Stop with the hurting, er, herding.
Every once in a while we get sent a game that clearly isn't finished, despite the fact that the publisher has already put the game in a fancy looking box and shipped out half-a-million of them to the stores. Soul Reaver springs to mind, a game they claimed was finished, but the disk still had the sound files from the missing parts. Ultima IX was another one, a game that didn't even work until you later downloaded a massive update off the Internet. And don't get me started on Survivor. *shudder*
I bet you can see where I'm going with this. Yes, Herdy Gerdy is another one. It is chock full of unfinished parts and optimization flaws that only make the game's problems stand out more clearly - which is a shame, because while Herdy Gerdy would never have been a great game, it has some really original things going for it.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's the world's first herding game [you're wrong. - Ed.], which is where the first half of the title comes from. The second half comes from your character and the star of the game, Gerdy, novice herder.
One morning, Gerdy wakes up, but his father doesn't. He has fallen into a mysterious sleep and Gerdy must take his place in "The Tournament," defeat the evil Sadorf and win back the magic acorn to save the island. Forget about swords and lances - you must practice your shepherding skills if you want to win because this is a herding tourney.
At this point in the game, I also had to be roused from a mysterious sleep that I had fallen into while waiting for the game's frequent and unbelievably long loading times. This was my first clue the game wasn't done yet, since the programmers clearly had not optimized the loading and it still seemed like the beta version I had seen two years earlier.
But then you finally get into the game and are confronted by the graphics. While the cartoon style comes through, the graphics don't. The colors are all washed out and objects and textures are noticeably pixilated. The framerate often chugs along like it sprained its foot. It's like playing a Disney film through a mud puddle.
The sound is well done, however, with pretty good voice-actors for all the parts. Oddly, all the characters have English accents except for Gerdy himself. This was also the next clue to the game's premature delivery. Some of the scenes have great lip-synching for the animated characters, but then suddenly the game will switch to a scene that wasn't finished and the characters will stand there and bob their heads while speech magically emanates from their closed mouths. They must all be telepathic.
As for the gameplay itself, you begin in your small village with your father sound asleep (remember him?). By successfully herding a specified number of creatures into little pens, you'll gain access to new locations from the creepy gypsies on each level. Unfortunately, going to any new area or challenge requires more very long loading times - first to get to the map screen (what?!) and then again to get to the level itself. A perfect game for tax time, as I was able to use all the time I spent on loading screens to fill in my 1040A.
You can also collect the 100 little floating bells on each level for special bonuses. There are about a dozen items you will obtain throughout the game that will give Gerdy some added powers, like swimming or higher jumping.
But herding is definitely the game's focus, and so a'herding you shall go. All the animals have different characteristics. Doops will run from you, so you must corral them like a sheepdog. Doops will also float on water, but they will die if they fall very far. Bleeps, on the other hand, will follow you if you play the flute. They can survive a fall of any distance, but will drown in water. Adding to your troubles are the Gromps. These big pink guys will eat your Doops, Bleeps, Honks or Glooters if they can catch them. They will also thump you with a mean uppercut if you get too close. And brother, you don't want a Gromp to eat your Honk, at least not without a few drinks first. Trust me.
Pretty original stuff, but unfortunately not very much fun. On each level, the game's challenge lies in either finding the crazy circuitous route to lead your animals to their pen, or to herd all the animals on the level in a certain time. With no other gameplay at all in the whole game, this can get repetitive quickly. Observant people will already have noticed that nobody is out there clamoring to get goat herder jobs.
Herdy Gerdy's cartoony style and nonviolent gameplay would have made it a decent choice for kids if the game had been completed, but even kids deserve better than this. The washed out graphics, inconsistent quality and brutally long loading times really herd this one straight off a cliff. Where's Wile E. Coyote when you need him?