I’d rather not think about Avalis Dungeon, but I made my choice and must live with it. At least it was a reasoned decision with logical consequences, which is more than I can say for anything that happens in Team Shuriken’s insubstantial adventure failure.
Probably the first thing that will strike you when you play Avalis Dungeon or even glance at its cover is the recurring theme of under-dressed faux-anime women. A lot of the time there’s a vaguely S&M tone too, with various ‘enemies’ and ‘characters’ inexplicably being chained to things, and convulsing in a vaguely suggestive way when struck down by your long, sturdy spear.
Accusing Avalis Dungeon of being a shameless attempt to grab the ‘frustrated teenage boy’ market is like accusing William Shatner of being a hammy actor. Actually, it pretty much is the indie game version of The Shat. It’s cheesy and over the top, and consciously tries to play up its deficiencies to the point of caricature. Unlike Shatner, Avalis Dungeon’s efforts never manage to distract anyone for even a moment from the fact that it’s pathetically awful.
The amateur anime underwear model cheesecakery isn’t Avalis Dungeon’s biggest failing. It’s the thing I resented most – the assumption that I, the XBLIG-buying consumer, will lap up anything that contains some kind of semi-lifelike representation of exposed female skin – but it wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the complete absence of any form of logic to the ‘puzzles’ and ‘battles’. This game is about trial and error.
Your character, the ‘priestess’ Athena who seems to believe that the path to holiness involves forsaking all worldly undergarments, is exploring some miscellaneous dungeon in search of an Evil Thing. In a cross between Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks and old first-person dungeon crawlers like Eye of the Beholder, you see the world through Athena’s eyes while navigating in unwieldy lurches that require you to choose a course of action. At the outset, for example, you have three choices of route – ahead, left or right – and must press the corresponding face button to select one. It’s deep and involving stuff, clearly. Still, as someone who owned (and still owns) a lot of gamebooks, this could hold a certain appeal. Unfortunately Avalis Dungeon laughs in the face of those carefully constructed adventures.
The outcomes of your choices here are nonsensical. When you encounter an obstacle or enemy you have to press a face button to attempt one of several actions. Faced with a half-naked mermaid, do you cast a fire spell, cast an ice spell, or just ram your spear through her face? It doesn’t matter how much logic you apply to your decision, the correct answer is completely arbitrary. In some situations a fire spell will be ‘too slow’ and get you killed but an ice spell will not. RPG fans might think there’s an elemental weakness theme here – that firey enemies can be killed by ice, or icey/watery enemies can be killed by fire. But no. There’s no reason to any of it, just arbitrary whim. The only way to progress through the game is to guess, and if you guess the wrong option you start over and guess anew. Similarly, a corridor blocked by bladed pendulums can be passed successfully by jumping over them, despite the on-screen picture showing quite clearly that there’s no space to do that.
Who is this intended for? To whom is this blind guesswork fun? There’s no sense of engagement; nothing obliterates immersion quite as effectively as having the game make no sense. There isn’t even any sense of achievement when you finish the game, because you didn’t achieve anything. You guessed often enough to hit upon the correct answers by chance, and did this over and over until the end. It’s futile and pointless. Maybe the persistent semi-nudity is meant to distract from the non-existent gameplay, but all it does is accentuate the problem. Instead of feeling merely stupid and pointless, it feels stupid, pointless and cheap.
Avalis Dungeon: it’s not a game because there’s really no playing involved, and even if you just want amateurishly drawn semi-nudity you’re better off trying Google. Don’t give Team Shuriken your 240 Microsoft points. Even buying your avatar a selection of ugly matching accessories would be a better use of your money, and you won’t feel like you need to bleach yourself afterwards.