Platformers remain a bastion of originality in an industry oft filled with sequels and established properties. From the heartwarming and acoustically-astounding Ori and the Blind Forest to the hand-drawn beauty of the dark and moody Hollow Knight, recent additions to the genre inspire developers to continue pushing for creative and challenging worlds in their games. In another sphere of the industry, Lovecraftian horror reigns, with first-person thrillers such as Conarium daring the player to push deep into worlds filled with darkness and terror. These genres may not be the most obvious pairing, yet Thunder Lotus Games shows how potent a combination they can be in its upcoming Metroidvania, Sundered.
Dropping players into the role of Eshe, a wanderer in a wounded world, the title pushes them to explore massive asymmetrical levels while maintaining their health and sanity against hordes of enemies and bosses alike. From the beta’s offering, Eshe will not have an easy task in traversing this world and unlocking the secrets behind closed doors due to an array of enemies, from fast-moving spores who charge into her path to burrowing worms who patrol their sectors with deadly efficiency. When players are still learning how to survive in this world, death will not be an uncommon occurrence. As is true to other games of this genre, Eshe can collect shards to improve her base stats, such as health and shielding, as well as her damage impact. In this familiar way, dying also makes the player stronger and more prepared, but not without some frustration. The feeling of getting farther into the level than ever before and then having to return to the Shrine at the level’s beginning to attempt that task once more makes some deaths ever-so aggravating.
However, atmosphere permeates every aspect of the game, making these return treks far from cumbersome. The overgrown ruins’ bright color juxtaposed against derelict machinery establish the long-tortured history of the levels, and the creatures that emerge to halt Eshe’s progress reflect the monstrosity of Lovecraft in the wonderful hand-drawn graphics. The sound design, from dripping water to enemies growling signal Lovecraft without ruining the immersion, making the journey feel organic with a pervading tinge of unease throughout. Having colors both bright and flashy, as well as deeper hues that elicit the darkness below the surface, make each foray into the constructed and procedural levels alike all part of the overarching mythos. Even without ever imagining what a Lovecraftian platformer would look like, Thunder Lotus provides the player with as strong a rendition of that picture as anyone. Perhaps an unlikely blend of genre and style, yet one that works very well for the studio.
As with any game in the Metroidvania genre, the gameplay challenges and levels’ beauty are the vessels that inspire the player to revisit previously inaccessible areas to further explore the world’s mysteries. The abilities players choose to level up make Eshe stronger, and the option to corrupt those powers to grant her strength at the cost of her humanity is an aspect of Lovecraft’s work that fits right in with this genre. How else to face the monstrous bosses, if not to become one? This idea of resisting or embracing the darkness serves as the tagline of Sundered, and one that makes the idea of fully playing through the game and achieving multiple endings an attractive reason to push ahead.
Players wishing to enter this world can choose to do so next month on either Steam or PS4. What seems most appealing is this idea of Eshe wrestling with her humanity against the eldritch corruption she must face in this confusing labyrinth of an underground world. Thunder Lotus has captured familiar, solid mechanics and transferred them into an atmosphere well-known, but not usually witnessed through this lens. In striking the right balance between horror and challenge, Sundered may very well be the next great platformer. An intriguing, tight Lovecraftian narrative contained in a Metroidvania world has all the hallmarks of success, and, if the final product lives up the beta’s promise, the ‘summer drought’ can find an oasis in this fresh new take on two beloved genres.