Majesco Away: Shuffle Dungeon
Raises the bar for originality, but sacrifices some of the fun in the process.
- Great character designs, addictive gameplay
- Frustrating difficulty curve, repetitive
An innovative and quirky experiment, Away: Shuffle Dungeon never quite rises above simple hack-and-slash mediocrity.
If there's anything that the DS is known for, it's the handheld's wide assortment of innovative titles. Away: Shuffle Dungeon from the superstars at Mistwalker Studios raises the bar for originality, but sacrifices some of the fun in the process.
When a phenomenon known simply as "Away" strikes the humble landscape of Webb Village, all of the villagers find themselves misplaced in various, ever-changing dungeons. As young adventurer Sword, it's up to you to save said citizens and rebuild Webb Village as you go. While Shuffle Dungeon's plot isn't the most original one out there, it definitely gets the job done and sets the premise for Sword's various hack-n-slash escapades.
The real innovation in Away: Shuffle Dungeon lies in the title's dungeon-crawling aspect. From a fixed overhead perspective reminiscent of the early Legend of Zelda titles, Sword is thrust into various 2D dungeons that occupy both of the handheld's dual screens. Sword can move from the top screen to the bottom with seamless ease, but here comes the tricky part: in a fixed number of seconds, the top or bottom of the dungeon will "shuffle", changing the very foundation of the level either above or below you! With the landscape constantly shifting, a sense of urgency is immediately created, forcing Sword to run from top to bottom, flipping switches, slicing enemies and opening treasure chests before the room shuffles him back to the beginning of the level. While this concept is extremely innovative and fun at first, the novelty begins to wear thin a few hours into the game. There isn't nearly enough randomisation to be found as each dungeon has only three floors to explore and only four "shuffles" per screen. Add in that you'll be fighting your way through all three dungeons on both your ventures to the bottom as well as back to the top of each stage, you're bound to grow quickly frustrated with the shuffling mechanic. This comes into play specifically a few hours in when the difficulty spikes on you, and not only do you have to worry about the constant dungeon shuffling, but the threat of unopened passageways, vile monsters, and environmental hazards all around you. With such a steep learning curve, Away: Shuffle Dungeon goes from almost too easy to almost too hard in a short matter of time.
When not dungeon-crawling, Sword can explore the overworld of Webb Village, which is portrayed on the touch screen in striking 3D. The town is really brought to life by the game's colorful, cartoony inhabitants, created by famed Sonic the Hedgehog character designer Naoto Oshima. For each quirky villager that you rescue from their subterranean fate, you can later partake in their various services above ground. For instance, save the Weapon Shop owner to purchase better weapons, the Armor Shop owner for better armour, etc. Sword can also venture back into previously explored dungeons in search of Growth Items — items that, true to their name, expand various stores in both size and inventory.
All in all, Away: Shuffle Dungeon is a fun and quirky, if ultimately repetitive dungeon crawler. If you're a fan of the hack-n-slash gaming in general, Away: Shuffle Dungeon is definitely worth a try; Just keep in mind that even with its innovations, Shuffle Dungeon doesn't break nearly enough new ground to truly carve out its own niche in the RPG genre.
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