i mentioned that nintendo power is going to be soon shutting down, but it’s been a great way of finding out about games that i would’ve otherwise overlooked. one such example was away: shuffle dungeon for DS. i first heard about it in a preview in the magazine, and although it received only average reviews i thought i’d give it a try since i’m always interested in games that seem to be trying something new (not to mention that you can get it pretty cheap nowadays and that it has some major names attached to it, including final fantasy grandfather himself, hironobu sakaguchi).
the aesthetics of the game make it feel reminiscent of phantom hourglass (which preceded it by almost a year and a half) and animal crossing. the core of the game has you making your way through split-screen dungeons where the top or bottom half shuffle every few seconds. the gameplay is certainly novel, and although the creators did try to add new elements in each new dungeon, the core gameplay just isn’t interesting enough to sustain the whole game. getting caught in a shuffle sends you back to the beginning of the floor and gets to be an annoyance, but you’ll soon learn to play cautiously and wait for the area you need to shuffle back into view instead of risking a heedless dash to a switch or treasure chest or exit. the combat is simplistic and the powerups are minimal (they take the form of four creatures called “fupongs” that you train up that provide fire, ice (shield), lightning, and healing powers), so that aspect of the gameplay also wears thin. there are a few boss battles that shift from the 2-d dungeon crawling into a 3-d perspective, and they provide a nice break, although each boss is repeated (understandable, given the limitations of the hardware). the regular enemies are repetitive, and although the dungeon visuals aren’t fancy they work well, and the music throughout is consistently good.
part of what kept me playing, though, aside from the need to finish the game, was the story’s potential. the bulk of the story has you rescuing villagers one by one from each of the game’s many dungeons, and each opens up a different shop varying in usefulness. the characters have a boxy, mysims-like design but are otherwise personable enough, and the game includes short audio clips for each character that help bring them to life. (the game also features a good amount of nicely animated cut scenes.) from reviews i had read on gamefaqs it sounded like the story was going to develop into unusual directions once all the villagers had been saved. the story does develop in a fairly unique and more-or-less satisfying way, although not enough to distract from the repetitive dungeon-crawling of the last half of the game.
it’s nice to take a break from just playing nintendo-published games (something i’m trying to do more of), and i appreciated the game’s attempts to try something new. although the game dragged on for me it has a polished presentation that makes it enjoyable overall for at least a partial playthrough.
shuffle through these away: shuffle dungeon links:
– official site, includes trailers and screenshots
– this guy posted about the game as he played through it, which is the closest thing to a walkthrough that you’ll find online (although be aware that it reveals all the spoilers about the story)
– page at rpgamer.com, has some promo artwork
– entry on wikipedia
– i never did find out what the hammer was for, but here’s the info on what the horn shell and whale whisker (which i never came across) are for
– information on the game is scarce, but if you’re wondering how to cycle between fupongs just use the L and R buttons