We now return to the year 2000, a time of simpler graphics and harder games. Today, i will tell you about one fine game from that year, a puzzle game elegantly masquerading as a platformer - Sheep Dog n' Wolf, AKA Looney Tunes Sheep Raider.
I'm not even exactly sure who made Sheep Dog 'n Wolf. Were Infogrames developer or a publisher? Were guys at Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment publishing or just providing license for a setting? But i think it dosen't really matter. Why? Because it's awesome.
Visiting the Cartoonland
First and foremost: the wonders of design in this game. Ten years have passed since it's release, yet it still looks extremely nice. Not Uncharted 2-nice, maybe - but still very nice. Graphics have aged really, really well. The reason is simple: the game looks as if you were playing an actual Looney Tunes short. Stylization is just that well done. Objects may be blocky, but caricature style makes that blockiness look completely natural. Trees may be simplistic, but they look exactly like trees in classic cartoons. Waterfalls you often come across are beautiful even without all the fancy-pants particle effects we're used to today. And of course there are black outlines around each character.
Just... look. Can you believe it was made ten years ago?
I could praise the style for hours on end. Each level has a distinct visual theme - be it a verdant cliffside, desert canyon, or land of ice. The music is simply brilliant. You won't understand untill you listen to it yourself. The animation is amazing: characters always act like if it was a cartoon, dropping anvils on eachother and using classic "wheel-o-feet" for running. Speaking of characters, oh-so-many stars from Looney Tunes' cast are visiting. Ralph Wolf, Sam Sheepdog, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Gossamer (the big red hairy thing). Many others - Sylvester and Grandma, Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd - get short cameo appearances.
Sheep Dog 'n Wolf also gets bonus points for having parts of gameplay fit it's aesthetic perfectly. Examples? If you run and crash into something, Ralph stumbles around with stars circling around his head. Running fast enough will allow you to run on thin air, but if you run too far and lose inertia, Ralph realizes there's nothing under him and falls down. Getting a rock fall on his head will squash him into form of a coin. You can blow characters up with dynamite (which naturally makes them pitch-black), launch things with elastic band stretched between two trees, disguise yourself as a sheep, and do lots of other wacky, cartoonish things. The game plays just like another Looney Tunes episode.
So what's up, Doc?
The premise is really rather simple and cartoony. Ralph Wolf (apparently an equally unlucky relative of Wile E. Coyote) is invited on reality show by Duffy Duck... for one reason or another. The point of this show is to steal sheep from his arch-enemy, Sam Sheepdog... which is way harder than it sounds. Sam is quite protective of his herd, and much physically stronger than Ralph. So you have to rely on stealth, trickery, and products supplied by (yes!) the famous ACME Corp. There are 14 main levels to be cleared out, plus two secret ones. And that's about it.
Cleverest. Disguise. Ever.
Ralph's schemes and efforts
Now, the tastiest part of this game. The actual gameplay. Sheep Dog 'n Wolf opens with tutorial sequence (perphformed bfy yourpf tpfruly, Dapphy Duck) which may lead you to believe that it's just another cartoony platformer. But it isn't. After solving an environmental puzzle with some seesaws and rocks, you are introduced to your map and inventory screen. Here the game reveals it's true core - puzzles, as opposed to platforming. On each level, there are certain items you can order via mailboxes. There are quite a lot of gadgets in this game - amongst them an electric fan, a metal detector, a hypnotic flute, a fishing rod with magnet... and there's also items already on the landscape - lettuce gardens, landmines you can defuse and steal. After you go pick them up (in many cases task as difficult as central objective of sheep-stealing), you can use them in your haphazard schemes.
To succeed with these schemes, you need to be infaillable. They require sharp mind, sneakiness of a superspy, and clockwork precision... not exactly the kind of qualities present in Ralph, or for that matter in any cartoon characters. So there will be a lot of obligatory blunders along the way. And i mean "a lot". Here, i must thank an incredibly fluid save system. Levels are not exactly linear - more like small sandboxes with multiple angles of approach - and there are a lot of save points strewn across them. In addition to that, when you steal a sheep, you can't really lose it - if any of you two dies, you both respawn next to each other.
There is also a stealth mechanic. If you are close to Sam's zone, but not yet in visual range (remember, his hair obstructs his vision), the picture of his face with green background appears. Sam's head in the picture rotates, indicating whether he looks at your location or in other direction. If you are in his zone, but he can't see you (looks other way, or you hide behind an object), the background is orange. And when it becomes red, that means he sees you. Then you can either run for your life and hope he won't catch you, or get caught and stomped into the ground. You can sneak to avoid detection by hearing, disguise as a bush and move when he dosen't look, stick to square rocks so you won't get seen, hide in long shadows. Sometimes you can even enact petty revenge - for example, cover Sam in honey and anger nearby bees.
Finally, the bonus points. There's a well-hiiden punch clock on each level, a reference to original cartoon. If you activate it, you earn a bonus point, which you can spend in main menu on concept art or tips on hidden level access.
We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow...
Anvils on head
Good as it is, Sheep Dog 'n Wolf is not without it's failings. Main of these failings is unbearably high (by today's standards, at least) difficulty. The puzzles range from "pretty hard" to "keyboard-eatingly hard", with some i've resorted to trial and error. What really stands out here is when you boss-fight Gossamer. I couldn't complete the game for six or seven years because of that prick, untill someone finally told me how to beat him (first you have to run around him in circles to make him dizzy, and then, while he's out, go activate lights). So in short, difficulty is outrageous by modern standards of fluffy and helpful games guiding you step-by-step. On the other hands, beating these incredibly hard challenges really adds to enjoyment when you finally manage to triumph.
Another two (albeit much lesser) problems are camera and controls. Naturally, the game dosen't know what "mouselook" is, because it was made before the era of analog sticks. The wonkiness of a camera can sometimes present additional problems, as if the game wasn't difficult enough. Controls can also be a bit imprecise.
Oh, and for landmine defusal there are quick-time events.
Wild, wild West in all it's arid, rocky, cactus-y glory.
Recommendation: This game is about as awesome as a cybernetically augmented Lombax dressed as Elvis Presley surfing a supernova's blastwave on a Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey while playing a two-necked electric guitar which is also a flamethrower+machinegun combo and wearing a pirate hat that's on fire. Okay, maybe i'm majorly overstating, but it's still awesome enough to want it. The problem is - it's really damn hard to get hands on it now. If you can, you definetly should acquire it.
My other reviews:
My early reviews:
Please don't comment on those, as they are very old. Send me a PM if you want to ask something. On the other hand, i'd like you to comment here - on this review. If you took time to read it, please take some more time to feed my ego a little bit.
Next up on Mr. Exposition - Mafia: The City Of Lost Heaven!
If you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss starts staring into you. So what will happen if you throw heavy boulders in the abyss long enough?
We don't know - but Ralph is going to find out!