Did Finish — Away: Shuffle Dungeon

Away 1Away: Shuffle Dungeon is like the genius kid who spends all his time goofing off before the final, using a fraction of his brainpower to ace the exam. It takes shortcuts to pull everything together, but you don’t notice because the game doesn’t let you dwell on what’s missing. Away: Shuffle Dungeon turns dungeon crawling into an adrenaline rush.

This game’s action sequences have you dodging traps and monsters in a top-down view similar to the original Zelda game. You flip switches and cast spells to open up new paths on your way to the bottom of each dungeon, and you can choose different weapons to find an attack pattern that suits your style of play. (I preferred the long range of the spear’s attack, but the axe was handy for clearing a wide path through bad guys.)

Away: Shuffle Dungeon gives you just long enough to figure out what’s going on, and then it changes everything around.

You only have a few seconds to figure out how you’re going to survive in battle. Each DS screen makes up half of a dungeon, and one of them is going to shuffle when the timer is up. You have to be on the “safe” half when the countdown ends, or things turn out badly. The challenge lies in jumping from screen to screen long enough to find— and access — the stairways to safety. In between dungeons, you get into boss battles and explore your home village.

away 2You start the game as a hero named Sword, a victim of amnesia who washed up in a seaside village. There are just enough stock fantasy elements to make you think that the game will be phoning it in, and then the story crash lands in a heaping pile of crazy. Just like the game’s setting, Webb Village, this title is more than it appears to be.

Dungeon entrances pop up all over Webb Village, and the story sends you into each one for a variety of reasons. You can find materials to upgrade the village, giving you access to better equipment. You can collect the unfortunately-named Fupongs, who allow you to cast spells in dungeons. And you can journey to the bottom of each dungeon to rescue a villager, leading them back to safety.

As you rescue villagers, they rebuild Webb Village. The place is in sorry shape, since a mysterious light in the sky, the AWAY, has been picking off people one at a time for decades. Little by little, the plot is revealed and you engage with Away: Shuffle Dungeon’s odd sense of humor as your adventure unfolds .

Away: Shuffle Dungeon is a crazy ride, taking you to visit with the passive-aggressive younger brother of the Guardian Travel Deity — he’s the Cardigan Travel Deity, and he’s very concerned about you catching a cold — the blacksmith with a drinking problem, and the “leaf used to wipe someone’s butt!” that you may sniff accidentally.

Some of Away: Shuffle Dungeon’s weaknesses turn out to be strengths on a handheld device. The gameplay is repetitive, which means that it’s easy to take a break and come back later. In the village, the map has a big flashing indicator to show where you should go next to move the story along, but it’s helpful if you stop playing for a while and want to pick up where you left off.

Either Amazon stripped IGN’s watermark when they hosted the game’s trailer, or IGN watermarked Amazon’s video when they uploaded it to YouTube, but this captures its atmosphere:

The complete package is a narrative experience that’s more detailed than an action game, but not as coherent as a role-playing game. With some animated cutscenes and limited voice acting, Away: Shuffle Dungeon comes together in an entertaining game. It’s not an artistic triumph for the ages, but it’s a good value for a budget title.

About B. Indifferent

Bitterly Indifferent is a belligerent hillbilly with a substandard internet connection. He is also a fan of retro gaming who has previously written about the state of games journalism and the intersection of games and family.