Away: Shuffle Dungeon Review for Nintendo DS

Away: Shuffle Dungeon Review for Nintendo DS

Dungeon Crawling 2.0?

As a dungeon crawling enthusiast, I was very excited to try Away: Shuffle Dungeon. Mistwalker has produced some real gems in the RPG department on the Xbox 360, and I was excited to see what they would do with this sub-genre. However, Away: Shuffle Dungeon was a little bit of a disappointing first effort. While the production value is definitely solid, the main problem with this title is that it tries too hard to move the dungeon crawling genre away from its Rogue roots, which leaves the game feeling more than a little hollow.

Away: Shuffle Dungeon screenshot

The story in Away: Shuffle Dungeon is fairly standard and revolves around a young boy, aptly named Sword, whose entire village has been carried away to another dimension by the phenomenon known only as “Away.” Sword must rescue each villager in the town by venturing into Shuffle Dungeons, which feature rotating rooms with various switches and traps and a boss at the end. After successfully going through the dungeon forwards, your hero must go through the same dungeon backwards to get back home.

For the most part, the structure of the game is exactly the same as you’d find in any other dungeon crawler. There is a 3D overworld, which you can roam around to discover and unlock new dungeons. Once you enter a dungeon, the action shifts to a 2D style directly comparable to any other dungeon you’ve ever seen.

However, this is where the similarities end. Instead of having a grid-based battle system that adheres to a strict turn system, Away: Shuffle Dungeon employs a very active battle system where you have to hack-n’-slash your way through enemies. This title also uses a very intricate switch system that makes every level like a complex puzzle instead of the usual strategic exercise.

Away: Shuffle Dungeon screenshot

Even though these changes are quite significant, the most interesting new facet of Away: Shuffle Dungeon is the dungeon level design. Each dungeon consists of six to eight different “rooms” that alternate every ten seconds. The rooms are divided between the top and bottom screens, so you will have to continue jumping between the two screens to flip switches and open doors in order to gain access to the corresponding room on the opposite screen. One thing that dungeon fans should know is that these rooms are not randomly generated like in traditional dungeon crawlers, but instead rely on being generated in a sequential pattern. The main gameplay mechanic will rely on your ability to memorize the different rooms and hit the right switches in order to gain access to the adjacent room.

Although this title really tries to make strides to “progress” the dungeon crawling genre, I can’t say that these changes have worked especially well. Although the game looks like a typical dungeon-based title, the gameplay has undergone so many changes that it feels more like an action adventure title. There is no strategic element, no randomly generated rooms, and the battle system feels hollow. Even if we take this game as an action title that just borrows elements from the dungeon crawling genre, it still falls a little flat, because of the repetitive dungeon-based level design.

Away: Shuffle Dungeon screenshot

To its credit, however, Away: Shuffle Dungeon does play very well in small doses, and the puzzle nature of the game will definitely find favor with more casual players. The game does not have harsh penalties for dying in a dungeon and actually has several checkpoints within each dungeon, which makes this title even more conducive to those who are unfamiliar with the traditional format of the dungeon crawler.

Despite the somewhat muddled gameplay, Away: Shuffle dungeon does have some very good points. The visual style in this title is quite unique and characters all have distinguishing oversized features. For instance, Sword has a scarf that looks like it is bigger than his head, and the character Helmut has a helmet that is bigger than his head! The 3D overworld in Away: Shuffle Dungeon is rendered very nicely, and has a ton of color. All of the character animations are smooth and crisp in the 3D world as well as the 2D dungeons. I must commend this title on its visuals, simply because they look a lot different from all other DS RPG-style games and are just pleasant to look at.

Away: Shuffle Dungeon screenshot

The audio in this title is also superb, and it is definitely worth turning up the volume for. The score is nicely varied, and its orchestral quality is rarely found in handheld titles. The voiceover in this title is a little bit on the sparse side and typically consists of simple phrases like “Let’s go!’ or “Sword?” The quality of the music more than makes up for the thin voiceover though, and I definitely loved listening to this title.

Controlling the action in Away: Shuffle Dungeon is quite easy, and this game is one of the few with exclusive button-based controls. There is no stylus option, which actually works quite well given the active battle system and fast-paced action. As you might expect, you move around using the D-pad, and you use the face buttons for combat and menu selection. Controlling this title is a breeze, and the button-based controls are very conducive to running through shuffling dungeons.

Away: Shuffle Dungeon can best be described as a title with an identity crisis. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a dungeon crawler or action adventure title, and sadly, it doesn’t do either particularly well. Dungeon enthusiasts who pick this title up will be sorely disappointed by its lack of strategy and substance, and adventure junkies may find the dungeon format a little too arduous for serious play. However, Away: Shuffle Dungeon does a good job of creating a surprisingly interesting world and is fun in very small chunks. If you are a dungeon or action game enthusiast, then this title may not be for you, but if you fall somewhere in the middle of these two very diverse genres, then Away: Shuffle Dungeon may find favor with you.

Visuals sport a very original style, and the 3D overworld looks great. 4.1 Control
Controls are completely button-based and work very well. 4.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is wonderful to listen to, which is quite surprising in a handheld title. 2.9

Play Value
Although the new shuffle mechanic is an interesting take on genre conventions, the mechanic quickly becomes “gimmicky,” and dungeon enthusiasts may be disappointed by the lack of strategy in this title.

3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • For over 100 years the people of Webb village have been mysteriously disappearing one by one. Two years ago, a young man named Sword came to the village looking to settle down. Noticing the lack of people and occasional disappearances, he grew curious about their cause.
  • As Sword, you must right this wrong and save as many missing villagers as you can. With an unknown evil “spiriting away” all of the village’s people, Sword must bring them home safely and unravel the mystery of AWAY.
  • Use various items to reveal entrances to unknown dungeons where the villagers are being held. Rescue them and repopulate the town by using your new friends to assist you in your quest.
  • Combat is action rather than turn-based.
  • Randomly generated dungeon rooms and challenging puzzles make Away: Shuffle Dungeon an amazingly fresh experience.

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