Prove your skills on an alien world in Shufflepuck Cantina

Shufflepuck Cantina is a new iOS game from Agharta Studio. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, and is currently enjoying a feature spot in the New and Noteworthy section of the store’s front page.

Shufflepuck Cantina is, at its core, a simple one-on-one air hockey game where the player squares off against an alien opponent in an attempt to score more points than them. Basic gameplay is simple and intuitive — wherever the player slides their finger on the touchscreen is where their paddle will go. Some aliens have special abilities which the player must learn to deal with in order to succeed — for example, an early opponent has the ability to hit the shot in such a way that it oscillates from side to side while approaching rather than simply sliding in a straight line.

There’s an extensive metagame layered atop these basic mechanics, however. Cast in the role of an astronaut who has crash-landed on an alien planet, the player finds themself in a cantina clearly heavily inspired by the one seen in Star Wars: A New Hope (right down to the music and the Twi’lek-style exotic dancer) and tasked with earning enough money to buy a new ship. As the player beats opponents, they earn score, tokens and credits. Score is simply a measure of the player’s progress, while credits are used to purchase a variety of special equipment, some of which is purely aesthetic, while others give the player access to special abilities similar to those the alien opponents have. Tokens, meanwhile, are used to play a prize machine in the cantina, giving the player access to a variety of prizes — usually more tokens, score or credits. There is an element of risk to playing the prize machine, however — uncovering a “skull” symbol causes the player to lose any on-screen prizes they have already found in this session.

The game, which is free to play and ad-supported, monetizes through sales of these various currencies as well as special packages that allow players to double their credits income or simply show their support for the developer. All in-app purchases remove advertising from the game — the ads are apparently a relatively recent addition, as a number of App Store reviewers have complained about obtrusive pop-ups that didn’t used to be present.

Shufflepuck Cantina is particularly noteworthy for its exemplary presentation. Unfolding from a polygonal 3D first-person perspective, the frame rate is a consistent 60 frames per second (on the iPhone 4S, at least) and seemingly free of loading times. The background music, while repetitive, captures the Star Wars-esque feel perfectly, and the various burps, burbles and whistles the alien characters make give them a lot of personality. It’s clearly a game that has been designed with plenty of care and attention, albeit perhaps a mild obsession with George Lucas’ sci-fi classics.

Shufflepuck Cantina strikes a good balance between solid, simple gameplay and a robust monetization structure. The game has plenty to offer its free players, and those with patience can certainly grind their way to the more expensive items. There’s plenty of other content to uncover for those interested, too — each of the alien opponents has their own multi-part biography to unlock using credits, for example, allowing the player to uncover the background story behind the wretched hive of scum and villainy they have found themselves in.

All in all, Shufflepuck Cantina is a very good game that will likely enjoy some success due to its good presentation and simple but effective gameplay — and the feature spot on the App Store certainly won’t have hurt its chances, either. At the time of writing, the game is currently ranked at No. 223 in the Top Free Games leaderboard and No. 174 in the Top Free iPad Games chart. It is just starting to decline in popularity after the iPad version in particular enjoyed a strong period in the top 20 immediately after launch in mid-September.

You can follow Shufflepuck Cantina’s progress through the App Store charts with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.