The good folks at Agharta Studio have done something completely insane: they released a free-to-play air hockey (holographic mag-lev hockey?) game set in an immersive and silly setting best described as "Star Wars by way of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

Shufflepuck Cantina [Free] is actually an an air hockey, not shufflepuck (table shuffleboard) game, but it keeps the misnomer as part of its homage to Shuffepuck Café, one of the top Mac, DOS, Atari and Amiga games of 1989. There are also a few intentional parallels in style, like the distinctive "hol0graphic glass break" score effect, but it's mainly a matter of the carefully developed setting.

All of the Sci-Fi weirdos in Shufflepuck Cantina are entirely new and much more developed than their Café antecedents, but they share a similar sense of humor. For example, instead of Café's robot waiter, DC3, every level of Shufflepuck Cantina has a different bartender, starting with M4Rv1N, who seems to have worked though his paranoia and depression at some point.

Back in the day, I loved playing air hockey at the local miniature golf course's arcade. I thought I was pretty good, and back then, maybe I was. Shufflepuck Cantina has taught me the hard truth: my reflexes are shot.

Judging from the forum, there are three different kinds of players of Shufflepuck Cantina. There are the elite few who quickly advance to the third floor of the cantina (the hardest level, for now: more levels are coming) and find the opponents there mildly challenging. There are a lot of people who struggle for the first 20 minutes or so of play, but then "get it" and they're on their way. Then there are a number of people who crash-land on Athanor, stumble into the Shufflepuck Cantina, and proceed to get pucked over and over again by a furby.

I'm squarely in the last category. After literally hundreds of games, I'm finally about a match for "Furry," the weakest opponent in the game. I've read all the advice (from pushing your mallet forward to return a shot faster to the fact that you can "teleport" your mallet by simply touching where you want it to be: you don't have to keep your finger on the screen the whole time), but I'm just too slow.

Agharta really is trying to "do freemium right." There are a lot of things to buy, but none of them are disposable, and none of them allow you to buy victory. I should know: I tried. The "extra wide mallet" helped... but not enough. More serious players will be spending "Credz" on unlocking parts of your opponents' stories, and when you unlock their entire biography, you can play as them, with bonuses and penalties. Each of the other players also has a trick shot, and if you've mastered that character, you can equip their mallet and puck and perform their trick shot on occasion, whether or not you're playing as them.

Racking up Credz isn't hard for a skilled player. Games tend to last well under a minute each, and if you're enjoying playing, they'll go by quickly. My problem, beyond sucking to begin with, was that the longer I played at a stretch, the worse I got, as my finger tired and my eyes began to cross.

We all know that the iPod touch is the red-headed stepchild of iOS devices, but despite the game's gorgeous 3d art and lightning-fast play, Shufflepuck Cantina never stuttered on my device. Neither could I blame my failure on the game's design. The interface is super-sensitive: this is the first iOS game I've played where I wanted to chalk my fingertips to reduce friction on the screen, and while being able to clearly see your mallet has to be an advantage when playing on an iPad, on the small screen you can position you finger on or just behind the mallet, improving visibility.

If you don't think that designing a good interface for an air hockey game matters, you should download the Midway Arcade [$0.99] collection and play the included air hockey game. I did just that, and it convinced me that Agharta nailed the control scheme.

A quick two player match is only a tap away, and the game switches to a symmetrical perspective for same-device multiplayer. Right now, same-device is the only multiplayer mode, but Agharta says that WiFi play is coming. The art is gorgeous, and the writing is funny. The game's music and sound are pleasant enough, though this game is just begging for some sort of jukebox feature (it's set in a bar for crizzake).

It will be interesting to see how Shufflepuck Cantina works out for Agharta. There's a risk of the freemium system backfiring, as the really good players won't need to buy Credz, and less talented players may spend money only to experience disappointment and frustration when the game is still really hard. I'm a little surprised that there isn't an IAP to slow the game down - perhaps a "high friction" puck that cuts your score in half when used.

The fact that Shufflepuck Cantina is free makes it easy to recommend: if the premise appeals to you, download it and give it half an hour. At that point, if you're jazzed and really rockin' it, you've just made a friend. On the other hand, if you're feeling irritable or frustrated at that point, you should just delete the game and move on. Shufflepuck Cantina isn't for everyone, so while I really want to learn about Ayato's past (did he shoot first?) I doubt I ever will.

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarNone
  • sakara214ever

    Mediocre game.

    • Guillaume Merle

      Thanks for your constructive criticism.

  • Spudboy

    I'll have to try it out, enjoyed playing this on my Amiga.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.albrecht.5811 Daniel Albrecht

    I REALLY want to like this game. But I'm the third category. Just not good enough for the demanding AI. xD

  • Guillaume Merle

    At first I thought : What ? Only 3,5/5 ?!

    Then I read your review and understood that you were frustrated by the game difficulty.
    Luckily, I happen to be in the first of the categories that you described, I simply bought the double credz card and managed to unlock the 3rd floor within 1 or 2 hours of play.

    After that, I found that the robot on the 2nd floor (Clint) has a bonus that hugely increases the amount of credz earned per perfect win.
    So I bought his 19 biographies to unlock him, then I was able to win 3000 credz for each perfect win against Vardkor in Bet mode.

    Finally I unlocked every items in the game, and every biographies (which are actually quite interesting to read).
    Although it was a bit repetitve in the end, I had a lot of fun, and now here I am waiting for the 4th floor to be released.

    So yeah I'd personnally rate it 4,5/5 but indeed in your case, if you can't get past the first floor it must be very frustrating and I understand your point.

    Anyway this game is free so people should try it, and if they don't find it too difficult, then I wish them to have as much fun as I did :)

    PS : I never played the original Shufflepuck cafe but I played a lot with flash games called air hockey and air hockey 2 (I remember them to be much harder than this game btw).

  • alyfantis

    I also really wanted to like this game, but the table is so tiny that my thumb blocks out half of it, decreasing accuracy. It's too bad I suck because the setting is awesome.

  • anada

    I wish there were an option at the start of a match to switch the view to top down.

    Great game though

  • http://twitter.com/Aghartastudio Alex

    I actually like the review (well except the low notation) , 

    It's really is impossible to please the three mentionned categories :/ still an update is on it's way where you can select an easy mode against characters and receive less cash, until you got the hang of it

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003136913750 Tof Eklund

    Thank you, everyone. I don't mind saying that I agonize over the score more than any other part of the review process. I argue with myself and go back and forth over and over, both before and after the review posts. It's this way for me every time.

    For anyone on the fence, let me reiterate that Shufflepuck Cantina really is worth trying: the only opportunity cost is a few minutes of your time.

  • tom devaney

    Personally, I just downloaded the game to support Agharta because they need help financially for 1112;but, I really enjoy the game very much! The graphics are great, and I love the atmosphere. The twist on air hockey is great for me and it gives it a new freshness. The characters are a nice touch as well. At first the difficulty was a little bit hard but after an hour I am getting a decent hang to it after experimenting different tactics. You can either play defensively where you redirect the puck into the corners, or you can play aggressively (I am starting to do this) and aim for the the corners. I find this an exceptional air hockey game. I am not sure what I give it yet, but I am certain at least a 4 probably minimum 4.5 too. Good review just a little curious about the score, but I understand it was lowered because of the difficulty and I guess that's fine, but it feels as if it still should've been higher considering the review. Although, it makes sense that it played such an important part in the score because you kept at it trying to overcome the difficulty; yet, not succeeding. 

  • Levi Parmiter

    How can I bet more? I cannot increase the amount of creds to bet...

    • Benjamin Palmer

      Each opponent has a limit of how much you can bet with them. Harder opponents allow you to bet more, the early ones much less. So if you cannot raise your bet, you're already at the top for that opponent. 

      • Levi Parmiter

        Thanks

  • nickmorgs

    I loved Shufflepuck Cafe when it came bundled with my Amiga 500.  Shufflepuck Cantina does a great job of setting the atmosphere but I found the game too hard.  I just don't think that games of this nature work well with touch screen controls.

  • https://me.yahoo.com/rekzkarz#a0df5 REkzkaRZ

    Thanks for all the great comments!
    I can see this as a game I might enjoy, depending on if I can handle the difficulty.  It was the comments that make me want to try this game more than the review -- although I did find it amusing for a reviewer who can't really play the game well to write the review.  (Not too bad review -- but humorous sad.)

    I dloaded this game, but haven't played yet b/c I'm dloading the exciting iOS 6 update.

    Someone previously posted that TA review scores are off, in that good games get low scores while some obvious garbage gets higher scores.

    There have been many games (more than 10) which, despite receiving a high scoring TA review, I commented, "I will pass" -- b/c so many of these games are actually not what I'd call 'games' but just sucky annoying fronts for IAP.  If it's a free game, that's one thing, but more disturbing are the sucky annoying games you PURCHASE which have tons of IAP options *which do not add anything fun to the game* other than giving your 'virtual' hero a insignificant 'virtual' item.
    This game sounds like it's a mix of those -- hopefully the gameplay is better and there's little pressure to upgrade my paddle.

    TA apparently can tag reviews (I copied the tags for this game below) -- how cool would it be if TA enhanced this tag system to include a few handy 'tags/flags' like 'type of game', ie 'scifi' & 'funny/humorous', 'indie developer' vs 'big corporate game', 'No IAP' or 'Minor IAP' vs 'IAP fest', '5 star consensus' vs '5 star disagreement', 'everyone loves it' or 'everyone hates it', etc.

    Just a few handy tags like those would help people (like me) auto-buy a great game, or auto-bypass those annoying "ultraviolent" or "killer" or "gory" games that have swapped the point of gaming (ie a great game) & instead propose that gore=game and IAP= exciting.
    Tags: 3.5 stars, Arcade, Free,Game Center, Games, iPad Games, iPhone games, iPod touch games, Reviews, Sports,Universal

    /end rant

  • http://renneth.com renneth

    I was very disappointed buying the "I love agartha studio" in app purchase. Maybe I'm what you call a sucker. The mini game was the real downer.

  • wafflestirrup

    I found this game to be visually striking, however, the difficulty level from the get-go really turned me off. I am not particularly fond of games that I find frustrating (really, who is?), and ended up deleting the game about 45 minutes into it without a single victory! This isn't a game for me, but for those who enjoy this genre, I would recommend it.

  • http://twitter.com/Aghartastudio Alex

    THere is an update Available on the appstore now, you have now access to a training mode for each character, (the rewards are a bit lower in training mode) Give us that missing review star back now !! ^^

  • http://www.facebook.com/ikkyu.san.106 Ikkyu San

    Great game, great job Agharta. And not that difficult once you get used to it, i actually find it a little bit too easy. Can't wait for the 4th floor and hopefully tougher opponents. I used to love the original game when i was a kid, hope the updates won't disapoint ! 5 stars imo.

  • thiagovscoelho

    There IS a high friction puck, as of the time of writing this! It's called Shock Absorber and it slows down when it hits the table-walls.

Shufflepuck Cantina Reviewed by Tof Eklund on . Rating: 3.5