S.O.S.
Save Our Sheep

Dagnabbit, if you’re a hard-pressed hillbilly farmer the last thing you need is your sheep bursting out of the farm and running amok. Now that it’s happened, you’d better hop into your rusty old pickup and gather Them Dumb Sheep (Out Now, $0.99)!

Squeezing the player between unintuitive driving mechanics and a constantly ticking timer, Them Dumb Sheep presents quite the logistical challenge. You have to give the sheep credit for one thing — at least they’re smart enough to pile into the truck as the player drives by, leaving him or her to focus on determining the most efficient route for making the collections and depositing them at an assembly point that marks level completion. Tar slicks and gas cans represent speed bumps and speed boosts respectively; achieving the best possible time in a level depends on the player’s ability to work gas cans into the truck’s path, and keep tar slicks out.

That might not seem like a tall order in an overhead 2D game, but it truly is — and for a reason players will either love or detest. Them Dumb Sheep uses the screen area control method, whereby a left-hand turn is made by tapping on the left side of the screen and a right-hand turn by tapping on the right. The player must bear in mind that the game engine considers “left-hand” and “right-hand” from the driver’s perspective. Since the player gets a bird’s-eye view of events and doesn’t have a steering wheel sitting in front of him or her, this naturally leads to a frustration: the player has to put quite a bit of thought into how input will translate into the truck’s onscreen motion. Many an unintended crash will result — I came away from it pouting over what a baa-a-a-ad driver I must be!

For sure, Them Dumb Sheep’s challenge rests on how the control scheme messes with the player’s mind, and this is a design quirk worth some interest on the part of very adventurous iOS gamers looking for a new kind of challenge. That said, it takes a heavy toll on Them Dumb Sheep’s  general appeal, given that interface reliability is a prerequisite for a fun gaming experience in most players’ minds.

Them Dumb Sheep does sport some features that work decisively in its favor — namely, how the truck’s speed varies with the number of collected sheep weighing it down, and how environments dynamically evolve with bridge collapses and passing trains. Them Dumb Sheep’s twenty levels have to be completed in total before a Game Center score is tallied based on cumulative time and attempts, which makes for considerable replay value. And don’t worry, you can dump out of the game at a moment’s notice thanks to a well implemented auto-save function.

The quality of audio clips – whether it be the twanging banjo that suffices as a soundtrack, the truck’s squealing tires, or the incessant baa-a-a-ing of collected sheep at every sharp turn – lends Them Dumb Sheep’s presentation a certain excitement that transcends the simplicity of its hand-drawn visuals. Pending extra levels in updates, an average playthrough will last between six and twelve minutes. However, perfectionists who put in the time to master its controls and improve their item collection strategy should be able to squeeze a few hours’ worth of replay value out of this one.

iFanzine Verdict: A love-it-or-hate-it title through and through. Them Dumb Sheep serves up an interesting time attack challenge if you can forgive, or even learn to appreciate, how counterintuitive and difficult-to-master its interface is.

[xrr rating=3/5]