Shuffling Around is a surreal wordplay puzzle game. As usual, the jump will be followed by non-spoilery comments; then if I have anything spoilery to say, there will be spoiler space. The fact that I am reviewing it at all indicates that there are beta-testers.
Wordplay puzzle games are often thin on premise or narrative and long on weird imagery. Shuffling Around is no exception: predicated on the idea that the player character can use anagrams to transform one environmental object into another, it has only the vaguest gestures at a plot. The challenge consists of thinking of anagrams for items in the room, in order to turn those into other things that will be more useful. The problem (at least, in my view) is that a lot of the uses of the imagined objects are extremely surreal, so you don’t know what you’re trying to get until you’ve got it. Most of the gameplay experience therefore consisted of wandering around trying to think of anagrams for objects that were lying around and brute-force-guessing them until something happened.
That’s when you’re doing well, of course. In a number of cases, I gave up and went to the hints, only to discover that I had been trying to anagram the wrong word or phrase to start with (for instance, presented with “a tall trio of chef statues”, I focused confusedly on “chef statues” rather than “tall trio”).
The game gives the player the opportunity to do only 2/3 of the puzzles in order to open up the endgame. Presented with this option, I accepted it with a sense of relief. Shuffling Around isn’t a bad piece, and there are a number of cute jokes, but the solutions had begun to feel a bit homework-like by the end, with no significant progression in difficulty or variety of concept. And in the absence of any coherent story or character development, it was hard for me to be invested in its fiction.