Saving Private Sheep is the harrowing tale of an abandoned, scared flock of woolen comrades and the one ram that can bring them all safely out of the clutches of the nasty wolves. You are that ram. Can you handle the truth? Have I veered from the topic at hand? Why sheep? All – or possibly none – of these questions and more (or less) will be answered by the time this review is over. Now buckle in and read on to find out why you, too, should be saving some sheep…
The premise behind Saving Private Sheep is that the caring Shepherds have gone to fight the good fight for their country, leaving the poor sheep to fend for themselves against the ruthless wolves that prowl the countryside. Eventually an old codger decides he’s not going to stand for it any more, so he organizes the sheep to make their escape. Oddly enough, the sheep seem to keep getting trapped amidst debris piled around the platforms they need to get to in order to be safe. You must help the sheep get off the debris and onto the platform, where apparently the wolves can’t get to them. The logistics make about as much sense as a Tom & Jerry cartoon, but regardless of that the game itself is quite fun.
I had a good portion of this review written up when I started looking at some screen shots and realized “hey, I haven’t played enough of the game to write this review properly”. The reason for that is because while I was finding the game quite enjoyable, I thought it was simply one of those games where you have to get the target off a stack of stuff by destroying key pieces of said stuff. Now it’s true that many of the beginning levels are that way, but even before the end of the first battle you start getting puzzles that are unlike any I’ve seen in games like this before. The simplest variant is levels where the “sheep” are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing (yeah, the clichés hurt to even write), and instead of getting them to the platform you must make them fall off the platform. Then you get levels where you have to get two or more sheep into the safety zone. Better yet, there are levels where you have to bounce, flip or roll the sheep onto the platform, because their starting location isn’t even directly above the safety zone. It’s so nice to see a developer take such a fresh spin on this type of game.
To get rid of the basic wooden pieces you just tap on them. You must be careful, though, because removing the wrong pieces will either cause a deadlock where you can’t move anything else, or it will cause the poor sheep to tumble over the edge, where it will be summarily devoured by the ravenous wolves below. Either result is not cool. Ice pieces break when you tap them twice or something else falls on them too quickly. Explosive crates blow up when you tap them, something else falls on them, or they fall too far. Metal pieces don’t break at all, but they can help break other things or knock them over. Unfortunately, you have no direct control over metal objects.
The thing I’m beginning to like more and more about this type of game is that the right answer isn’t always the obvious one. Maybe you’re trying to get the sheep to fall one way, but he really needs to fall another. Maybe you’re headed in the right direction, but you’re breaking the objects in the wrong order. The best part is that you’ll keep trying the wrong way over and over again even though it keeps failing, because you’re convinced that you’re right and that THIS time things will fall just right even though they didn’t the last 30 times. The other thing I like about Saving Private Sheep over many other games of this type that I’ve played is that in SPS you can actually break things without taking a break in between. A lot of times this type of game will force you to pause for a bit of time while things tumble from your previous break before you can get rid of something else. Both ways present their own set of “gotchas”, but I prefer being able to break things when I want, as quickly as I want.
You’re in for a real treat when it comes to the visuals in Saving Private Sheep. The sheep themselves look great, and I love watching them pop up from their curled up position to standing upright with a full salute when you finish a level. Of course, even more amusing is “accidentally” letting them fall and watching as clumps of wool and leg of lamb fly up while the wolves are tearing the poor cadets apart. In the same vein, the animation when you have to purposely dump a wolf in sheep’s clothing over the edge is quite funny. As you’re playing there’s always something going on in the background as well. Sometimes a wolf will pop its head up and glare at your sheep with a twinkle in its smile. Other times there will be a “super” sheep flying in the sky or a UFO come to cart a poor defenseless cow away. This is one of those games where they paid as close attention to the little details as to the main objects, and it makes quite a difference.
The sound effects are equally well done. The various bleats and cries of the sheep depending on the circumstances are perfect, and the noises that accompany the unseen tussle when a sheep falls of the platform are vintage Warner Brothers. Even when you’re on the map you’ll hear things like gunfire to make you remember you’re in the midst of a war. Now to the down side of the audio – there’s music, and it actually sounds pretty good. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually play during the game itself (except when trailing off), but rather just during the menus and while on the map. That’s too bad, because some background music would be really nice, even though you’re never on a level for a particularly long time.
It’s good to know that despite publishers like Astraware and Chillingo having seemingly cornered the market on puzzle games, there are still folks not associated with these behemoths that can churn out a quality title. Everything about Saving Private Sheep reeks of professionalism. The atmosphere is humorous, the audio and visuals are top notch, and the game play itself goes well beyond what you’d expect from this sort of game. The level designs are often deceptively simple, and the three tiers of medals for each level give you something to strive for if you don’t get the gold your first time out on each level. I still contend that there’s no such thing as a perfect game, but efforts like this sure come close.
Overall Score: 9.5 / 10
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