Sheep Dog 'N' Wolf
a game by Infogrames Europe SA
Back in the halcyon days of my pre-school youth I remember being deeply disturbed by an episode of Look And Read (which was pretty horrific at the best of times) that featured cattle rustlers hell bent on stripping rural Wales of itsjailbait.
The 20-minute shocker was filled with shots of mud, gratuitous shots of green Wellington boots and menacing ankles, followed by 20mph truck chases down winding country lanes, and the net result was that these protagonists went straight to the top of my 'most evil' list. I've learned a lot since then, and after several brushes with archetypal farmers, I wish the rustlers of the world nothing but luck, and spend most days damning the fact that I'm not brave enough to risk buckshot on the arse or the sight of farmers barking at the moon.
Luckily, I can now live out my rustling fantasies and stick two fingers up to the farmers of the world on the PC, and what's more, there's not a West Country accent in sight. Sheep, Dog 'N Wolf is the first in a new genre, the rustle 'em up, and it lets you take the starring role of Ralph Wolf (Wile E Coyote's cousin apparently), tasked with stealing sheep from under the watchful gaze of Sam the Sheepdog.
If it sounds familiar then you might have caught some of the obscure cartoons penned around the same concept - the first one was released in 1953 under the title Don't Give Up The Sheep and became a massive hit in Wales. See the boxout for the tragic story behind the fairytale.
The premise in Sheep, Dog 'N Wolf is simple: get in, get a sheep, get out. If Sam spots you, you get thumped in typical Looney Tunes style. You don't die and you don't have to go back to the beginning of the level. Thus promoting progression through careful thought and eliminating the frustration you'd feel if you spent an hour getting to the last stage in the level just to make a simple mistake that forces you to do the whole thing again.
At the start of each level you get a fly-by, which shows increasingly large levels packed with obstacles, mailboxes, seesaws (or teeterboards in the unlikely event that any Americans are reading this preview), bushes you can hide in and lettuce you can lure the sheep with. You also get to access some of the best Acme gadgets, such as rockets, dynamite and my favourite, scent of sheep, which are available through mailboxes conveniently scattered across the levels.
Whenever you get near Sam and his flock a radar icon appears showing you which way Sam's head is facing. When it's green you're getting close but you're not in any danger. If it turns orange it means you're in his range and you need to engage stealth mode and should only move when his head's facing away from you. Red means a chase and most of the time a clip around the ear.
So it's not really familiar Loony Hines stuff - most of the others have been mediocre platform games - and Sheep, Dog 'N Wolf is definitely not aimed at children. The puzzles are too hard after the opening training levels and the pace of the game is way too slow and cranial. In my mind this poses a bit of a conundrum.
Because of the Looney Tunes connection, it's the sort of game parents are going to pick up in the shop without realising that they're not the cosy cartoon graphics there appears to be a puzzle game with potential. We'll find out if it lives up to it next month, when we should have completed review code and access to the the game's full 16 levels.
Behind the laughter, lurks a dark, dark world...
You might think of the cartoon world as a glamorous happy go lucky sort of place, but behind the countless frames of joy and happiness lurks a seamier side, of stars and their egos, and crumpled, broken failures.
Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Coyote made their debut in the heady 1950s, with Don't Give Up The Sheep, and had a huge impact when Ralph attempted to trick Sam into giving up his sheep by hiding inside a bush. Because of their ingenuity they weren't off the big screen for long, and the next year smashed their way back in Sheep Ahoy, when the pair thought they'd entrenched themselves in the public consciousness with the introduction of the teeterboard.
However, many analysts predicted they'd peaked too early, and in hindsight, playing your trump card in only your second cartoon is a mistake of epic proportions. In desperation, Ralph and Sam tried to spice up the action with a drag scene (the infamous Little Bo Peep episode), but a horrified public switched off in droves.
Inevitably, it was all brought to an end in 1963 with Woolen Under Where, a cartoon that even lost the will to promote itself with a decent pun. After that, Sam hit the bottle hard and Ralph has had to spend almost 40 years watching his cousin, Wile E, become one of the Looney Tunes' biggest stars. That's showbiz folks.
2018-11-01 Sheep Dog N Wolf game added.