Baa, baa, baaad.
As if there already weren't a game for every real or imaginary thing in the world, we now have a sheep herding game. Yes, you heard me - a sheep herding game. Lassies all over the world rejoice! Seriously, how do these people come up with these things? I kinda picture it like this:
"Hmm… there aren't enough good sheep herding games out there."
"By Jove, there aren't any sheep herding games at all!"
"Then golly gee whiz, we've got to make one. And fast!"
"Yes, very fast! Even if it's chock full of problems and bugs!"
"Great! Now lets go throw sledgehammers at each other for fun like we always do."
Sheep ranks right up there with Kolibri, the Sega 32X hummingbird game, when it comes to perverse animal-themed games. Personally, I'm looking for an upcoming virtual three-toed sloth game where I can hang upside down, sleep 15 hours, and then eat leaves. All the sweet, sweet leaves that I can stuff my three-toed sloth face with.
Okay, so the Sheep concept is a little off, but maybe we'll still be able to find a fun game within. The original Frogger brought us into the world of being green and slimy. Worms brought artillery annelids to life. Both were fun in animal incarnations, so perhaps Sheep can follow suit.
Well as it turns out, Sheep is just as much fun as real sheep herding. It's a fast paced, laborious exercise that offers a challenge, but in the end is more of a chore than a a game.
Strangely enough, the designers felt compelled to attach a plot. So as the story goes, Sheep are actually highly intelligent animals from outer space. Apparently, they've de-evolved over the many eons they've been on Earth and are now dumb as posts. And your fun, fun job is to lead these posts to their interstellar brethren. Yippee. Just the job I've always wanted.
Players control one of four characters. Choose from either two severely deformed and ugly humans or pick one of the two dogs - a happy-go-lucky goofy puppy or a battle-hardened sheep dog. The sheep dog must have been from some ghetto farm or something, because he's got an eye patch. That's a sign that his life was ruff. Get it? Ruff? Dogs and the barking? Haha! [Somebody ring the gong. Please. - Ed.]
The sheep come in four different species, each with a slightly different behavioral pattern. The sheep need to be coaxed en masse towards the exit. If you approach a single sheep from one direction, that sheep will likely run away from you. Just do your best to keep them from scattering and getting into danger like they always do. Sounds simple, eh?
There are three speeds involved in the chase: creep, walk, and run. Use these speeds to maneuver those sheep around. You can also pick up sheep to activate certain switches. And no, there isn't enough time to carry them all one by one.
The levels are big, 2D obstacle courses full of terror and destruction for your little lambs. Dangers include giant threshing machines, crazy chefs, fires, dragons, shadows of darkness hungry for sheep, and so on. Each level has a "correct" method of completion with minimized sheep loss.
The gameplay is challenging, but equally difficult and frustrating. Even while taking the correct path, a simple slip can result in many sheep causalities. Sheep is a game of trial and errors. Many, many errors.
The controls are very basic, using a simple keyboard layout. You can use the mouse, but it's a really bad idea. Your mouse controls a cursor that your character walks towards. Move it far away, and the character will interpolate Point A (starting point) to Point B (your cursor). A good idea, but ends up being completely imprecise. Stick to that keyboard - it's a wonderful invention.
Sheep is definitely a 'time waster' game, on the same level as cute little diversions like Minesweeper and Solitaire. It's interesting enough to keep you playing for a while, but soon enough the frustration sets in and you'll give up. What they should have done was have the game environment windowed so you can sneak in a few rounds while the boss isn't looking. But no such luck.
One would expect that such a game would be a perfect addition to the discount aisles. Sheep fits the very idea of a value-priced game. But, lo and behold, Sheep costs $29. TWENTY-NINE DOLLARS! Go spend a little more and get yourself No One Lives Forever.
In the end, Sheep is a lot more work than fun. When I play it for long stretches, I feel like I deserve a nap on a bale of hay. Puzzle games require a careful balance of predictability and randomness. In Sheep, things are just too random, and it really should have been native to Windows and sold for much cheaper. This is one sheep better off lost.