Sunshine Shuffle Review | TechRaptor

Sunshine Shuffle Review |  TechRaptor

Texas Hold ’em: A card game recognized by many, understood by less, and played optimally by a few. It’s a tricky thing to understand, what with the mentality of “poker face” extending far past a stern look and a Lady Gaga reference. It’s one of the most interesting card games to tackle, and clearly the folks at Strange Scaffold think so too, which is why Sunshine Shuffle is here to welcome players in.

This is the latest game from American developers Strange Scaffold, a label spearheaded by the prolific Xalavier Nelson Jr. Responsible for a hand, large or small, in many of Strange Scaffold’s indie projects a searing highlight of his appeared in the form of the addicting Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator. Sunshine Shuffleif anything, sees a juxtaposed, but nevertheless trademark addition to their repertoire.

You play as a private investigator, hired by the Fishie Mob to track down the “Morning Shift”, a group of robbers who happened to target several fronts for the Fishie Mob over the course of an infamous crime spree. Years after these crimes, you’ve managed to track down the gang leader, Fidelius, long since retired, and live out their life with the former crew on a boat playing poker tournaments. In-between hands and tourneys, you play privy to their history, why they did it, and what happened next.

An in-game screenshot of Sunshine Shuffle, showcasing the eye-patched dog Fidelius greeting the player-character.

If you’ve never played Texas Hold ’em before, Sunshine Shuffle sets up a brief but fairly elaborate tutorial regarding how the game plays, and how it differentiates from other casino card games. There’s not a whole lot to get wrong here, and truthfully, the game lacks a fault here. It’s basic, but there’s a surprising show of intelligence in regard to how the AI ​​responds to outrageous plays. It’s as easy to dupe the other players as you are to be duped.

As a card game, it’s a perfect accompaniment and backdrop to the narrative offerings that Sunshine Shuffle has, and it makes sense. In all forms of media, tension, dialogue, and stories are just as valuable to the concept of poker as the chips are, and the game knows this, trying its very best to accommodate such an event. The result is tepid, but not in the way you’d expect.

The plot is immediately set up with intrigue, your appearance being a surprise to all but Fidelius, who also happens to be a talkin’ sea-farin’ dog. In fact, the universe of Sunshine Shuffle is composed entirely of anthropomorphic talking animals, like Andie, the tired otter, or Jordan, the antsy bear who’s also into cyber-security. Alongside Peter the bird, and the younger card shark Billy, they form the cast, with their dialogue audibly represented by Animal Crossing-esque warbling.

An in-game screenshot of Sunshine Shuffle, showcasing Texas Hold 'em gameplay whilst the characters talk among each other.

On top of all of that, you have a rather jaunty ska soundtrack, performed by Skatune Network, in collaboration with space warlord… dial RJ Lake. It’s a wonderful little set of songs, encompassing ska further than making a trumpet center stage, and also set you up for a warm summer day. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll find the cute veneer can quickly fade, yourself the victim of a clever bluff to show the game’s darker narrative airings.

Yes, even with the vocalized warblings and censoring of strong language, you’re quick to find that the story of the Morning Shift isn’t a pleasant one. Between ends of poverty, dubious misgivings about the nature of the Mafia, and an anti-capitalist stance throughout, there’s no filter on how these characters feel in this universe. Even with such a saccharine vibe, the writing is able to excavate true venom towards certain injustices, shared between their universe and real life, but over time, they become rare nuggets of wisdom.

Part of the problem stems from the pacing. You don’t necessarily get to dictate when to probe for answers regarding the past of the Morning Shift crew, it seems entirely random. Most of the dialogue will be barbed quips from any of the players commenting on their game choices, their checks, and their folds. When a prompt that sparks a story beat pops up, it’s almost like a jumpscare, due to the lack of direction.

An in-game screenshot of Sunshine Shuffle, showcasing a close-up of the character Billy announcing his play during the poker match.

It’s a struggle to retain focus, and it can be easy to lose sight of exactly what you’re doing. Even the aggressive linearity of how the story plays out can’t adequately provide enough visible context as to what exactly you’re supposed to do with the Morning Shift. Fidelius is quick to explain it at the beginning, but he does it poorly, and whether it’s to protect his crew or not is dubious at best. The results of the following conversation become a product of inconsequence, your character’s role becoming tertiary to the world, and it feels deflating.

Because of this, it’s fair to assume that the vibes can be an apt substitute; the ska soundtrack paired with the soft use of color and visual direction – it’s almost a royal flush, and on the turn, it seems as such. Unfortunately, the river card that is the sound design sinks any chance of that. The mixing of the warbling and the constant yapping of each character is so loud and so gratating, that it’s almost a complete detriment to the game’s qualities.

None of this is worse than with Seymour, the whale merchant. Given that you still have a fairly standard Texas Hold ’em game after the story proceedings, there’s a fair amount of customization when it comes to character outfits, card designs, and room props. There are over 500 items to choose from, and each one bravely has a description attached, painfully punctuated by Seymour’s incessantly loud vocalizations.

An in-game screenshot of Sunshine Shuffle, showcasing the character Andie challenging the player character.

There is a cozy nature to Sunshine Shuffle, surpassing that of the more left-field narrative sitting alongside it, but it’s difficult to see past the noise. The mixing of the voiced dialogue, the chirpy ska soundtrack, and the poppy reaction to poker deals and plays makes for a sensory overload that isn’t pleasant in any capacity. As it stands, it’s like hosting a World Series of Poker match inside a McDonalds after school.

More than anything, Sunshine Shuffle confused me. It’s not a completely awful experience, as the poker mechanics are more than competent and showcase the card game quite well. However, the summery aesthetic and grounded story struggle to find a seat at the table, bringing with them a rather loud opponent who almost wins through abrasion alone. As it stands, their bluff can only last for so long before a pair of earplugs get involved.


TechRaptor review Sunshine Shuffle on PC, using a copy provided by the publisher over the course of 5 hours of gameplay – all screenshots were taken during the process of review.

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