Sawbuck Gamer


Ya’ Herd?

Sheepwalk! is a throwback game of rural recreation.

By Steve Heisler • August 27, 2012

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.

Dogs gain their sheep-herding ability through a combination of breeding and training. Some are wired for the job from birth; some have at least a predisposition but require that extra push to make the task almost instinctual. The same can be said for the game Sheepwalk!, a retro throwback to simple puzzle games that uses as few graphical bits as possible. You control an unassuming, small pup who herds sheep into their pen. Each level presents new challenges, like a wolf who lurks on the sidelines waiting to snag your sheep, or baby lambs who flee when you get close. Sometimes there are even terrifying (but still adorably 8-bit) rams who try to knock you back.

Sheepwalk! pumps some upbeat tunes into the background to give off the vibe that it’s just another day at the office, so to speak. New design elements roll out slowly over the course of the game’s 30 levels, so you have plenty of time to get used to each one before the next comes. Apparently it’s easy to learn a few new tricks, even if you’re the gaming equivalent of an old dog.

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995 Responses to “Ya’ Herd?”

  1. HobbesMkii says:

    Speaking of the intersection of Sheep and Video Games, I’ll just leave this here, in case you haven’t seen it:

  2. Effigy_Power says:

    I think I’d like to come to a point where 8-bit graphics are revealed to be not so much the adorable nostalgia cookie of yesteryear, but a soup of ugly, pixelated primary colors that could have benefited from a tad more effort. I know that as gamers we are terrible easily affected by nostalgia and 8-bit graphics are the earliest form of our chosen entertainment most of us can consider marginally less cringeworthy than Renaissance animated chess-robots who also looks like racial stereotypes.
    I think however that sometimes we are very prone to overlook slapdash and downright lazy game-design in favor of those yummy feelings of sitting in front of the flickering TV in our footsie-pajamas playing Hero of the Defender of the Crown of the Deep. I also think we confuse the fact that games back then were limited to said graphics due to the fact that our gaming consoles were basically fancy calculators taped to a VCR.

    Sure, as far as nostalgia goes it’s not as damaging as driving gas-guzzling, catalytic-converter free road-vessels from the 50’s for fun, but quite often I believe that game designers could at least advance put some effort into the graphics. Mooy’s recent pixel-art has shown that you can create something atmospheric and damn awesome by manipulating pixels, so that’s not out of the loop by a long shot.

    But when screenshots of a game (free or not) appear to have been made in MSPaint during the lunch break while we criticize AAA titles for not quite getting the reflection on that NPC’s armor right, we might want to consider if nostalgia isn’t making us a tiny bit jaded and douchey at times. And to make sure I do not come across as wagging my finger at everyone else, I am just as guilty as fawning for the warm splendors of the past as everyone else, just maybe not so much when it comes to 8-bit graphics or the continued love for squeeky Midi-sound.

    EDIT: I slacked off last week, so I am going to nag and opinionate my way around the GS this week until your eyes bleed acid and you’ll all want to slay me.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      “…our gaming consoles were basically fancy calculators taped to a VCR”

      That reminds me of this:

    • Colonel says:

      I’m sort of sad you didn’t insert a “Turd Crapley” in there…

    • caspiancomic says:

       I know I can’t comment objectively, blinded as I am myself by drooling nostalgia, but I think it’s important to make a distinction between pixel art that is good and pixel art that is lazily activating the nostalgia parts of the player’s brain. Pixel art is basically a tool in the game developer’s toolbox, and a useful one besides. Plenty of modern games have truly excellent sprite work- the handheld Castlevanias, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, etc. Hell, personally I think the original sprites for The World Ends With You are superior to the rendered ‘HD’ artwork they’re using for the new re-release (although I might just think that because Square had me thinking they were making a sequel instead of a port, and broke my fucking heart)

      Funnily enough, one of my dream projects is to make a game that takes its visual influence from early PS1 crappy polygon characters instead of 8-bit crappy sprite characters. I always found FFVII and IX’s blocky heroes and canned animations to be strangely expressive and endearing, and wanted to have a go at it myself. It’d be trading in the same nostalgia-trip problems as pixel abuse, but would probably be less critically received because “early PS1 crapitude” is a vein not so thoroughly mined as “sprites made in half an hour”

    • Girard says:

      @caspiancomic:disqus ‘s distinction between intentional, well-done sprite art and lazy sprite art is an important thing to keep in mind (and something I think you acknowledge in your post).

      Well done sprite art in old and new games is an aesthetic that, while derived from the limitations of early hardware has antecedents in a number of pre-material artforms like mosaics and embroidery (I used to copy my mom’s cross-stich patterns into Mario Paint pixel-by-pixel as a kid), as well as in ‘primitive’ and Modern ‘neo-primitive’ art movements that emphasize formal qualities and stark shapes over naturalism.

      I subjectively appreciate the simple, abstracted, orthogonal spritework of an aesthetically solid NES game more than many naturalistic contemporary games in the same way that I personally appreciate Byzantize mosaics more than naturalistic baroque church painting with little fat babies all over the place.

      That said, there is a lot of reliance on pixel art, perhaps an over-reliance, in many independent games. I think this is partly because many artists in the medium of code are not also visual artists, and pixel art is a way to make something decently aesthetically pleasing without much skill (though of course a skilled artist can make something very aesthetically strong using pixels). Some of it is also certainly lazy nostalgia that mistakes the brief “ah ha!” of recognition for the “ah!” of recognizing something beautiful.

      I’m not sure how to fit this into what I was saying, but this comparison reminds me of the stark difference between the original Monkey Island and its abysmal re-release a few years ago. The former had pixelwork done by some of the most gifted illustrators in games at the time (Purcell and Chan), and is a visually very successful game. The latter “upgraded” that pixel art with awful, amateurish, and ugly hi-res paintings that completely ruined the tone and aesthetics of the game.

      It’s kind of a tangent, but I guess what that illustrates is that it’s not the resolution of the art, but the quality of the artist that’s important. BUT pixel art is much better at masking the work of a bad artist, and is consequently often used by bad artists.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       Yeah, it can be lazy, but it all comes down to design.  Good artists thrive under limitations, bad artists use them as a way to hide their hack-work/an excuse for not making a better game.

      I rarely criticize a game for its graphics, though.  Perhaps it has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been playing vidya games for longer than most people I know have been alive; I am certain I’m taking several things for granted that my 10-yr-old self would have done triple chores for a year to have access to (though that bastard doesn’t need to hold down a job/pay bills, so in the balance, he probably has it better).  I usually only notice graphical issues when they are so bad as to be unplayable; When people mention technical stuff like  lower frame-rates, I usually just think it’s not all that bad.

      That said, the early polygon era is the 3D gameplay analougue to 2D gaming’s Atari 2600 era:  a lot of poor design decisions spurred on by a zeal to exploit a new technology.

    • Brainstrain says:

      I think it’s a healthy reaction against the hyper-realistic pixel orgy of mainstream gaming. It will continue as long as polygon count is more important than clarity to the majority of game developers.

  3. NFET says:

    From the headline I was expecting a Perd Hapley browser game! Damn you for raising my hopes!

    • Merve says:

      Sheepwalk! is a game that people who game, or “game-players” can play. It involves sheep that are walking, possibly to a destination. That raises the question, which is also an inquiry: what is that destination? Is it a place, or is it a location? To find out, stay tuned to Ya’ Herd? With Perd.

  4. Brainstrain says:

    Also: this is not how sheep herding works.