Review: Shuffle Party (Xbox Live)


Another Xbox Live title, but Shuffle Party is a bit special - it's free. That means only 50 gamer points, and not the expected 200 points, but there's enough sliding puck action here to make it worthwhile. But can a free Xbox Live title be as good as a full priced one? You'll  probably download it because of the free tag, but will you be playing it after a week?

Author: Microsoft Game Studios

Version Reviewed:

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Starting with the traditional game of shuffleboard, you push your puck down the board, hoping that friction will stop the puck in a scoring zone before it falls off the board. All as expected, and simple to play, You can move your puck at the bottom of the board before flicking it up the screen with a swish of your finger (you can also rotate the viewpoint of the board to get an angle rather than straight up the board). It take some getting used to, as the speed and distance of the swish seem to affect the path of the puck.

 Shuffle Party (Xbox Live) Shuffle Party (Xbox Live) 

Once you get your eye in, you realise that replicating the same push each turn is possible, but you need to really concentrate to get the points.

Shuffle Party, while mostly a solo game of scoring points, does have a head to head shuffleboard challenge option, where you and a friend can take turns on the smartphone screen to play a competitive game. A nice touch, but I doubt it will be used much.

Once you get bored of shuffleboard (and it doesn't take that long, once you get the swish mechanics right in your head) you'll probably move on to the second game. Bowling.

It's a simple replacement of a bowling ball instead of your puck, and the skittles at the end of the shuffleboard. There's no need to slide up slowly to a line, here it's power and finesse to knock over as many of the ten pins as you can with two balls - then the pins are reset for the next round, and it's up to you to get the best score over ten rounds.

 Shuffle Party (Xbox Live) Shuffle Party (Xbox Live)

These are pretty standard games, with very little extra fluff. Once you've played a single game, you'll start winning some in-game money and this can be spent on buying new pucks, tables and boards. These don't appear to change the game mechanics, they just look nice and help to hopefully pull you through the game.

There's a third game mode as well, and I suspect that this will get the majority of the gameplay. "Challenge" mode asks you to get a set amount of points on a level - levels which have bigger and more rewarding scoring zones, stars to pass through which give you single points, and obstacles that will need to be navigated so you can make the biggest score you can.

As with most puzzle-based games, the score is a means to an end, that end being an award of one, two or three stars at the end of a level. Collect enough of these from the first batch of levels and the second batch will be available to play, and so on as you progress through the challenges.

These are almost strong enough to stand on their own, outside of the regular shuffleboard and bowling variants above. They are very quick to play, and you can tire of them if you sit down to try and get through them all in one go. But for snacking on gameplay, this is about the level you would want.

Shuffle Party as a whole has some very smart physics going on, from the friction and deceleration the table imparts on your pucks, the reaction and bounce when you hit other items, it all feels smart and correct. The sounds on offer as well, from the slide down the table to the impact on other pucks and skittles, are crisp and authentic.

 Shuffle Party (Xbox Live) Shuffle Party (Xbox Live)

I do have some issues with Shuffle Party though.

I can understand the need for adverts to appear in-game, perhaps to show it is possible, or to get reliable metrics from a game out in the real world that Microsoft can tweak and analyse directly, but it still feels wrong for a Microsoft Xbox Live title to be plastered with adverts. Given how much money is being spent on PR, on attracting developers, on making sure the message gets out there... I doubt the dollars earned by the ads in Shuffle Party are going to be worth the impression they give the end user.

The big attraction for many will not be the game, or the puzzles, but the chance to pick up another 50 gamer points on their Xbox Profile for free. None of the achievements on offer are difficult - probably the trickiest will be the "hanger" where you need a puck to score while some of it is hanging over the edge of the board without falling into the gutter (and scoring nothing).

Shuffle Party works, the physics on show is accurate enough to not draw any raised eyebrows, and what is happening is all clear graphic-wise. It's great that Xbox Live has another free title, but of the four free titles that are now out (Minesweeper, Sudoku, Flower Garden, and now Shuffle Party), none of them are getting my gaming pulse up. Shuffle Party works well, it's nice to have, but it's missing that spark that takes a game idea and makes it into something wonderful.

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