Developer Strange Scaffold • Publisher Strange Scaffold • Release May 24, 2023 • Played On PC
Sunshine Shuffle is a double-dealing title. The packaging makes the poker-centric adventure appear to be a farcical card game between adorable, but foul-mouthed players. Official marketing beats even hint at mafia executions and bank robberies to add even more bizarre spice to the colorful game. And all of this is true, but what I didn’t truly realize until I sat down at the table is Sunshine Shuffle is actually a heartfelt tale of trauma and the people in our lives that help us through it.
Plus there’s a whale merchant.
The narrative throws me into the deep end right from the start. A gruff-looking dog, strained and hurried, reveals only the most cryptic outline of who I am and what’s going on. During this bewildering intro, Fidelius (great name) reveals the truth at the core of the story about to unfold. The vessel hosting the central poker game, the S.S. Sunshine, is a boat that “crime bought and love keeps afloat.” Seemingly an offhand comment at this point, it’s only when I look back the line shows its fuller significance and it’s brilliant narrative design.
Entering the poker room, a wild cast of characters — and Billy — confront me. I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t know the things I know. And I definitely shouldn’t be asking the questions I’m asking. It turns out, I’m not the good guy in this scenario and I have a great time coming to that conclusion
The story behind why I’m at odds with these beastly card players unfolds in a remarkably natural way. The moment-to-moment gameplay is simply an ongoing game of Texas Hold ‘Em. As an aside, I need the game to explain what’s happened to the Lone Star State in this world. The casually dropped line about the current state of the world is living rent-free in my brain.
Weaving between remarking on the ups and downs of the competition and explaining what led to a momentous, and wildly successful, attack on the notorious Fishie Mob, each character takes their time to shed light on the events of decades gone by. I happen to have a great love for this particular gambling game, so I often find myself missing details of the story as I focus on bluffing my way to victory. It also runs the other way that I become so wrapped up in a character’s personal recitation that I accidentally push the button to bet without having ever looked at my hand. This makes everything feel real, like I’m legitimately enjoying an evening of betting with a crew of storytellers.
The characters aren’t pushovers and I win relatively few hands. but that doesn’t truly matter as the card game starts back up again without penalties when I run through all my chips. What matters is the story, an unexpectedly relatable tale of the powerless masses getting screwed over by the wealthy.
Sunshine Shuffle is absolutely a game intended for a specific audience. There will be players that bulk at its sometimes slow and unskippable action. Its absurdist veneer will also probably turn some away. However, for those who consider these positive features, the game is genuine gem.
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