Shuffling Around is a moderately difficult parser-based word puzzle game. The blurb is right, it would have been harder with graphics.
Is Yompus really the author’s name? That seems suspiciously thematic. This game is sort of a yompus.
General: Shuffling Around is a peculiar game constructed entirely around anagramming: the player’s main magical power (and thus the game’s chiefest unique mechanic) consists of the ability to change objects into other objects whose names share the same letters by anagramming them around. Now, anyone who’s played with the Internet Anagram Server knows that anagramming is clever in theory, but rarely amounts to that many usable real words in practice. Well, except for that time when I found out one of my characters’ names anagrammed to “Ramrod Horny,” but I digress. So given the fun-ness but relative inflexibility of the anagram premise, it’s not surprising that the game environment is very surreal and absurdist, littered with objects that do not go together in any way except to indicate that they’re to somehow be rearranged into objects that make more sense. If you like the surreal and the absurd, this may be up your alley. As it happens, I like the surreal and the absurd, so I found this game rather delightfully whimsical altogether in a yompus-y-, yompic fashion. Your mileage, as always, may vary. I also like puzzles that draw on my strengths, which include verbal reasoning but do not include cartographic skills.
Writing: This game is basically all puns and wordplay. If you accept that it is not aiming to exist in any sort of coherent universe and that you will be interacting with things named “Old Man Almond,” it works fine. It’s not as elegant and snappy as it could’ve been (I don’t remember giggling at any point, for instance, and a silly game is best when it’s actually funny), but it didn’t make me cringe, either. It’s certainly not a serious narrative. It exists to support a particular puzzle mechanic, so either you have fun with that or you don’t, really: in that sense it’s a very pure puzzle game. Trying to string together coherent writing and characterization would’ve undermined the freedom of puzzle design, which couldn’t have been easy in the first place; Yompus (tee hee) was constrained in the first place to the reasonable boundaries of the English language, particularly the reasonable boundaries of English-language nouns that most of his target audience would be able to guess, which couldn’t have been easy. So: it’s an anagram pun game. Of course I wish it’d been a little tighter and funnier, but not every humor game out there can be written by Terry Pratchett. Sadly, not everything can be written by Terry Pratchett.
Design: I feel bad that this is going to be another game where my review’s fairly short, but I’m afraid it is, but for a rather different reason — I liked the puzzles in Shuffling Around quite a lot and overall the game’s goals were very straightforward. I have more to say on the matter of a more heavily story-based game with more variant puzzles than a very simple puzzle-based game that depends on several variants of basically the same puzzle. I liked Shuffling Around decently altogether, really. I solved most of it, about 75% by my estimation, without >HINT assistance, and then relied on >HINT for the remainder; one bit I found particularly difficult was the toga/gato initial puzzle, for some absurd and embarrassing reason. I kept trying to summon a cat. I think I hadn’t quite worked out the gist of the game yet, despite its incredible obviousness. Anyway, moving on from my personal failings: the game has a few syntactic difficulties, but not too many, as syntactic difficulties really would’ve sunk its playability. A game like this is practically all syntax, after all, and any confusingness in the interface would just kill any possibility of solving the very odd puzzles. There’s not much common sense to them, after all, they all depend on semantics and performing impossible and counterintuitive actions. Thankfully, I found myself able to interact with the gameworld basically however I intended to, so all the challenges were on figuring out the relevance of any particular anagram. For the record I did not use the Internet Anagram Server for anything. So there.
If I’ve got a major criticism of the game’s design, it’s probably premise-centric, I’m afraid, and would’ve been hard to fix: that very absurdity makes it a little too difficult and unrewarding, in some respects. There’s no sense of continuity possible with this mechanic, no sense that you’re learning as you go except when you comprehend the initial schtick. Your earlier actions don’t much affect your later, you’re basically floating around in a world of absurdity with no consistent rules that operates entirely on your ability to rearrange English words. If you’re entertained by rearranging a bunch of English words, as I was, this is fine. If you’re looking for something to strain your resourcefulness or engage your immersion a little bit more, it probably won’t be. I think the primary trouble with a game of this nature is that it’s intrinsically limiting — although this one is pretty well-executed for what it is, it’s, well, it’s also bound to what it is, and what it is feels frustratingly up to the whimsy of the creator. You do never forget that you’re playing a game, even an IF competition game, and I don’t know if that works in its favor.
Overall it was a pretty fun experience, though, and I wouldn’t recommend against it. I don’t think I said anything in this review that actually spoils it, either, aside from the gato thing: given it consists entirely of word puzzles it’s pretty hard to spoil.
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