SHEEP DOG ‘N’ WOLF (2001) – INFOGRAMES
As you may have seen in one of my earlier blog posts, I recently traded in a load of old PS1 games, one of which was Sheep Dog ‘N’ Wolf. Upon returning a few days later out of curiosity to see how much stuff was being sold for, I noticed that it had obtained the value of £14. A few weeks later, I still cannot work out why it is worth that much. Is it perhaps simply the rarity of the thing (I could only find two copies on Ebay), or is there something that I overlooked when I sold it? Time for an investigation: review style of course
The game kind of came out of nowhere in 2001, and I am not sure many people now are aware of it, so let me give some background. The whole game is based around a game show (set in the Looney Tunes world with Daffy Duck as the host) in which Ralph Wolf must steal sheep from Sam the Sheepdog. There are around 18 stages where Ralph must try and infiltrate the flock, always under the watchful eye of Sam, and lure a sheep away to a target zone, a big white circle in the level. And that’s it pretty much plotwise; sure there are cameos from other Looney Tunes characters to help you out (for example Porky Pig grows lettuces that can be used to attract the sheep, and Road Runner is present to race against on a later stage), but in essence its just a wolf, a dog, and some sheep. Make you wonder why game titles can’t be so succinct nowadays.
The main attraction about Sheep Dog ‘N’ Wolf is that while it may present itself as a platformer, it also borrows elements of strategy and stealth games. You can’t just simply walk up to the flock and steal the sheep; Sam will notice you straight away and pummel your face in. Instead you have to assess the situation, use gadgets (from the ACME universe – like dynamite and sheep’s clothing for example) to get a tactical advantage, and sneak slowly towards your prize. It helps then that Ralph is quite a controllable character. Moving the d-pad around normally will cause him to walk, but hold the R1 button and he can start sneaking around like Solid Snake. Bashing circle allows him to run away from trouble at high speed and cross chasms if given a run up. There is also a very handy on the fly menu system ala. Metal Gear Solid, where items can be equipped and combined if necessary. The jumping mechanic is a bit crap and the camera can be archaic at times, but overall the control scheme leads to some really quite fun puzzle gaming. No two stages are similar and require Ralph to solve challenges in different ways, especially the later stages where the difficulty ramps up quite considerably as Sam becomes more vigilant. As a side challenge, there is a bonus clock hidden away in each level that can be activated in order to unlock extra levels and special stuff, and these do require some exploration as they are hidden away in quite obscure places at times.
I do find it a shame that the graphics and sound are not up to scratch. One thinks that Infogrames tried to go for a cel-shaded look to represent the ACME Universe, and while it looked fantastic at the time (complete with the Looney Tunes effects that we all know and love, like the poof of smoke as you fall down a canyon), it hasn’t aged terribly well. The crowd audience in particular in the main hub looks horrible. I think that if the character models had been given just a bit more definition, then it would have stood the test of time better. The sound also comes across as being a very peculiar experience. All the Looney Tunes characters in game have the voices from the cartoons and they are pitch perfect in this respect, but there’s a great lack of dialogue when playing through the game. Daffy will say something at the end of a round, and that will be it. The soundtrack is also not the most inspiring in the world, some tracks are repeated and I cannot think of any of the top of my head that I particularly enjoyed listening to.
What this game is then is a love/hate affair. At times it can tax your brain with some well thought out challenges, and the use of an inflatable sheep to distract Sam is always a laugh. But on the other hand, it grates your eyes after a while, and the difficulty can become brutal; I never actually fully completed the game because of that damn minefield in Stage 13 across the sand. Also, there isn’t much of a replayablity factor to be had here; once you’ve worked out what to do first time round, the process becomes highly linear and unexciting on a second playthrough. To conclude, I can only think that Sheep Dog ‘N’ Wolf is being sold for £14 because of its rarity, as there are many other PS1 titles out there that would be more deserving of that price tag. I just hope the next person to pick it up enjoys the adventures of Ralph a bit more than I did.