Shiren the Wanderer key art

Review: Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island (Nintendo Switch)

I want a talking ferret too.

6 mins read

The “roguelike” has become a term applied to so many different games that it’s functionally lost all meaning. Indies, in particular, have embraced it with the same vigour that big AAA developers have embraced unsustainably expensive open worlds. In that context, it’s actually refreshing to play a traditional, classical roguelike that gets right back to the “genre” roots, and that’s exactly what Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island delivers.

Related reading: For even more Shiren the Wanderer action another title in the series is also available on Switch. Check it out.

This game doesn’t break from the formula that the series has long embraced. You play as the titular Shiren, on a journey (“wandering,” if you will) with his faithful companion, the talking ferret Koppa. The narrative is thin, but appealing – the two heroes have a dream about a treasure guarded by a terrible monster on Serpentcoil island, so they decide to go investigating. Like chasing a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And just like that pot of gold is elusive, so too is the treasure that Shiren and Koppa chase.

With Shiren the Wanderer, the treasure isn’t elusive because you’ll never actually get to the base of a rainbow (science is mean like that). No. It’s because the game is so damn challenging and when a monster takes the last of your hit points (and that will happen frequently), you’re thrown right back to the start of the game, at level 1, with no equipment or wealth aside for one or two pieces that you may have been able to “courier” back in your last attempt at the dungeon. I did say this was a traditional roguelike. Between the shocking frequency of traps and “monster rooms” (where you’ll be swamped by 20 or more enemies out of nowhere with no warning) and the speed with which enemy difficulty escalates, this is a game that even the most experienced roguelike fan will find difficult. The difficulty is firmly set to “retro.”

A screenshot from Shiren the Wanderer Serpentcoil

Unlike Dark Souls or Elden Ring, it’s not difficult as a skill tester. Shiren the Wanderer is turn-based and sedate-paced, making it very accessible and easy to pick up. Like Dark Souls and Elden Ring, as you play Shiren the Wanderer, and learn by failure, you will find that you make progress more easily. You learn how to effectively collect and utilise your resources, how to map your path through the journey, and which enemies are better to avoid or try to counter without getting into a fistfight with them. You’ll learn how to be cautious about traps, how to get yourself out of sticky situations, and so on. FromSoftware tests your ability to think quickly and time attacks, counters, and abilities in its games. Spike Chunsoft tests your ability to think deeply and creatively, especially in how to most effectively manage and deploy your inventory.

Related reading: Chocobo Dungeon: Every Buddy (also available on Switch) is another brilliant classic roguelike. Our review.

You’ll go from struggling to get past the first ten “levels” of the dungeon to feeling like you’re Sisyphus and finally about to get the boulder to the top of the mountain, for there is an end to the game and it is so satisfying when you finally get there. Spike Chunsoft has been refining this formula for decades now, and it’s all so perfectly balanced and executed that it’s easy to see why the development teams don’t feel any urgency to reinvent the wheel.

In terms of presentation, Shiren the Wanderer is charming. You won’t mind when an enemy gets you, because they’re almost universally cute, colourful and fun in design. Mechanically the game is made up of a few dozen randomly drawn levels where you simply search for an exit and move to the next level, but the game doesn’t feel like a single stack because every few levels the environment changes and the variety in them is great. Character models are also nice too. There is a light “fuzziness” to much of the art and text (at least, that’s the case when playing with the OLED Switch, but in terms of art direction, Shiren the Wanderer is right up there.

Shiren the Wanderer Serpentcoil screenshot

This is one of those shorter reviews as I don’t have much else to say. Almost everyone knows what a roguelike is, and Shiren the Wanderer is a classical roguelike in every way. However, Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is one of the most perfectly executed, impossible-to-put-down examples of the genre, and for that reason it’s essential.

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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