Vader vs. Skywalker. Magic vs. Bird. Itchy vs. Scratchy. Me vs. Gamefan. Indeed, such classic confrontations are the stuff of legend. Every hero needs a foil, every cop needs a robber. Our counterparts help define us as good or evil, and over time the relationship becomes a case study in symbiotic dependency.
For instance, where would the sheepdog be without the wolf? Probably lollygaging about in his master's backyard pooping where he shouldn't. But as long as the hungry wolf hunts the sheep, the sheepdog has a sworn duty and a good, steady job.
And, in turn, a good, steady PSX game. Sheep Raider chronicles the ballyhooed conflict between Ralph Wolf (Wile E. Coyote's brother) and Sam The Sheepdog, but this time, you get to be the wolf. Though its bark is better than its bite, this is still a solid entry into the ever-dwindling lineup of PSX games.
Set in the Looney Tunes universe, Sheep Raider puts you in the role of Ralph Wolf as you plot to steal sheep from under the nose of Sam, the ever-vigilant sheepdog. The gameplay is an odd mix of puzzle-solving, platforming and action, vaguely reminiscent of the N64 GR sleeper Space Station Silicon Valley.
In order to organize the different sheep stealing scenarios, the developers have concocted a silly Game Show in which Ralph must steal sheep. The show is hosted by none other than Daffy Duck, because, er, I don't know. But you know that whenever Daffy's around, comic hi-jinks and laugh-out-loud wackiness is sure to ensue! Do-do-do-dododood-do-do-doodododo-do! *Groan*
The game is broken up into 15 stages, each of which pits Ralph in a 3D world in which he must steal one of Sam's beloved sheep and make it to a circular 'goal.' Just one sheep per stage will suffice, but it's a lot harder than it sounds.
The first task is actually making it to the sheep, which often involves using a variety of ACME objects and good-old fashioned brainpower to solve increasingly perplexing environment puzzles. You'll use a strap-on rocket to blast across a chasm, then you'll need to use a giant rubber band to shoot yourself back across. You'll lure sheep around with lettuce and even don a sheep outfit yourself to infiltrate the woolen flock.
Beyond the items themselves, you'll often have to figure your way through the levels by manipulatig boulders onto teeters totters, climbing trees or swimming through shark-infested canals.
Once you make it to the sheep, the game sort of morphs into a Metal Gear Solid thing. Sam has a range of vision and slowly moves his head left and right, scanning the flock for signs of disturbance. To get in close enough to snatch a sheep, you'll have to be stealthy, sneaky and downright fiendish. You can hide behind boulders ninja-style, sneak around on your tiptoes to keep quiet, and even camoflauge yourself with some shrubbery to fool the pooch. It takes patience but is ultimately rewarding.
Which is a good way to describe the overall gameplay. Sheep Raider's mix of styles is enjoyable and varied. Each level is like one giant puzzle with one fairly linear solution. You can't get to point B until you've gotten to point A, so the progress is usually pretty obvious. Between the clever ACME items and the genuinely fun level design, solving the puzzles is good fun.
But not particularly good looking fun. Sheep Raider attempts to convey cartoony smoothness, but the PSX just can't quite muster the power to do it justice. We've seen toon texture games on the Dreamcast and PS2 that really capture the mood appropriately, and it's just a shame that this game is only on the PSX.
As it stands, the framerate is okay and the overall look is fine, but it's clear that more attention was put into the character animations than the level itself. Backgrounds are often just blue, empty space and the draw distances ain't great. The polygons often show seams and the cut-scene animations are very redundant. Again, what I wouldn't do to see this game running on a newer console.
Some of the animations, though, are really good. In addition to jumping and hiding, Ralph can run like the wind - as in, run just like his Wile E. brother and actually float in mid-air for a second or two, which is great for getting across gaps and a kick for the sheer goofball cartoon humor factor.
The control is decent, but the camera often requires manual manipulation in order to see the right part of the landscape. This gets annoying, particularly when you have to make a bunch of platform jumps and the camera insists on showing you a pulled back, unnecessary isometric view.
There's also questionable depth here. Since each level has a linear start and finish, there isn't a ton of room for creativity. Once you know what you have to do, you just have to do it. Plus, you don't get any extra bonuses for finishing the level on one take or anything. This hurts the replay value.
Overall, though, Sheep Raider is an amusing and worthwhile diversion for PSX owners. Considering the paltry offering of new titles these days, it's not a bad recommendation. And I'm not pulling the wool over your eyes.