words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Thunder Lotus Games for PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4, originally released in 2017.
Thunder Lotus Games made its mark with Jotun, a game based on Norse mythology featuring a powerful female warrior facing off against giant elemental beasts called jotun. The game set itself apart with its gorgeous hand-drawn environmental and creature artwork, giving the game the appearance of an interactive cartoon. Sundered offers similarly detailed hand-drawn artwork and animations, with vivid environmental art, fluid creature animations, and gigantic bosses. The game offers a somewhat darker tone than that of Jotun, with the player often facing off against tentacled monstrosities and disturbing boss creatures.

The game is an action-adventure starring Eshe who encounters a strange structure in the desert and finds herself pulled into another world where she is greeted by an entity known as the Shining Trapezohedron. Clearly not one to be trusted, the Shining Trapezohedron offers to lend Eshe its powers to enable her to fight enemies and defeat bosses… risking corruption in the bargain.

Eshe slowly earns new abilities as she dives into ever-changing procedurally-arranged dungeons. Portions of the world change with each death, but major areas remain persistent, requiring the use of new abilities or better upgrades in order to pass. However, each time she dies, Eshe returns to life in a sanctuary called the Zaekthaesz.

In this hub area, Eshe is able to use shards collected from fallen enemies, which may be spent across an expansive skill tree. At first, only one major branch of the tree is available, but other branches open as the player makes progress and defeats bosses, offering more than 100 upgrades in all. Upgrades include increased damage resistance, additional health, stronger attacks, more stamina, and additional slots for health restoratives and perks.

Eshe has a 5-hit combo that finishes with a heavy overhead strike, and she can also attack upward and downward by pressing in those directions while attacking. She has several aerial combat maneuvers as well, which include spinning slashes, an upward slash, and a downward smashing strike. These aerial strikes are slower, but landing successive strikes allows her to stay in the air, potentially chaining attacks from one foe to the next. New combat abilities are unlocked later in the game, including a charged strike and a limited ammo projectile weapon, both of which double as methods for removing obstructions that block passageways. Eshe can also wall slide and wall jump, although she is not able to jump up vertical surfaces and must instead triangle jump between them, making vertical navigation challenging.

From a defensive standpoint, Eshe has a dodge roll that can only be performed on the ground (an air dash is unlocked later in the game), and each roll depletes a unit from her stamina meter, which has three units at the start of the game and refills over time. Eshe also has a very small shield meter – which is similarly upgradeable – that allows her to sustain some damage before her life bar begins to deplete, and an animation shows the shield shattering to communicate to the player that he is in danger. The shield refills over time when the player is not being attacked. Health pickups are rare but may be stored, and must be engaged manually with a button press, requiring players to keep an eye on their health and spend restoratives at the most opportune times.

Rather than working through environments and fighting occasional enemies, players are instead faced with largely empty environments that occasionally spawn hordes of enemies that close in on the player all at once. As such, players must alter their tactics between environmental exploration and fast-paced combat at a moment’s notice, and they must take advantage of level layouts to place themselves in advantageous combat positions, as most foes can reach the player from any location. Many enemies can climb walls or fly toward the player’s position, while others disappear and spawn beneath the player’s feet, and others can target the player with lasers from huge distances and through solid objects, often well outside the view of the screen.

Early enemies are simple and weak, but only offer a small amount of currency when killed, whereas tougher foes spawn the deeper you go into the dungeon, offering greater risks and rewards. Players also occasionally face tougher variants of standard foes or find themselves locked in areas until nearby enemies are defeated. There are numerous miniboss creatures, whose presence is indicated on the map, and these may be fought in any order… or simply avoided until you’ve powered up enough to take them on. For every three minibosses defeated, the player earns the ability to make use of permanent upgrades that affect his ability to navigate the environment. Numerous upgrades appear throughout the game, some of which allow players to access new routes metroidvania-style.

Many doors are locked to the player when he first encounters them, and most cannot be unlocked until much later on, requiring new skills to open them, or requiring the player to fight his way through tougher areas and unlock the doors from the far side. Once unlocked, the door remains open and becomes a shortcut for future runs. This locked/unlocked door system allows the player to slowly open up new chunks of the world, and then quickly navigate through these areas on return trips. Since there are gaps between spawns of enemy hordes, moving quickly can be the key to reaching new ground before being overwhelmed by foes. However, unlocking some doors requires the activation of equipment, which causes tougher enemies to spawn and activates level hazards throughout the environment, increasing the game's core difficulty.

As in Jotun before it, the player must face off against a number of bosses that positively tower over the player character. In these battles, players must wear down boss’ life bars by attacking purple spear-like objects that protrude from their bodies, while dodging their powerful attacks, many of which can drain the bulk of Eshe’s life bar if she takes a direct hit.

Bosses can also summon support enemies that you must dodge or clear out in order to focus your attacks. However, when the camera is zoomed out to show the full body of the boss, the player character becomes very tiny on the screen, making it difficult to accurately strike smaller enemies or navigate between platforms to reach boss’ weak points, which can make these encounters frustrating.

In addition to permanent upgrades, there are numerous temporary upgrades to be found by exploring dungeon areas, and these remain active until the player is killed. However, these pickups change positions from one run to the next, preventing players from simply hopping back in and picking up previously-acquired upgrades. These upgrades include explosive strikes at the end of a combo, eldritch energy that chains between multiple nearby enemies while attacking, increased damage resistance, and faster movement speed.

Aesthetically, the game is quite beautiful, featuring vivid colors and unique visual elements. However, these striking and twisted visuals are built upon generally blocky level designs, and the game’s procedural arrangements drops players in identical room configurations across different parts of the map. As such, environmental traversal is generally quite bland in spite of the well-crafted organic artwork that adorns most rooms.

The game’s narrative is minimal and purposely vague, with the Shining Trapezohedron occasionally interjecting to spout of some history of the area you’re exploring, but the character’s general untrustworthiness means that there is little reason to pay attention to what it has to say. That said, the player is given some choices toward powerful abilities at the cost of corruption, leading to multiple possible endings.

Sundered was developed by Thunder Lotus Games, based in Montreal, Québec in Canada, and headed by William Dubé. Music for the game was composed by Max LL. The studio previously released Jotun.