Shaun the Sheep

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: D3Publisher
Developer: Aardman Animation


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NDS Review - 'Shaun the Sheep'

by Richard Poskozim on Oct. 14, 2008 @ 2:04 a.m. PDT

In Shaun the Sheep players will play as the loveable sheep, Shaun, as he tries to find the rest of the flock before the Farmer arrives home, featuring the fan-favorite characters, items and locations from the much-loved stop-motion animated series, as well as original content for all-new experiences.

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Developer: Daydream Software
Release Date: September 23, 2008

Shaun the Sheep may look a little familiar, even to people who have never seen the TV show of the same name. Is it something about his shape, his walk, his fluff, his … clay? Shaun the Sheep is the latest creation of Nick Park and the Aardman animation studios, the masterminds behind such claymation classics as "Wallace and Gromit" and "Chicken Run." The rowdy sheep now has his own video game to complement the televised shorts.

Players take on the role of Shaun, the silent protagonist and unofficial leader of the farm's quiet herd of sheep. In the game's story mode, you're treated to a scene where the farmer takes off. Immediately afterwards, Shaun watches all of his fellow sheep book it too, to hide at all points of the rather small farm. As Shaun, you immediately take it upon yourself to do the job of the sheepdog, Bitzer, and track them all down to prevent the farmer's panic when he returns.

Shaun the Sheep very faithfully reproduces the simplicity and character of the TV show. The sounds and music are all taken directly from the series, and the DS' notoriously last-gen capabilities work wonders here and capture most of the look, if not the feel, of the original claymation episodes. Everything that's been on the show is here, from the junk pile in the back of the yard to Shaun's characteristic bleat and Bitzer's growl, and it's all lovingly reproduced for this interactive format.

Sadly, it's the gameplay that catches up and ruins the title's playability. There just isn't anything interesting under all of the fluff. The available modes from the main menu are Gallery, Mini-game and Story modes, but the Gallery mode is a way to play a simple push-tile puzzle that you could play just about anywhere else, and the Mini-game mode is just a collection of all stylus-driven events that are scattered throughout the story (with a few extra thrown in).

So really, it's up to the Story mode and Shaun's moves to deliver the goods. While it offers a lot of cute fan service, Shaun the Sheep doesn't really bring anything new or exciting to the table. Shaun is controlled via a point-and-click interface borrowed from the classic computer games. It's all completely stylus-driven, and there are no real issues with the controls, but that's largely because they're so simple. Hold the stylus in a spot where you want Shaun to go, and click on things he's near to interact with them. When you pick up things, they're automatically put in your inventory and tallied on a clipboard; when you have to use items, they're automatically pulled out of the inventory and crossed off your list so you know they're gone. When you find each one of the 15 sheep, they're crossed off, too.

The progression of Shaun the Sheep is made so simple and linear by this that after a while, you start to wonder why you're playing it instead of just watching it. Is it the repetitive 15-second loops of music and the references to the show, or are you just hoping that the next mini-game you discover will be more fun than the last? Normally in this kind of game, finding the mini-games would be half of the adventure, but the design is so simple, with Shaun doling out clues in the form of thought bubbles, that you'll hardly ever be lost about what to do.

The games themselves are entertaining enough in short bursts. They can be anything from a stylus-driven twist on whack-a-mole to a virtuoso guitar performance where you can't let any sour notes make it across Shaun's guitar strings. They're all simple enough that you're guaranteed to succeed on your first playthrough in the Story mode, and the only real challenge is in going back to the mini-games and trying to best your own high score. Fortunately, there's no stylus frustration, and all of the controls are responsive so you'll never find yourself yelling at the DS. You may find yourself a bit frustrated that you have to lean over the DS Lite's touch-screen to blow in the microphone — especially when the games that depend on it, like whack-a-mole, require quick and precise timing right after you use the mic — but that's about the worst design choice made in the game. Things like bouncing Shaun high on a trampoline and leading Timmy the sheep through a hedge are simple and fun for at least 30 seconds. Ultimately, though, Shaun the Sheep is the height of relaxing games.

Once you have played all of the mini-games and recovered all of the escaped sheep, you're essentially done. There are some minor collection elements present in the task of finding a mother hen's chicks for her, but the method of finding the chicks is pure trial and error. It's no joy to rummage through bushes in every screen to find that one little yellow hatchling, especially when much of the rest of the game has consisted of the exact same thing.

And then the game is done. There's nothing left for Shaun to do, which is really discomforting until you realize that at the very least, he has his TV show to go back to. As for the player … well, he's left to ponder why he just played Shaun the Sheep when he could have been catching up on all of the TV episodes and laughing along with them.

All in all, Shaun the Sheep for the NDS is a valiant attempt at fan service, but it focuses so much on capturing and reproducing the essence of the show that it forgot that it also had to be a decent game. If not for the relatively high price tag of a new game, Shaun the Sheep would serve as a pleasant hours-long distraction for younger kids who've fallen in love with the show. The developers have done an admirable job in appealing to the younger target audience, but they really should have realized that a really good kid's game has to be entertaining for the parents as well.

Score: 6.0/10

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