You're probably familiar with director Nick Park. The creative mind behind such animated hits as Wallace & Gromit
and Chicken Run
, he's known for his distinctive style of using clay models to act out stop-motion slapstick. Shaun the Sheep is one of his most recent projects, and is a spin-off series of short format cartoons you might have seen on the Disney Channel. Shaun the Sheep on the DS, then, is the inevitable video game tie-in.
Shaun is an overly intelligent young ram surrounded by a flock of much more dim-witted fellows. His human-level IQ often gets him into trouble, causing catastrophes that he must then try to rectify within the time limit of his animated episodes. In the Shaun the Sheep game, though, the current calamity isn't his fault -- the Farmer who owns Shaun's flock simply forgot to close the gate to the sheep's pen before leaving for a trip to town. The entire flock gets loose, and it's up to Shaun to trek across the full acreage of the farm, and beyond, to track down and reclaim his friends (before the Farmer make his way home).
The game plays out like a classic point-and-click, which is appropriate since the recently announced Wallace & Gromit episodic game series
is adopting the same style. It works well for Shaun here on the DS, as you maneuver him around the touch screen by tapping the stylus on where you want him to walk, then tapping again on objects in the environment you want him to interact with.
To begin, you'll simply be searching for clues to the whereabouts of the lost sheep. But the game doesn't let you wander aimlessly for long -- clear, intentional directions like stars placed on the top screen map show up soon and help you know exactly where to go. This is a great inclusion for younger gamers, as though the areas open for Shaun to explore are small to begin with, it could be tough to keep track of which direction to go as more of the farm is opened up.
And that's exactly what happens -- you find a sheep, and that triggers something new to happen. Like a new gate to open, or the discovery of a new key to unlock a door. Then you follow that fresh path, find another sheep, and the process repeats itself. It's very straightforward and easy to follow. In fact the entire quest can be easily completed in a single sitting, in about an hour or so. It's not the lengthiest adventure on DS, as a result -- but I doubt many fans of his seven-minute cartoons would have expected Shaun's video game journey to be some kind of 20 hour epic.
An element that's a little inconsistent through Shaun's quest is the game's integration of cut-away mini-games. Most of the time their placement in the story makes sense. For example, when you discover little Timmy walking a dangerous tightrope in a circus tent you have to play a trampoline bouncing game to jump up and reach him. And when Shaun finds himself covered in mud at another point, you play a sheep-washing clean-up game. But the designs are a little random in their frequency -- sometimes you'll play several in close proximity to one another, and other times you'll rescue several sheep in a row without ever cutting away to any of them.
The mini-games, too, are mostly the standard and forgettable DS fare. The most engaging ones aren't even seen in the main storyline, but have to be unlocked as extras accessible from the game's main menu. There's a Space Invaders shooter knock-off starring Bitzer the dog barking sound waves at a stampede of sheep descending on him from the top screen, and a Pac-Man clone featuring overweight ewe Shirley trying to snack on as many corncobs as she can while avoiding the Nasty Pigs. It's great that they're included at all, but had there been a way to work them into the main quest it could have added just a bit more length to the experience.
Lastly (and to end on a positive note), it has to be said that the personality of Shaun's world is impressively captured. The slapstick humor comes through in each character's animations, some of which are entirely pointless from a gameplay perspective -- they're simply included to keep the mood on track. There are cut-aways that showcase the Farmer's car troubles away from the farm, appearances from all of the show's major and minor characters at some point in the adventure, and an overall sense of Nick Park pizzazz to the entire package. And that's got to be the most important quality for a licensed game to strive for, anyway.
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