Indie Quickie: Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe

It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.

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What is it? A game of intergalactic air hockey duels.

Who made it and where can you get it? French studio Agharta brings us this modern homage to an old favorite gamers of a certain age may recall playing in the late 1980s on a Mac, Amiga, or some other ancient computer hardware. This new version was originally released as a mobile game for iOS and Android, but you can now play the Deluxe edition on Steam for $9.99 (or $7.99 until December 13th).

How much did we play? Nearly three hours flew by as I achieved victory in 30 matches, reached level 22 and a rank of Student, collected 1 of 13 ship parts, and completed a survival run to its fullest by scoring 100 consecutive points without giving up a goal myself. And yet I have only just begun to scratch the surface of the amount of content this game has to offer.

Any technical concerns or hardware requirements you should know about? Going by an active discussion in the game’s Steam Community Hub, there do seem to be some bugs causing problems for some users, which isn’t too surprising for a newly launched PC game. I was among that group for a time. The first time I launched the game it ran fine, but in trying to come back for a second round the game kept crashing with a runtime error. Thankfully a developer on the discussion thread provided a fix that took care of the problem for me in short order. After getting the game working again, however, I did encounter one other glitch that caused the interface to mysteriously shut down. I could move the cursor just fine, but all menu selection icons were un-clickable. Since I couldn’t navigate the menus, I had to force-crash the game and restart. The game has operated smoothly since.

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Why should you play it?

    • Air Hockey…In Space: You are an astronaut. Your spaceship has crash landed on an unknown planet far away from home. Oh no, what is a space traveler to do? Well, in the world of Shufflepuck Cantina you stroll into the local casino where fellow space travelers and all manner of alien beings throw down in air hockey duels for Credz (the game’s currency). Cash and prizes have their allure, but the ultimate goal is to stomp the cantina’s 13 air hockey masters into submission in order to win the parts necessary to repair your ship. The gameplay is as basic as one would expect—effortlessly glide your mouse side to side, forward and backward like you would a real air hockey mallet, smacking the puck back and forth with the opponent until one player slams it through the other player’s holo-glass goal barrier enough times to score the required number of points to win the match. The control response and puck physics are dead on point. Of course, this is space air hockey, so there’s a bit more to it than that. In this universe, air hockey players have special mallets made out of braided armpit hair and other odd materials which allow them to call upon power-up strikes that hurl the puck your way at unpredictable trajectories. Shufflepuck’s air hockey tables also spawn occasional pick-up holograms, some beneficial (larger mallet size, double strike for two points per goal instead of one, a protective shield over your goal), others not so much (reduced mallet or puck size, opponent entering a pissed-off mood where every shot is a special strike). There is more to this game than the Earth air hockey you’ve played at Chuck E. Cheese’s.

    • To Infinity and Beyond: For a simple game of futuristic air hockey, Shufflepuck’s surprising wealth of content offers near limitless staying power. Rising up the air hockey ranks almost takes on the progression of a role-playing game as you earn points and level up (according to the achievements the max level goes all the way to 200!), win cash to spend on mallet and puck upgrades (and other loot like character biographies and concept art), and complete missions and quests for bonus points. Matches typically only last a couple minutes, making the game ideal for pick-up-and-play gratification when you just want something light and breezy to play. But be warned: the gameplay and upgrade loop become so addictive that quick sessions you initially only intend to last 10 or 15 minutes will end up sucking away hours of your life. At times the game does feel a bit too “grindy,” in that you are required to play the same opponents over and over again to amass enough Credz to buy upgrades and ultimately each character’s ship part. However, by the time you unlock the casino’s second floor the pacing and reward intake pick up enough steam to ease the grind.

    • Seamless Transition: When I began playing Shufflepuck I expected a fun, simple rendition of air hockey, but I sure as hell wasn’t expecting the game to take place in such an immersive and atmospheric world. You view the casino from a first-person perspective, and point and click to access different areas kind of like an adventure game. Each scene flows together in a single, sweeping motion, the camera seamlessly panning and zooming in/out as you interact with characters, sort through dialogue and menus, and begin matches. Not even a single load time breaks your connection to the game. More importantly, the game world is one that you will be happy to spend your time in. The casino on planet Athanor is home to charming and unusual characters, such as bartender droids, a cute Furby-like critter, a space smuggler obviously modeled as a Han Solo parody, and a bar singer reminiscent of the alien opera singer from The Fifth Element. The team at Agharta clearly must have drawn a lot of inspiration from Star Wars, because every time I play the game I feel immediately transported to the Tatooine cantina scene. The repetitive nature of the post-point character animations and one-liners does wear thin, but beyond that the presentation is outstanding.

Parting Thoughts: Once upon a time, when Apple and Commodore were personal computer rivals, Brøderbund Software released a little game called Shufflepuck Café. If you played that game back in the day, prepare for an overload of nostalgic air hockey goodness. If this is your first trip to the Shufflepuck Cantina, well, nostalgia won’t do anything for you, but the air hockey goodness sure will!

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!