You could say I'm a follower. A sheep, if you will. I'll flock to the nearest gathering of friends. Sure, I'm liable to alienate some with my methods, but in the end, it's all about the journey, the herding of my fellow allies and I…alright, fine, I'll stop flocking around.
The concept of this game is phenomenal; you're piloting a UFO and your goal is to herd animals back to the mother ship, the Motherflocker (I almost wish I was kidding). Along the way, you'll encounter challenges and obstacles that will require a bit of wooling over to solve.
It all sounds remarkably easy and truthfully, it is… for about the first three levels. The game developers wanted to make the game difficult by ensuring that you couldn't just guide the animals like Lemmings. No, the developers here were practising the art of reverse flockin' technology. The animals are scared of the light emitted from your UFO. You have to nudge and prod them along, using that light to scare them into the right direction. This wouldn't be too much of an issue if you had to go in a straight line. Instead, you have to avoid pot holes and mole hills and map edges, navigate corners and turns and random trees and mud puddles and manure piles and bridges and cornfields. I started twitching by level twenty.
The game is funny, I'll give it that. For each of the four animals, you'll find a female counterpart in a few of the levels. Easy to spot for the pink coloring (sheep) or the pink bows in their respective fur, the females are a hot commodity, because you can use her to lead the rest of the animals. The males line up to follow her like puppies (or sheep)…until she falls off the edge. Then they all start crying. I felt guilty for five minutes.
The females can also…uh…get it on, with the males on one of the 'love patches', producing baby animals. These patches are incredibly important in a few of the levels, where the player will start with too few animals to complete the round. You can also end up with too few animals if you're a tad overzealous with your herding and send them all for a nice swim over the edge of the level.
While some of the obstacles can be amusing at first, ten levels later, you're liable to throw a crying fit at seeing one. I will share three of my 'favourites' with you.
The scarecrows. Oh god, the scarecrows. Animals are afraid of the scarecrows and scatter in any goddamned direction if they get too close. Of course, there are three scarecrows exactly in the path you need to follow, and there are no fences to keep the animals in check. Even worse, these scarecrows are normally standing in cornfields (made of yarn). Animals get lost in these fields, so you have to use boulders to create paths through them.
The molehills. Some animals get stuck on these, pissing off the mole beneath, who then suckerpunches the poor animal to Tim-Buck-Tu. This is especially frustrating when the female of a herd is stuck-and-catapaulted, leaving the rest of the flock scattered and disorganized. Arg.
The swinging gate. I now need therapy. This swinging-flockin'-gate business nearly made me Hulk out. You must roll a giant boulder into this gate to make it swing open. It can swing shut just about any time it goddamned wants to. Also, if you run over any of the animals with the boulder, they die. The gate can get stuck half open too, meaning that half of the stupid flockin' little animals will be caught on one side, and half on the other. I swear, I now have bald patches on my head.
Once you're done pulling your hair out, you'll plug those same pot holes with hay bales, learn to catapult animals over the offending fences and crush those cornfields with your tractor beam. The further you go, the easier it is to sort your way around many of the obstacles you were hating on for thirty levels. The developers make up for this by ensuring that the levels are difficult in other ways. If my TV wasn't so expensive, there would be a controller shaped hole in it.
But then I wouldn't be able to see the pretty graphics. The game is adorable, it really is. The 'grass' on each level is a patchwork quilt, and the 'cornfields' are actually little bits of yarn. Everything is bright, colourful and cheerful. Even the boulders have stitching on them, making them look like stuffed animals. When I first saw this game at E3 2008, the unique look is what drew my attention. It was so surreal to see a game stitched together, seams showing, cartooned to all hell…sitting beside games that spent months and months trying to look as human and realistic as possible.
The audio matches it too. I never found it annoying or cloying, just nice simple background noise that won't drill into your skull. It was refreshing.
Unfortunately, the level editor doesn't stand up on a console. I was reminded of Tony Hawk Underground (on GameCube, no less), where the player is endlessly scrolling through menus to find the one tiny piece they want. The controls are clunky and unwieldy. It made me cringe. I'm left wondering how this would be different on a PC.
Believe it or not, the co-op play is the worst part of the game. It feels like a giant afterthought. You're confined to local play with no online support, and it takes under 30 minutes to complete. One player herds the animals, the other moves fences and rocks and generally sits there bored out of their minds. With so much great potential, it's sad to see that Capcom didn't take advantage of it.
In the end, I guess I'm just not patient enough for this game. At best, I can see myself chugging through a few levels at a time before putting it down for something else. It's frustrating and stressful and annoying and…addictive as all hell. I'm still playing it. I just wish they had done something more with it. There's potential here for something fantastic, it just wasn't taken there, and that's a flockin' shame.