Author Topic: Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island (Switch) Review  (Read 1014 times)

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Offline NWR_Neal

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A new Shiren for a new generation.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/66363/shiren-the-wanderer-the-mystery-dungeon-of-serpentcoil-island-switch-review

Roguelikes are a dime a dozen in video games these days, but that wasn’t always the case. A handful of games drove the popularity of the style more than a decade ago, but I remember my first wondrous experience was with Spelunky when it came to Xbox 360 in 2012. I was shocked to see that Shiren the Wanderer - Japan’s preeminent ‘90s Rogue-inspired series - hadn’t had a new entry designed since the modern day roguelike explosion, as Shiren 5 (subtitled in the West as The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate) came out initially in 2010, though with an upgraded Switch release in 2020. That game is great, but the sixth and latest entry in the nearly 30-year-old series, dubbed Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, is an even bigger step forward, improving on some novel online features and expanding the fun and complexity of the awesome and oft punishing franchise.

The visuals are the most apparent change in Shiren 6, as the franchise sheds its pixel art roots for 3D visuals. I was hesitant at first, but the implementation of the new art style fits the series wonderfully. Characters and enemies are expressive and the game overall looks sharp on the Nintendo Switch. I wouldn’t call the 3D visuals head and shoulders better than 2D pixel art, but it ultimately feels closer to six of one, half-dozen of another when it comes down to it.

The gameplay is refined but generally unchanged from the Mystery Dungeon style. Through a novel narrative conceit where the titular wanderer is destroyed by the eventual final boss and awakens back in the starting town with no memory, Shiren sets off to solve the mystery dungeon of Serpentcoil Island. Floors of the randomly generated dungeon are all grid-based and each move or action you make is a turn. When you take a turn, other enemies and NPCs across the floor also take an action. The emphasis is on thoughtful strategy, making use of the items and scrolls you find to navigate traps and defeat increasingly difficult hordes of enemies. When you lose all your hit points, you start back at the first floor with none of your items or gear.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t progression. You can uncover alternate paths and explore different side quests as you likely fail numerous runs. The progression isn’t found in level-ups or gear, but in knowledge. You’ll learn the weaknesses of different enemies and the effectiveness of different items. You’ll learn when to get the hell out of a dungeon and when you can hang back and pick off foes. While I sometimes wished there was an easier difficulty setting, I had a blast trying to make use of my inventory to stay alive in the deadly mystery dungeon.

When you do inevitably die, you can make use of the rescue system. Originally introduced back in Shiren the Wanderer on Wii, the rescue system is an ingenious online component where, when you fail, you can request a rescue from an online player. When you attempt rescues online, you also earn Aid Points, which can be used to make your future rescues easier, letting you start at a higher level or with more health. Even if you’re offline, you can rescue yourself (though you don’t get Aid Points that way). During the review period, I primarily rescued myself, which was a fun and unique challenge in and of itself. While you can only be rescued three times over the course of a run, it’s a nice option to have for when you get pantsed deep into the dungeon.

Rescue isn’t the only neat online feature. You can also let other players try your current run while using Parallel Play, which creates a save point mid-dungeon that you can share with others to see who can do the best. That, combined with some of the stream-friendly UI options, makes Shiren more an online experience than I ever would have expected when I was getting my ass kicked by punishing dungeons back in the 2000s.

Even if you’re not dabbling in the worldwide mystery dungeon web, Shiren 6 is still a beefy game that holds a wealth of secrets. The main dungeon is only 30 floors, but by progressing through the game, you can unlock various shortcuts and side dungeons that usually come with a greater challenge and an even greater reward. This is a flavor of game that might not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a thoughtful, challenging game that constantly evolves and builds, Shiren’s journey to the mysterious Serpentcoil Island might be perfect for you.

Neal Ronaghan
Director, NWR

"Fungah! Foiled again!"