Sheep, Dog and Wolf
“Sheep, Dog and Wolf” (or “Sheep Raider” as it’s know in the USA) is a brilliant mixture of stealthy cartoon sneak ’em up and demented puzzle gaming action. It is based on the old Warner Bros/Looney Tunes cartoon series of the same name and sees you take the role of one Ralph E. Wolf, (cousin of Wile E. Coyote) as he attempts to steal sheep from under the nose of Sam the Sheepdog. At the start of the game, Sam and Ralph have a professional relationship, as the day begins they both clock in to work, punch their cards and then Ralph tries to steal the sheep and Sam punches Ralph out whenever he spots him. When the whistle blows, they both clock off and Ralph heads home.
Once home Ralph slumps in front of the TV. Outside a limo pulls up and out jumps Daffy Duck. Daffy has a new TV show called the ”Sheep, Dog and Wolf Show” which he is promoting and presenting and he wants Ralph as the star. Ralph will take on a series of levels with a flock of sheep and Sam standing guard. Ralph has to steal one sheep per level and bring them to the TV studio. So far, so good. But actually getting the sheep out from under Sam’s nose is another matter. The Metal Gear Solid comparison is not made flippantly. As Ralph approaches the flock Sam’s head appears in the top right-hand corner scanning the area. The colour will change from green, which means Ralph is out of eyeshot, to yellow which means he is getting close to Sam’s field of vision and finally red which means Ralph has been spotted and must run or face a punch. Ralph (and you) must use skill, thought and stealth rather than direct action to achieve your goal.
To aid you in your quest, Daffy takes you though a training level. Here you can get to grips with the camera, the first person viewpoint, the sneak mode (for tiptoeing around Sam) and all the ACME gadgets that can be used to lure your sheep away from Sam. If Solid Snake had access to a gigantic rubber band, a bottle of sheep scent and a rocket pack, he may have had a lot less trouble defeating Metal Gear Rex.. or maybe not.
Anyway moving on, let’s now talk about the most important thing in this game – the sheep. These fluffy little bundles of polygons are quite the most endearing creatures I have seen in any videogame in a long time. Although they are drawn quite simply, just a blocky white body with a black face and tail and no fancy texture mapping, they exude bags of personality. Each sheep has a big comedy tail that corkscrews into the air, which is just a great touch of visual humour. When you first sneak up on a flock of them, they graze peacefully, unaware of your nefarious intentions. Once you have selected the sheep to steal, its time to get up close and raid them and its here your heart will really melt. Say you decide to sneak up disguised as a bush. While sitting in the middle of the flock, one will come skipping up and examine the bush quizzically before taking a nibble. Shuffle off and the sheep will gambol after you, its big soppy eyes full of innocence and trust.
Once you have lured the sheep out from under Sam’s watchful eye, you can begin to move it to the level goal. Just lifting it over your head is funny enough as Ralph staggers under the weight of the huge white wool bag on his shoulders. Once you have the sheep it will not run away, it will stay where you put it, its tail boinging up and down and its doe eyes vacantly trying to figure out where it has been moved to. Trails of lettuce, sheep catapults, sheep hormone smells are some of the many things that will motivate the sheep to move. You can also use the sheep to help you get into position. For example, apparently sheep love buttons and will sit on them whenever they are placed near one. This allows you to travel on lifts and platforms that you could not otherwise activate.
Of all the methods of delivering the sheep to the goal, I think catapulting one up in the air is probably the funniest. In one early level, after placing the sheep on the end of a seesaw, Ralph leaps on the other end and twangs the sheep into the goal. The slightly outraged ”baaaaaaah” it makes as it sails gracefully across the sky is side-splittingly funny. Of course once the level is complete, el-sheepy is delivered safe and sound to the ”Sheep, Dog and Wolf Show” pen under Daffy’s watchful gaze. You may be a wolf, but these sheep are not for eating!
The game overall is a superbly polished package. It really looks, sounds and feels like an interactive Warner Brothers cartoon. The graphics are bright, stylised and look very good on the aging Playstation. Only the occasional fogging and pop-up spoils the overall look and it’s not something that impinges upon gameplay. Ralph and Daffy have been animated particularly well and lots of little touches will delight the older Warner Brothers cartoon fan. For example, when Ralph plummets into a ravine, a small cloud will puff up when he hits the bottom. When a bridge drops out from underneath him, he will stay suspended in mid-air, feeling the around with his toe, before waving bye-bye and falling into the ravine. Daffy also appears in his natty little Robin Hood outfit to teach you the gameplay mechanics in the early levels.
The sound is also superb. The voices of Daffy, Porky etc have been recreated very accurately, they sound almost authentic. The music also deserves a mention, as it is very laid back jazzy, funk type music that compliments the slightly surreal graphics in the manner of the greatest Warner Bros cartoons of the fifties and sixties. ACME Items in the games also make the requisite comedy twangs, boings, hoots and crashes.
Longevity is a tricky question. There are only 18 levels and besides the chance to replay them to find the timeclocks that unlock bonuses like concept sketches and animated sequences (fascinating stuff though, well worth seeing), there is little to bring you back to a level once it is done except to revel again in the silliness. However, the game itself is quite challenging first time through. I made the mistake of looking at the bright, simple graphics and assuming it was aimed at kids. But after the first few levels I was really scratching my head and trying to figure out the puzzles, which were becoming quite labyrinthine in their complexity. Unless you are more of a puzzle genius than I am, you’ll probably spend quite a few hours beating this game, it’s still worth seeking out as an example of one of the better games released in the twilight PSOne era. It’s a fabulously, fun slice of cartoon puzzling and contains the best sheep ever seen in a videogame. What more could you want?