider this to be a particularly important aspect of the genre. Implementation of mechanics, level design and combat are all significantly more important to what makes a quality Metroidvania. Therefore, despite its narrative shortcomings, this isn’t alone a reason to avoid Sundered: Eldritch Edition.
Sundered is gifted with some brilliant level design. Areas feel purposeful and deliberate, an impressive feat considering some regions are randomly generated. With one exception, exploring these areas is generally a fun task. The exception? There’s way too much trekking involved to get from one area to another. Each new level only features a singular hub and respawn point. Considering how large each area is, the starting level alone contains over 70 unique rooms, this gets tedious awfully quick.
Combat feels slick and responsive. Sundered offers tons of abilities and variants of each ability as you progress through the game. Initially, I found myself frustrated at how little I could do but once you visit a few ability shrines this quickly sorts itself out. Abilities overlap well in combat, allowing for interesting combos and a genuine skill curve at higher level difficulties. An example is an ability that allows for all your down slams to become a powerful area of effect attack. Engaging enemies with this and following up with “Chol’s Despair,” which amplifies attacks dealt in quick succession, results in some huge damage potential. Various abilities can be combined and rotated between to optimize fights.
However, not all fights are as rewarding as they should be given Sundered’s excellent combat mechanics. Large scale fights will occasionally break out where there’s so much happening on screen it’s near impossible to track everything. Deadly lasers cutting off most of your movement paths, flying enemies dashing back and forth through you, and a mess of visual effects that half the time I don’t even know what caused them. I found myself getting caught up in these situations too much for my taste. Whilst sometimes you can power through with some classic gaming skill, other times you will just die because the game decided you’d lived long enough. Unfair deaths are perhaps one of the biggest peeves I have with difficulty driven games.
The difficulty scales well from easy up to insane, which you only unlock after finishing the game at least once. Easy and normal offer relatively relaxed playthroughs for those who just want to sit back and enjoy what’s on offer. Hard requires significantly more focus and thought behind combat interactions and Insane is something I’m not good enough to play on. I found that out pretty quickly upon trying it out. No doubt though that those who are looking for a game that will give them tens of hours of challenge should find themselves at home playing Sundered. Assuming you work through a normal difficulty playthrough on your first run, expect it to take just over 10 hours to finish.
The Eldritch Edition of Sundered includes the all too rare local co-op. A feature that is often forgotten in this day and age but it is more than welcome. Working through Sundered in up to a party of four is fun but does take the challenge out of the game. Players all share the same health bar which is Thunder Lotus Games’ way to try and keep the difficulty in check. I suppose just adding more enemies probably wouldn’t have worked given how chaotic things can get with just one player. Despite this, the sheer damage increase just makes most bosses far easier to slash through with little thought given to strategy. It’s fine for a casual playthrough with a partner or friend, but Sundered definitely feels better balanced in singleplayer. There’s also no online co-op as of right now so you better hope your friend is willing to hike their way across to your house.
Sundered’s visuals are something to admire. It always seems to be plucky indie developers that come up with the most passion filled, drop-dead gorgeous art in their games. All assets are hand drawn from backgrounds to characters to enemies. This helps give Sundered a defined personality and showcases how much effort Thunder Lotus Games were willing to put in. Perhaps even more impressive is the animation. Whilst not as clean or refined as something you’d see from Kyoto Animation or Disney, Sundered does still offer something that is getting rarer due to the cost and difficulty of implementing it. Old school frame-by-frame, 2D animation.
From Eshe using her abilities or dashing at the last second to dodge an incoming attack, everything is beautiful. If you understand how key animation and sakuga work in animation, it becomes much easier to explain why Sundered is so good in this regard. Everything animated has been done to the standards that you would typically see in an action-packed key animation sequence. That epic fight sequence where every attack had you on the edge of your seat with its state of the art animation? That’s Sundered every time you move, attack, dodge or platform. This level of visual quality is hardly ever seen in the video game industry.
Verdict: Sundered: Eldritch Edition isn’t perfect but offers enough to be considered one of the stronger options in the Metroidvania genre. At $19.99, it’s a fair price for what can easily be 35+ hours to work through all the endings. Local co-op is a huge bonus for those who can find value in that although the lack of an online equivalent is an unfortunate mark against it. Visually speaking, Sundered is one of a kind and the combat mechanics, whilst not revolutionary, function very well. I found the narrative disappointing but I can’t honestly say I ever expected anything more or even care about the story in an indie Metroidvania. All things considered, Sundered: Eldritch Edition may very well be worth your time and money.
- Well rounded, enjoyable level design. Even generated areas feel purposeful.
- Tons of abilities and great compatibility during combat between them.
- Difficulty scales well. Fun for all types of players from casual couples to core gamers.
- Local co-op is a really nice inclusion.
- Gorgeous hand-drawn visuals and seriously impressive animation.
- Hollow narrative. Generic story and choices lack real meaning.
- Too much trekking to get across levels.
- Fights can get messy and overwhelming at times. There's just too much happening on screen.
I’m a passionate games critic who has been writing actively since 2015. I have a particular interest in both racing games and JRPGs as well as a love for Overwatch and its eSports scene. I consider gaming and writing my two big passions in life. So much so that I’m currently studying a one of a kind degree that covers both in one! My goal in life is simply to become a renowned critic who is respected for his opinions.