Quick Look: FlairHockey for iPad

I have always been an avid fan of air hockey.  Every time I play, it takes me back to a family vacation we took when I was a child. A group of us staying in the same hotel organized a tournament on the game room's air hockey table.  It turned into one of those winners stays on type games...and I never left.  

Since that time, I have played a lot of air hockey, and quite a few variations (the octagonal puck is one of my favorites with its crazy and unpredictable ricochets).  So, I was pretty surprised when I received a press release the other day advertising FlairHockey, a reimagining of the air hockey game unlike anything I had seen before.  The folks behind FlairHockey were kind enough to send along a copy of the game, as well as the upgrade pack for me to check out for this review.

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If you are not familiar with the game of air hockey, crawl out from your cave for a quick lesson.  The game takes tlace on a table, which loosely resembles a hockey arena.  There is a goal on either end, and a middle line, which you cannot pass,.  Each player selects an end.  Your job is to use a plastic paddle to simultaneously protect the puck from going into your goal and also trying to shoot the puck into your opponents goal.  To keep the puck moving, jets of air shoot up from the table (hence the name), allowing the puck to glide over the table like a hovercraft.  

Now that you know the basic game, let's start tossing in some variations, which is exactly where FlairHockey starts.  You get three differently themed tables when you purchase the game.  Of course, the first one is the original, unaltered game.  The second table is called, "Painter," and this is where things start to get interesting.  On this table, the puck leaves a trail of colored paint.  This starts out pretty cool, making some interesting and artistic patterns.  Before long, however, you will end up with a mess of swirled color, making it almost impossible to find the puck as it makes its way across the table.  The final table foregoes the puck entirely, replacing it with 11 marbles, which fire across the table all at the same time.  Mayhem does not even begin to describe this one.

Along with these three themes, you can also download a fourth theme, "Graph Paper" free from within the game.  This one converts the playing surface into a doodle on a piece of crumpled graph paper.  Knock the puck from one end to another and watch the doodles form on the paper.


There is also an in-game expansion pack, which includes an additional three expansion packs.  In "Cosmic" you control the power of the cosmos, as you use your god-like powers to bat around planets and moons.  "Garden" takes place in your own backyard.  As the puck traverses the playing surface, you can watch your garden grow as flowers sprout up from the Earth.  The final board, "Duet" replaces the puck with two drums which keep the beat as the careen off the side walls...and each other.

I have to say that I loved all of these variations.  They really made the game a lot of fun.  Then again, we are not done yet.  In each theme, you can customize the puck itself, selecting from one of six different pucks, each of which is designed to match the theme.  Likewise, you can customize the paddles with superstealth mode (invisible), supercharged (electric), supersmall, and supersized.  

Gameplay worked extremely well in each of these themes.  Just grab the paddle with your finger and glide it across the screen.  Just like the real game, you can send your paddle smacking into the puck in order to fire it across the table.   I did notice one odd bug here, however.  In addition to grabbing the paddle with your finger, you can also grab the puck.  Essentially, you can pick up the puck and drop it wherever you like on the board...or right near the goal.  This is something which will need to be fixed for sure.

The other nice thing about this one is that you can choose to play against a human opponent or the computer, with five different levels of difficulty.

I thought the folks at e-Lips, the developers of FlairHockey did a fantastic job with this one.  Sure, the graphics feel a bit rudimentary, but that was really beside the point.  This is not your average air hockey game.  This is a series of games, each of which is more or less based on the game of air hockey.  I was a little leery of what I might find when I started checking out the different tables here.  In the end, however, these themes each added a new element of sight, sound, mayhem, and more, which I never knew was missing to begin with.  The game of air hockey will simply never be the same again.

FlairHockey is available from the iTunes App Store for $4.99.  The in-game upgrade pack, including three themes, is available for $3.99.

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