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Score: 89%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Developer: Mind's Eye
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Puzzle/ Strategy/ Platformer

Graphics & Sound:
For all of Sheep's merits, the one place that the flock stumbles is in the graphics department. The game was originally for the PC, and the PSX port just doesn't have the sharpness that the PC version did. It's sometimes hard to tell what part of a fence is a gate, and a few characters are a little fuzzy-looking. The sheep themselves are fuzzy-looking too, but that's intended. It's nothing particularly impressive graphically, at least at first -- some of the later levels are quite pretty, which is pleasant, but nothing will really make you sit up and take notice. It certainly gets the job done, but it's not anything special.

The same cannot be said of the game's FMVs. Quirky, campy, and not completely sensible, they definitely carry the wacky flavor of the game. Admittedly, there's no real storyline and the little bits told in the FMVs are near-pointless, but they're also cute and fun. UFOs, sheep superheroes, and more await you in the little clips. The clips of each different breed of sheep are also cute, even if they are somewhat overused.

And while Sheep doesn't exactly rock aurally, it's got enough charm to make the sounds worthwhile. The music isn't anything special; I found myself playing background CDs as I played, without any real detriment. It's light and poppy in general, and while it certainly doesn't take away from the experience, you won't be taking anything away from it either. The sound effects, however, are solid and hilarious. From the "boom boom boom" of the bouncing castle thingies to the constant baas of the sheep, to the barking of the sheepdogs, Sheep's sound effects fit the game perfectly. Puzzle games aren't meant to be aural or visual blast-fests, that's to be sure. But Sheep is a little bit better than your average puzzle title when it comes to those departments.

And, thankfully, it's better than your average title when it comes to the gameplay as well. Sheep is cute, quirky, and a hell of a lot of fun, reminding me the most of a cross between Lemmings and, well, sheep. Like in Lemmings, you've got to contend with the stupidity of your ward, but instead of using special powers to get them past the various obstacles, you've got to use elements of the maps themselves, the occasional boom-box, and a whole lot of quick thinking.

You play as one of four shepherds (two humans and two dogs), given the duty to get a flock of sheep from one end of a level to another. And, in the end, that's all there is to the game -- successful navigation of a level. Of course, that navigation is far from trivial, and with four different types of sheep to contend with, you'll find it enough of a challenge.

The four types of sheep each behave slightly differently. The Pastorals, for example, are scared of absolutely everything. The Factorals, on the other hand, don't give a damn about running in front of anything. The Longwools are a compromise between the two, and the Neo-Genetics are the easiest to have avoid death, but also the hardest to get moving. Of course, all of the sheep are damnably obstinate when you need them to move, and more than happy to go places you don't want them, but there's a noticeable difference in the behavior patterns of the different flocks.

Each level has its own tricks and obstacles. Sometimes you'll have to have your sheep avoid deadly shearing devices. Other times you've got to get them launched over castle walls. Each set of four levels has a theme, from the forest to space, and you have to use each of the four flocks in the four levels. So just because the Neo-Genetics are the easiest to get through some of the levels doesn't mean you get to use them for all four.

The basic mechanic of the game is this: when you move towards the sheep, they move away from you. Period. You can creep up on them, and they won't move, or you can yell, and they'll scatter. Every command has its use, and you'll find yourself fighting like a madman to keep the sheep "in line." They're dumb as bricks, but they utilize basic flocking techniques, and move "realistically." I'm saying that euphemistically, as I have no idea how real sheep flock. But it's convincing enough to me. There's invariably one sheep who wants to stick around that you've got to convince otherwise. But while you're doing that, the others meander around. It's frustrating, but definitely an important part of the game.

There are also a few "extras" in the game. If you find all of the golden statues in a set of worlds, you get to go to a bonus game to get some extra points. And there's a goofy soccer game that you can play with two players where you've got to herd your sheep into the ball and make them score for you. It's even more frustrating than the main game, because your friend screws you up just as much as the computer. The real meat of the game, however, is the simple herding of sheep. And since you can always try the levels again to get a perfect survival ratio, there's definitely replay value here.

Sheep has an excellent difficulty ramp. It starts out near-trivial, and ends up near-impossible. That's just the way puzzle games should be, especially of this type -- Lemmings 2, as entertaining as it was, jumped a little too much over the map in terms of difficulty. But Sheep hits it well. The controls never get in the way, but the blurry graphics sometimes make it a little hard to get the sheep to do what you want, or for you to know exactly what you're doing. It's never insurmountable, though.

Game Mechanics:
Sheep's controls are spot-on, easy to get used to and remember. There are even some tutorial levels that explain them all to you. The game itself has a few issues, with sheep getting stuck in unlikely locations and getting impossible to get out, but they're few and far between, and you can always reload and retry if you're going for that perfect score. The menus are sparse, but they fit the goofy theme quite well, and are certainly easy to understand and navigate. I really liked the use of non-conventional buttons on the save screen, forcing you to think before you press anything and delete something that you didn't want to. And the basic mechanics of the game, with the crazy sheep and crazier contraptions that are out to kill them, are solid and fun.

PS2: Don't use the Smooth graphics option for the PS2. Sheep uses a lot of sprite-based graphics, and the boxes placed around said sprites are highly distracting. On the other hand, the Fast disc speed option improves Sheep's load times, which are a tad annoying without said option. It's not a vast improvement, mind you, but it's certainly noticeable.

It may not be the prettiest game out there, or the best sounding, but Sheep is as good as it gets when it comes to this sub-genre. When it comes to puzzle games, Tetris Attack is still my favorite, but Sheep is in the top five -- and for a puzzle aficionado like me, that's a big thing. Don't let its little problems get you down. For anyone looking for a good, brain-busting, hilarious time this holiday season, Sheep is the way to go. One thing's for certain -- it's no black sheep.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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