SHUFFLEPUCK CAFE / Broderbund / PC
 
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This 1989 title from Broderbund imagines what would happen if the Mos Eisley Cantina was full of air hockey fanatics. There's a thin backstory that's never mentioned in the game - you're some kind of intergalactic travelling salesman who crash-landed on this planet, you need to use the phone to call for repairs, but the only one around is in this cafe and they'll only let you use it if you beat all of the 10 air hockey players hanging out.

There is a tournament mode that takes you through all 10 of the challengers in order of difficulty, but there's no story whatsoever (or even dialogue). Still, each of the alien weirdos you challenge has some unique personality conveyed through their animations and style of play.
 


In addition to the tournament, you're able to individually challenge anyone one-on-one in a practice mode at any time. The practice mode has all sorts of cheats you can enable like elongating your paddle, but there's no point to it other than, er, practice.

The basic air hockey action is solid. The game was designed for mouse control and that's definitely the way to go. You have the option of playing with a joystick or gamepad, but it uses an odd system where you can only move right-left with the stick and have to hold the button down to change the vertical plane.

The tournament is a virtual impossibility to complete. First of all, it just takes too much time - you're expected to beat all the challengers in one sitting with no way to save and return. Even the weaker challengers take some time to beat, as you have to score 15 points to win a match. Unless you're a savant at the game, it could take two to three hours of sitting at the computer to clear.
 


The other issue is a major difficulty jag - your opponents start out pathetic and gradually ramp up in skill, and are generally doable up until you reach the sexy sorceress, who is ridiculously cheap as she simply teleports the puck into whichever corner your paddle is farthest from.

I was hoping opponents would have Punch-Out like "tells" that you have to learn to beat them, but that's never really the case. They just vary in how fast they respond and their paddle moves, for the most part. Some have gimmicks, like the aforementioned teleporting sorceress - the most interesting of these was the dapper alcoholic alien, who starts out playing very well, but will gradually get slower and more sloppy as he takes swigs of his drink.

There doesn't seem to be much point to completing the tournament anyway, as YouTube reveals that all it gets you is a rousing digitized cheer and your name on the "Champion" board. No ending sequence or anything. So that leaves you with an air hockey game that is pretty solid and well-made (and has a very unique theme and setting), but is ultimately just something to screw around with in one-off matches when you're bored.

This was widely ported - the original black and white Mac version seems to actually have the best gameplay, while the Amiga version is by far the prettiest.
 
 
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