Sheep tend to be overlooked. Sure, they pop up in random commercials and bedtime stories, whenever a movie calls for an establishing shot of Ireland, and, of course, whenever counting is required, but they never get any extended limelight. That kind of ignored existence, the old ‘hit it and quit it’ routine, has gotta piss anyone off. Save Them Sheeps ($1.00) posits an alternate reality, where sheep are fed up with being sheared, and travel through space (don’t think about the ‘how’ part too hard) to inhabit planets of their own so they can live in peace.
Us Humans, though, don’t much like the lack of wool coats when it gets chilly, and set off after them, sending ships of our own to snatch up said sheep and get production back on track. Playing the role of spoiler, you (presumably a dexterous sort of sheep) will need to halt the invasion and save your woolly brethren from a cashmere fate on each level. Planet-hopping is handled similar to Mario games, with new worlds unlocked by gathering stars in the preceding stages. Up to three per level can be earned, for smashing the high score, destroying enemy craft, and rescuing a set number of allies.
Each world you visit is topographically unique, offering up a different color set and soundtrack to work by. You won’t be doing much sightseeing, though, as the action is immediate, ensuring you’ll never run out of targets or find a barren spot (the land is quite literally a carpet of sheep). Obtaining a set number of stars also awards you access to ship skills that give incentive to revisit previous levels, like a tractor beam to cleverly suck up sheep and increase your multiplier.
It’s a simple yet enjoyable arcade idea, that is detrimentally held back by flight controls that never really feel comfortable. There’s a bit of a learning curve, to say the least, as you sort out the right amounts of thrust and tilt to keep you on the level, while the right stick manipulates the camera. For the first few worlds, it isn’t much of a problem, as the bar for passing is (thankfully) set pretty low.
Later worlds, however, increase the score markers and the amount of foes, undermining any flight progress you’ve made. Enemies take advantage of the fact that you seem to be perpetually flying drunk, locking onto your ship with ease or just watching as you swerve into oncoming countryside and burst into flames unassisted. It’s not all bad news. Additional upgrade plateaus bring you shields and missiles, which help counteract the control issues, but they only feel like Band-Aids on a much more serious wound.
Therein lies the shame. Save Them Sheeps has most of the right arcade ingredients in place, but the not-so-intuitive controls dampen what could have been a decent (if somewhat repetitive) diversion. As is, it’s a delayed sort of fun you’ll have to really work at to adapt to, which may be more trouble than it’s worth.