It is a truth not universally acknowledged that Sheep are actually the greatest animals on earth. It’s a modern day tragedy that creatures such as monkeys, apes and bandicoots hold sway over the truly magnificent sheep. I’m not trying to pull the wool over your eyes, gentle reader. But how great would Sonic Adventure have been if, instead, it had been “Sheepy’s Adventure”. Sure it would have been slower and probably had more grass in it, but a big, cute bundle of white fluff is preferable to just about any videogame mascot around today.
Now “Sheep” the game, which arrived on the Playstation One in 2000 is not the greatest game ever, indeed it’s not even the best game containing sheep in it (Um Jammer Lammy and Sheep Raider have superior sheep and gameplay). But what you do get in Sheep is a high quantity of the awesome ovines wrapped up in a skilful and amusing puzzle game.
The basic premise of the game is to herd sheep across levels full of traps to the pen at the end. You can choose different types of sheep and different herders to accomplish this with, but you main goal is to try and complete all the levels with all the different kinds of sheep. It plays very much like the old Amiga classic “Lemmings”. Your sheep have a tendency to wander off, panic and generally behave like, erm, sheep. The key is keeping them herded comfortably together and preventing them from rushing headlong into danger.
The Sheep come in four flavours. “Pastoral” are normal everyday sheep who are scared of everything. “Factoral” sheep are “dedicated followers of fashion” and too stupid to distinguish between danger and safety. “Long Wools” are the sub-culture sheep, not so cowardly but still dumb. Finally you have the “Neo-Genetics”, who look cool, but are still as thick as a sheep. Your task is to complete the four levels of each world in the game with each kind of sheep. The trick is choosing the correct herder as different herders suit different types of sheep.
The herders are Bo Peep (shepherd and rock singer!), Adam Half Pint, his attitude towards sheep is one of “kind brutality”, Motley the pet dog, who is good with the normal Sheep, and finally Shep the grizzled Sheep Dog who is good with all kinds but quite slow. Once you have picked the shepherd you are going to use and the breed you are going to play it’s time to get started.
Each level is viewed from more-or-less a top down perspective. Your sheep start off flocked together and you must herd them to the goal point. In the first few levels this is easy as there are few obstacles. But soon you will need to negotiate traps, bounce sheep over walls and rivers and avoid those who would squish, stab and roast your poor little lambs. Luckily you the herder are indestructible.
Controlling the herds is done in a very realistic way. Having spent many a bored evening in my youth watching “One Man and His Dog”, kudos to the designers for making the “flocking” of the sheep look real. You must steer your shepherd around the sheep simultaneously moving them about and trying to keep them all in the same place. If sheep get separated, you can chase down the errant sheep and carry it back to the rest of the flock. You can whistle or bark at your woolly charges to speed them up, but pushing them too hard, too quickly can cause them to take fright and scatter across the level, so another level of strategy is knowing when to be aggressive with them, and when to leave them alone.
Each level is timed and you also have to get a certain number of sheep to the goal intact. In some levels you can afford to loose a sheep or two. The levels are nicely varied, with green grass levels, medieval style, futuristic, and others. All packed with conveyor belts, switches, sheep catapults and sheep transmogrifiers (for example you can turn your sheep into tanks to break down walls in places!). You also have to look out for the enemies of the Sheep led by the evil Mr. Pear, who will cause problems for you on some levels. In general the controls are great, your shepherd responds instantly to commands and can be steered around quickly and easily with the analogue stick.
Problems can arise in some later levels, which are large, and it can be come hard to see what’s going on when you have sheep to herd around different areas. The stupidity of the sheep means they are often happy to blunder into a trap or just wander off so they aren’t where you left them. But this is all part of the charm of the game. You really feel the need to get the better of the sheep! There is also the tremendous satisfaction you feel when you manage to get them all home and dry. Like Lemmings it has a definite “one-more-go” factor about it.
Each of the levels contains a bonus item called a Golden Sheep. If you collect all the Golden Sheep for that world you can access a Bonus game. This includes the massively silly two-player game “Sheep Football”. Here you and a mate can pit two teams of sheep against each other in a game of football. But the herder is the only player you can control! Sheepy chaos ensues and it’s an amusing diversion.
The games graphics and sound are a bit of a let down it has to be said. Although a game like this doesn’t require state of the art 3D, it still looks rather blocky and washed out. The movement of the things on screen is fine and smooth, but there is an odd, “grimy” look to the game over all. It seems to be in a very low resolution. It’s not a huge complaint as it does not affect the gameplay at all. But it would have been nice to see the game smoothed out and given more detail. It’s almost SNES era in comparison to most other Playstation titles of the time. The sound to consists of some forgettable tunes and the shouts/barks of command from your chosen shepherd. Oh yes and the adorable sheep noises as well!
Amusingly the developers Minds Eye have included a silly plot for this silly game. Apparently today’s Sheep are ancestors of aliens called “Sheep” who came from the Ovis Aries star system. They were sent to study earth posing as passive creatures. Unfortunately all the sun and grass soon made them forget their mission and became domesticated. Now the alien sheep are back to claim them. They have planted the desire to round up sheep in certain individuals and plan to use them to round up the sheep. The Sheep believe these herders are leading them to their mythical homeland and follow them gladly. Only Mr. Pear can thwart their homecoming!
What also adds a lot to the game is a sequence of short FMV clips depicting the sheep and shepherds doing daft stuff. These clips are really well done and help add to the overall tongue-in-cheek nature of the game. For example one delightful clip shows the sexy Bo-Peep and a Sheep re-enacting the infamous “standing on the end of the boat” sequence from Titanic. The sheep is outstanding, much sexier than Leonardo Di Caprio, hell it’s sexier than Kate Winslett! The Elvis sheep boogieing in a night club is another funny sequence. Although these FMVs are completely unnecessary they show that some love and thought has been lavished on the game. Perhaps it would have benefited from a bit more time spent polishing up the graphics, but it still remains eminently playable.
Sheep is a game that has a lot to recommend it. It is an interesting spin on the puzzle game. It beat “Herdy Gerdy” on the PS2 to be the world’s first herding game. It has a gentle learning curve and is easy to get to grips with. Varied difficulties and sheep types provide replay challenge and the short film clips never fail to raise a smile. Finally, it’s got sheep in it!! What more do you need to know? A sweet and unique game, highly recommended.