It’s hard to tell somebody they are wrong, especially when it’s somebody you love. ClusterPuck 99 is an 8 player sports game. In an ideal setting, the game would be a 4v4 affair, with each team attempting to move a ball into a scoring zone, either by shooting it into the opposing team’s goal, or by simply moving into it while holding possession (which the game calls a “Slam Dunk”).
There are a large variety of play areas to choose from; most taking the form of mazes littered with speed boosts, or hazards taking a player out of the game for a few moments should they fall victim to them.
There are maps like "Red Valley", a huge wasteland littered with traps and bumpers and general chaos. "Spooky" is shaped like a space invader. "The Triangle" is, well, a triangle.
However, there is one map, hidden towards the bottom of the list. A level so unimportant, it’s almost as though PHL Collective doesn't want you to see it. A map shunned in favour of its glossy cousins and named as if to mitigate your expectations should you be so inclined to select it. That map is called, simply, “Boring”.
Look at it: grey, barren. Unloved. “Boring” is a mere ice rink in a world of mines, bumpers, speed boosts and mayhem. However, “Boring” is pure. “Boring” is an arena where stories can be told. “Boring” is the best map in the game. This is where this article gets a little harder to write: “Boring” is the only map you should care about.
“Boring” is the game’s equivalent of being in a field with friends. There is nothing around but green grass and the horizon. Then suddenly a ball appears. The instinct kicks in: teams are divided and it’s game time.
ClusterPuck 99’s controls are simple and direct. It allows for that same, primal, sporting instinct. At our regular Friday meet-ups, when a new person arrived to the party, they were introduced to the game with: “There are two buttons: A and B - go!” That’s it. Suddenly the new arrival is a challenger. An expert. The game speaks a language your thumbs already understand.
The “Boring” arena allows players to express themselves in ways that the others do not. Without environmental hazards, ClusterPuck 99 becomes what I feel should be the true definition of an e-sport. The only factors in victory are skill and cooperation. Every player is equal. Every player has direct control over the exact angle and speed at which they can shoot the ball.
To play the game with 4 players evokes memories of NBA Jam or 2 on 2 Open Ice Challenge, but without an AI goalie, or the random nature of a ball hitting a hoop. To play the game with more players fulfils that elusive sports game feeling, where every player is controlled by somebody with a controller. Anticipating your opponent’s attack moves by narrowing their angles and shooting options. Moving into space so that your friend can make a pass.
The game has the speed, action and precise controls of Sensible Soccer and the tactics, team-work and mind games of Dota 2. To put it simply, ClusterPuck 99 is one of the best multiplayer sports games ever made.
Writing this article feels a lot like writing a love letter. With the passion and excitement I have writing about this game, there is also the fear that if PHL Collective were to read it, I will be met with rejection. Effort went into making those other maps. In the eyes of the creators, perhaps those other maps are the game. I have to have my feelings known. I need to say this in writing. You are wrong.
“Boring” is your game - and your game is not boring. I don’t think you even realise it, but I reiterate: you have created one of the greatest multiplayer sports games of all time and I want the world to know.
PHL Collective, I love you. I hope that you can still love me too.