The first video game that I remember playing was Shufflepuck Cafe on my dad’s old Macintosh SE. Sure, there were other games on there but nothing quite captured my attention like Shufflepuck. It might have been in black and white but the graphics looked fine, it had sound (which was a rarity on that computer) and it was just fun to play. I may have poured more hour into that game during my childhood than anything on my NES.
So when I saw this homage to the original Shufflepuck Cafe pop up on Steam, I had to pick it up, if only for nostalgia’s sake. Fortunately, Shufflepuck Cantina didn’t stop at recreating the original in colour but added some depth to the original.
In Shufflepuck Cantina, as in Shufflepuck Cafe, your spaceship breaks down and the only place for miles is a small establishment where the patrons are very fond of an air hockey-esque game they call shufflepuck. The idea is to use your mallet (called your paddle in Cafe) to hit the puck into the other players goal. First to a specified number of points wins.
In the original, you had to beat all eight patrons consecutively in a “tournament” in order to be allowed to phone a spaceship repair service (sort of an interstellar AAA). Now, you have to earn 13 replacement parts for your broken spaceship by buying biographies of the patrons at the Shufflepuck Cantina.
You see, Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe is a PC port of an iOS and Android game. As such, it retains some of its grindy F2P mobile game elements. You earn credits by playing the patrons. However, to buy all of a character’s 19 biography parts, you’ll need nearly 9,000 “credz” (the in-game currency). With the average game earning you 200 – 300 credz, it’ll take you a bit to get there.
There are short cuts, though. Achievements come with cash bonuses. There are “mini-quests” which are part of an almost story arc with each character that come with larger cash bonuses. And there’s a slot machine-like card flipping where you can win extra credz. The highest I saw in there once was 10,000 credz. You can also buy items to help you earn cash more quickly.
I should note that while the economics of Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe aren’t perfect, at least Agharta Studio didn’t put microtransactions into the game. While that’s common place in free-to-play indie games, those microtransactions aren’t in the $10 PC version of Shufflepuck Cantina.
Anyway, on to the actual gameplay. There are 13 opponents for you to do battle with in three different types of matches. There’s definitely increasing difficulty as you progress and it will get frustrating but you do adapt to it. Mind you, the number of perfect games (no points scored against) you need to advance in mini-quests get mouse flippingly painfully annoying.
Each character has different strengths, weaknesses and special shots. Generally, bouncing the puck with a narrow angle in the final quarter of the playing surface is going to fool the computer. It does often feel like the AI gives up on points. I don’t remember the initial Shufflepuck Cafe giving up on points. I remember really having to earn points. That would be my one major criticism of the actual gameplay aside from the F2P level of grindiness.
While Shufflepuck Cafe had just the first to 15 points game mode, there are three game modes in Cantina. There’s the first to a point threshold game mode just like the classic game, called Duel in this game. For a spaceship part, it’s first to 15 points (vintage Shufflepuck) while the rest of the time is at a lower threshold. There’s the Bet mode where you put credz down and win money back. And there’s Survival in which you keep playing until you’re scored on by your opponent with more money earned for the more goals you can string together.
When I said that they added depth, the addition of new game modes, mini-quests, more characters and the ability to buy mallets that unlock special abilities creates a game much deeper than the original. Outside of the special abilities, Cafe far outstrips Cantina in terms of AI design variety as they all seem to play you the same way until they try a special. It doesn’t completely recapture the original but it does do a pretty good job of living up to it.
The game’s also moved out of the 2D/pseudo-3D black and white realm and into full 3D and full colour world. Everything is designed and animated in 3D. With all the lighting effects at full, my old laptop didn’t have any issues with the graphics. The animations all looked good. There are definitely some loving homages to Shufflepuck Cafe and sci-fi in general in both the graphics and audio. For example, there are early appearances from Han Solo and Twi’lek dancer look-a-likes and a backing track that sounds oddly like another famous Cantina track. The second level of the game has a drunken lizard who reminds me of Lexan in Cafe as well as having a cover of the original Cafe song.
There are a few issues with the PC port that have been fixed with patches. While graphics options are limited to three quality presets and vsync, there was an issue at launch where the game’s speed was tied to the frame rate so if you turned vsync off, the game’s speed would be so fast that it was unplayable. That was fixed with a patch. Apart from that, I didn’t encounter any other issues.
The devs have also promised that they would have generated enough money to work on Oculus Rift supports and an online multiplayer component when they’ve sold 15,000 units. Given that it looks good, runs well, has almost no loading times and is a worthy successor to an iconic title, I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t reach that threshold and get those added features for free.
Last week, when talking about Superball 2 HD, I questioned what the right balance was between just a straight remake compatible with modern hardware and adding modern gameplay improvements. Superball 2 HD basically went with the straight remake. Shufflepuck Cantina took the original and brought it up to 2013 standards. I’m sure Shufflepuck Cafe fans would have been more than happy with a straight remake but Agharta did a fantastic job of making a modern Shufflepuck game while retaining the spirit of the original.
It’s not perfect. As noted above, I have issues with the grinding to complete the game which I can understand because you don’t want people to stop playing after a few hours but it also doesn’t seem to fit without the microtransactions that were originally in the game. The AI seeming to give up on points does indicate some issues with balancing the difficulty that the original didn’t have but at least it’s not unbeatable.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe. It may not have made me feel like a kid again but at least I know that my favourite game growing up was someone else’s favourite game too. Maybe I wasn’t all alone in space… That I didn’t know was space until looking it up on Wikipedia. I guess the story part of the game was vastly improved over the original too.
Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for Mac OS X and Linux. There is also Shufflepuck Cantina which is available for iOS and Android devices but that is not reviewed here. Your impressions of the game may differ based on platform played, your mouse and nostalgia.