Right off the bat, Shufflepuck Cantina hits you with a winning idea: Take a bit of space western, mix in a hearty homage to the Mos Eisley cantina from Star Wars: A New Hope, and tie it all together in a world where a sci-fi version of air hockey rules the day. With a concept like this, how can you possibly lose? Well, once you see the execution, you find out… many times over.
The game features a combination of point-and-click adventure and some mild RPG elements, wherein you move around the Shufflepuck Cantina and speak to the robotic and alien life forms occupying the premises. You’ll chat with them and challenge them to “shufflepuck” matches, which have different modes, such as straight up duels to win money or the ability to wager your previous earnings for a higher payout. With the money earned, you can purchase new pucks, paddles, and more, including backstories for each character. Buy all of the entries for a character, and you’ll get to access their moves.
Your ultimate goal, as an astronaut who has crash-landed nearby, is to win enough money to get yourself set up to return home. The locals, including the fellow who helps you through the tutorial, are all friendly enough. However, the game of “shufflepuck” is not.
You have made him very angry.
We’ve played our fair share of air hockey in our day, and– no lie– had some pretty epic matches, including plenty where the puck would hardly stay on the table, and one time when it was actually split in two mid-game. So yes, it would be fair to say that we have some sense of what the game is like, and unfortunately, this is also where Shufflepuck Cantina falters. Were it just a side mini-game or something, it could potentially be overlooked, but in this case, it is the game.
Overall, something just feels off about it. It’s tough to put everything into words, but one of the biggest culprits is undoubtedly the fact that the entire end of the table serves as the goal, rather than the middle portion. As a result, it not only becomes quite difficult to block, but also incredibly easy to score on yourself– a problem the computer opponents do not seem to have. Similarly, it seems difficult to get your paddle into proper position to block incoming shots, which the computer again seems to have less trouble with. Throw in special trick-shot maneuvers for added irritation.
Never expect a fair fight from a Furby.
The result is an infuriating mess at the core of the game which is not nearly as good as it– or the rest of the game– looks. It’s not impossible to win, but it feels more difficult than it should be, even at the starting level. The fact that the game’s page on iTunes needs to direct you to who the “easiest” (and that term should be used loosely) opponent seems indicative of a problem in itself.
Shufflepuck Cantina has potential, but the game as it is now is more irritation than its worth, even as a free game. They packed in a lot of great content, set pieces, characters, great graphics and sound, and so on, but it’s all for naught if the core game isn’t worth playing. Maybe the developers will upgrade the main component of Shufflepuck Cantina, but for now, it’s difficult to recommend.