There are some games that promise much more than they actually deliver. Broderbund's latest offers a sports simulation of sorts, a bizarre set of opponents, good sound, excellent graphics and plenty of variable options yet manages to be less than the sum total of its parts.
The game is Shufflepuck, which is basically air hockey played without goals. Instead each player has a glass plate between him and the table to defend. Should he or she miss the puck the glass is shattered and a point is lost. The simplicity of the game is spiced up with a neat scenario which transports it into a sci-fi setting. Played in a cafe somewhere on the furthest reaches of the galaxy, it's a cross between the sleazy bar in Star Wars and Milliways, the restaurant at the end of the universe in Hitchhiker's Guide. The regulars are a pretty mixed bunch, united only by their love of shufflepuck.
Wandering into this dive in search of a telephone you find yourself locked in a tournament with eight of the shufflepuck crazies that frequent the bar. The game loads with an animated still of the locals and you can get into a match by clicking on one of the various pug-ugly faces. Once into a match you can select attacking or defensive modes for the paddles. This involves giving you more bounce from the puck or power in striking. To add extra interest to the game you can also select a blocker which allows you to insert an obstacle between you and the opponent.
The set up over, you can start to take on some of the weirdos. Each has a particular character and skill level. At one end there's the bespectacled wimp Skip Feeney who bears more than a passing resemblance to Woody Allen and is a total pushover, and at the other there's Biff Raunch, a hell's angel with a vile temper. In between there's an array of opponents including a lounge lizard (yes literally) with a taste for blue champagne, and Princess Be|in who has a neat mental approach to the game - she doesn't hit the puck when she serves, she waves her hand over it.
In fact much of the variation in the game comes from the characters you find sitting at the other end of the table. Their reactions to winning, losing and letting in goals add a great deal to the game. Shufflepuck itself is pretty average, something not helped by the lack of a two player option. Air hockey is air hockey no matter how much you try and tart it up.
The presentation for Shufflepuck Cafe is excellent. It's good to look at, with large, imaginatively drawn characters. They're neatly animated too, with good facial expressions and reactions. The comic touches are well observed, with some nice moments - like when Lexan Smythe-Worthington slumps under the table, rat-arsed, with a crash after losing. Sound, too, is good with a solid puck sound and a nice sampled smash when you score. In fact that provides much of the appeal of playing a game.
The early appeal of good graphics and sound is dulled by the limitations of the gameplay. Were Shufflepuck one of a number of games on a multi-sports simulation I'd say it was a highlight, but not on its own.
Very cool table game, from the Ancient times. Also was available on MacOS and pc. It was a very big hit! You have to beat the hardest opponents. Just visit the cafe and select somebody to play with. There are quite interesting faces...
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