Air Hockey for weirdos

Shufflepuck Cafe logo Amiga Computing Excellence Award

SPOTTING a sales rep out on the road is easy - he's the guy in the red Orion with a jacket hanging up in the back. In the future it'll be easier: just look for the jacket.
Things have taken a downturn in your life. On the way to closing the biggest sale you've ever negotiated, your new (possibly red) Nash Sombrero decides to play up, forcing you to take the nearest exit. Too bad it had to be the one for Wrong Side of Town (Central).
Grabbing your jacket from out the back, the only possibility of contacting the AA seems to be the local bar. This place isn't a quiet martini and wallpaper music establishment. No, in dive terms this one's the Acapulco cliffs.
The clientèle appear to be what;s left after the dregs of humanity and a variety of other races have decided to call it quits. You can see a phone way over in the far corner, but these people won't let you by until you've proved your worth at the Shufflepuck Cafe.

Shufflepuck is like Air Hockey, the ancient arcade attraction that looked like a cross between a snooker table and a steam iron. Each player has a paddle and the aim is to get the puck past the opposing player. In this version a point is marked by smashing the glass screen in front of the opposing player..

To get through to the phone you've got to beat all eight of the local players. They range from the wimpy Skip Feeney through the initially good by increasingly tipsy Lexan Smythe-Worthington to the reigning champion and hard man, Biff Raunch.
They have their own style and weaknesses, but it will take a lot of playing to beat Biff Raunch or Princess Bejin, the Cafe's number two player who just happens to have a telekinetic serve.

Practice can be had by playing any of the players singly or by programming a robot to be as good or as bad a player as you want.

Shufflepuck is simple, but with gameplay that;s truly off-world. From the weird intro tune to players' exclamations of disgust, the sound is neatly atmospheric. As this is a straight USA import, it's got a slightly shortened screen, but despite this the graphics carry the game.


Shufflepuck Cafe logo

DOMARK £19.99 * Mouse

It happens to all of us (well, it happens to me an awful lot!): it's very late at night, and you desperately need to use the 'phone'. Unfortunately, the only 'phone for miles is in the back of a crowded bar, and the drinkers at the bar don't look too friendly.

Well, that's the situation you're in in Shufflepuck. There's absolutely no way out: you have to use that 'phone. The unpleasant patrons of the establishment will only let you pass if you prove yourself by playing all of them at the old bar game Shufflepuck. For that matter, they'll only let you live if you prove yourself at Shufflepuck!

Everyone must have seen this game at one time or another. A small disc called a puck is placed on a table, and two players have "paddles" which they use to hit the puck to the opponent's end of the table. The aim is to whack the puck so fast that the other player misses it and it goes over his side of the table. Simple, you say? Yes, it is.

There are nine players in the bar: eight aliens and an android. These range from the wimpy bespectacled "Skip" (no relation, thank you very much; anyone who suggests a similarity between myself and him will regret it!!!) and the droid DC-3, who are both fairly poor, right up to Biff Raunch, who is, err... a teensy bit fast.

You can control the size of your paddle and the responsiveness of the puck: having a super-fast puck is fine when you're serving, but wait until you have to try and return it!

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

Shufflepuck has a great tune, and the bar noises are excellent. In-game FX are very limited, but the graphics are as good as they could be: there's only your opponent and the game pieces, all of which are fairly adequate.

JUDGEMENT

Well, Shufflepuck is a very good game, as far as it goes, but it doesn't go very far. The content is ridiculously limited. OK, so obviously someone has put a lot of time and effort into making this a polished piece of programming, but most people would expect a bit more than this for twenty quid. Simple and fun, but the simplicity is its downfall. 'Skippy' Dunn


Ein Abend in netter Gesellschaft?

Shufflepuck Cafe logo

In der düstersten Strasse einer ungemütlichen Zukunft-Metropole findet man das Shufflepuck Cafe: Ein verrufenes Lokal, in dem Aliens aller Art darauf warten, dich bei einer gepflegten Partie "Air-Hockey" über den Tisch zu ziehen!

Wer sich manchmal auf Rummelplätzen herumtreibt, der weiss bereits, worum es geht: Zwei Spieler stehen sich an einem grossen Tisch gegenüber und versuchen mit einem Paddle (Schläger) eine flache Scheibe in das gegnerische Tor (eine Öffnung im Tischrand) einzulochen. Ein schnelles Spiel für Leute mit flinkem Reaktionsvermögen!

In unserer Spelunke warten neun begeisterte "Shuffler" auf ein neues Opfer - einer aufgeflippter als der andere, und jeder mit einer anderem Spielstärke. Da wären zum Beispiel Skip, der nette Junge von nebenan, Lexan, ein besoffener Ausserirdischer oder das Gespenst Nergul, das seinen Kopf am Bauch montiert hat. Nun hat man die freie Wahl, ob man nur eben ein Spielchen gegen einen der netten Herrschaften wagen möchte, oder ob's gleich mit einem richtigen Turnier zur Sache gehen soll. In jedem Fall empfiehlt es sich, zunächst einige Proberunden mit dem vollautomatischen Trainings-Droiden zu spielen!

Wem die schnelle Maus-Action über den Köpf wächst, der kann dem Glück etwas nachhelfen, indem er sich einen grösseren Schläger zulegt. Daneben bietet das Programm noch einige angenehme Features, wie Abbruch einer Partie oder das Begutachten der Bestenliste, die jederzeit per Spacetaste von einem Menü aus abrufen werden können. Die Grafik schwankt zwischen Witz und Zweckmässigkeit: Das Spielfeld ist stets in der gleichen Perspektive zu sehen, die einzige Abwechslung bieten die ausgefallenen und teilweise animierten Gegner. Der Sound ist stimmig, die Barmusik in der Auswahlsequenz sogar ausgezeichnet!

Da das eigene Paddle nicht nur seitwärts sondern begrenzt auch nach vorne bewegt werden kann, ist es möglich, dem Puck zusätzlichen Schwung oder sogar einen Schnitt zu geben, wodurch das Gameplay sehr realistisch wird (sogar Eigentore sind möglich!). Dadurch macht Shufflepuck Cafe einen Heidenspass, zumindest zu Beginn. Mit zunehmender Spieldauer nützen sich die vielen kleinen Gags (wutausbrüche der Gegner etc.) jedoch bald ab, auf lange Sicht ist das Spielprinzip doch etwas zu simpel. Da hilft es auch nichts, dass einige der Aliens mit unkonventioneller Spielweise aufwarten - z.B. die junge Schönheit mit den magischen Fähigkeiten - das fehlen einer Zwei-Spieler-Option macht sich schmertzlich bemerkbar.

Dennoch ist Shufflepuck Cafe ein Game, das mann immer wieder gerne für ein oder zwei flotte Spielchen hervorkramen wird. Bedenkt man, dass eine Partie Air-Hockey in der Spielhalle mit etwa zwei Mark zu Buche schlägt, lohnt es sich allemal, die verzockte Alien-Bande der eigenen Softwaresammlung einzuverleiben! (ml)


Shufflepuck Cafe logo

Domark/Broderbund
Price: £19.99

What are the ingredients for a good night down the boozer? A decent drink, certainly, but what else? Good company, interesting surroundings, a good jukebox? What about an unusual pub game?
There's very little that's ordinary abut anything to do with Shufflepuck Cafe. The clients of this watering hole are as rum a bunch as you're likely to meet. There's Skip, the polite schoolboy swat, Lexan, the drunken alien, and Nerqul, the spectre who's head rests on his stomach, to name but a few. The place is full of weirdos, and you're there to swap a few yarns and play a game or two of shufflepuck.

And shufflepuck is a little bit like that end-of-pier air hockey game in which you whack the puck over a bed of compressed air, although this game being its futuristic counterpart, you get the chance to alter the weight and the size of your paddle and the amount of spin which it gives. But don't be lulled into thinking that a bigger, weightier paddle is all you need. Your computer opponent will anticipate your attempt to 'cheat' and try to outmanoeuvre your stunt.

If you're only in for a quick smack around the table, then you can choose any opponent you wish, or even just have a spot of training with the totally programmable training droid. However, if it's a full challenge you're after, then enter the tournament and try and take the title of Best Shufflepuck player from none other than Biff Raunch.

Things start simple enough. Skip is slow, and not the most aggressive of players. However, the action soon hots up as players respond faster to your shots, and the returns get faster and at obscure angles. It takes a quick eye and a sturdy mouse to keep the puck flying.

Even with all the opponents, and all the different playing styles, the game does start to pall after a few goes. The small amount of gameplay is very limiting, and hitting a puck back and forth over and over again does get very dull. Occasionally, you'll come across a character who does something different, like the witchy young lady who uses magic to make the puck float across the table and shoot off at a weird angle.
The graphics are pretty limited too. The main game area remains the same throughout the game, the only thing that changes is the graphics of the person you play. For the most part, these are represented by still graphics that move occasionally whenever a point is scored. The responses, such as the spectre revealing his head and emitting a howl when he gives a point away are humorous to start with, but simply become annoying after a while.

It's fun to play, and it can be quite addictive, but only for a short while. A game which would have benefited from a two-player option. Once again, more variety please.


Shufflepuck Cafe logo

Domark/Bröderbund/£19.99

Duncan: In case you're not familiar with the actual game of Shufflepuck itself, we'll tell you about it. It's a two player game set around a table, with one player seated at one end of the table, and another player seated at the other. Both chums are 'armed' with wooden blocks (about the size of blackboard rubbers) and there's a 'puck' waiting to be hit. The two players, in this case let's call them Humpty and Big Ted, have to strike the puck, sending it down to the opposing end of the table where hopefully a 'goal' will be scored.

If either of the chums is clever enough, they'll utilise the fact that the edges of the 'table' are raised - allowing the puck to be bounced off at cunning angles. Unfortunately, neither Humpty or Big Ted is clever enough. In fact they're both just propped up against the table doing nothing at all. Oh look - Big Ted's fallen over. Blimey, his head's come off.

Anyway, that's how you play Shufflepuck, and in the computer game you're playing it inside a rather weird cafe - hence the title. There are two screens - the first being a selection screen, where you can choose which of the nine bizarre opponents you wish to 'battle' (there's a weird lizard bloke, a robot and more and each of them vary in skill), or maybe you'd like to plump for the tournament mode, where you can take on each character in succession. This choice having been made, it's onto the 'business' screen, where the game takes place. I decided to take on the little spotty chap with the glasses: he didn't look quite as 'handy' as the others. So, having selected him with the mouse-pointer, it was onto the actual matchplay screen.

Sure enough there he was at the other end of the table looking all sort of eager, wholesome and annoying. Game on! My serve. So I whizzed my mouse across the mat at a stunningly rakish angle and - kerpow - the puck bounced with a sampled 'clang' off the side of the table and whooshed through his defence. Thanks to my superior mouse-mat (a trendy and 'grippish' ZERO one) I soon won the match 20-nil. Well, he was easy. But not all of them are. In fact, things start to get downright impossible when you get to Bejin (the female refugee from the Addams Family, who has 'spook serving tactics'), or Biff (the aggressive Biker).

If the opponents aren't tough enough for you (or too hard, if you're a bit useless) loads of the in-game elements can be 'tweaked'. You can change the size of your bat, alter the friction levels and even summon up a block that moves around in the middle of the playing area generally getting in the way and helping you to score billions of own-goals.

The first contestant to score 20 is the winner. Oh, and the game is totally controlled by mouse, so if your mouse-mat is a bit crap you might find yourself in a bit of squiff. We suggest you invest in a rather trendy and extremely 'grippish' ZERO Mouse Mat - they cost about a fiver, and will be available SOON!

On the ST Shufflepuck Cafe is an extremely simple game that's been implemented brilliantly. And very originally. There are loads of little touches, like the sampled comments you get from the different characters when you beat them - or alternative ones when they beat you. One of the opponents (Lexan the Lounge Lizard) actually gets progressively more sloshed as he's playing, which means he, er, gets more useless. The puck is nicely animated and moves blimming quickly, and the learning curve is one that breaks you in gently, then suddenly lets you have it in between the eyes with both barrels.

The Amiga version is almost exactly the same as the ST version, but with an extra little music ditty bunged on the loading screen and slightly slower accessing speed for the sampled speech (we're only talking in pico-seconds though).

As for the PC version... well... um.... there isn't one yet. And though there are plans to do a version, they're not exactly definite - sorry. (But you can still get a ZERO mouse mat!)

My only quibble is on the subject of lastability - I just don't know how long you'll stick with Shufflepuck before it goes 'on the pile'. Mind you, it's the sort of game that'll be fished out again (and again): so it's got lastability of sorts. Just make sure your mouse-mat's as good as the ZERO 'Trendy And Grippish' one, which'll be out soon for around five quid.