Friday, January 10, 2014

VGR Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf

Time to go back to the Looney Tunes in what is probably the best thing to have come out of the franchise these past two decades!

VGR: Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf also known as Sheep Raider aka Looney Tunes: Sheep Raider
From Infogrames France/Infogrames
Played on PC
Also available on Playstation

Type puzzle/strategy/stealth platformer
Year 2001

The end of the 1990s saw a decline in mascot-sporting videogames. While Sonic & Crash Bandicoot lived through to see a relatively fine on-going success in gaming, all the other Bubsies, Mr. Nutzes and other cartoon animals quickly disappeared, nowhere to be seen.

But what about the original toons, the Looney Tunes?

A few videogames releases continued to see the day, albeit less frequently but they were able to continue nonetheless, gathering a general decent amount of successes.

They had a few nice truly inspired original games and some... less stellar results.

Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf was developed by Infogrames France, and released for both the original Playstation and PC. It is sometimes referred to as either Sheep Raider or "Looney Tunes: Sheep Raider" on some releases. But I prefer Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf since that is the name referred the story is referred to the in-game (more on that below).

It's really complicated to define this game in a few worlds. It looks, and actually plays, like a traditional 3D platformer... but it is also so much more.

The game begins like a classic Looney Tunes episode.

Ralph Wolf - a wolf that looks an awful lot like Wile E. Coyote only with a different shade of brown fur and a big red nose - is attempting to steal a sheep like usual... only to be stopped on time by Sam Sheepdog!

Speaking of time, it's already time to call it a day! That's right, Ralph and Sam are both professionals. At the end of the day, each put aside their differences and go to their own home.

Only this time while falling asleep in front of the TV, he returns home to find the one and only Daffy Duck introducing a brand new show! And you're going to star in it!

As the player, you will participate in this Daffy's contest, his all-new gameshow called "Sheep, Dog and Wolf"!! 

The game is punctuated very fun cinematics.

Our starving hero will have to steal 16 sheep through 14 different stages (with 2 additional hidden levels that need to be found in order to be unlocked), the goal here is to steal one of Sam's sheep in every stage.

You will find several familiar Looney Tunes faces along the way, such as the Road Runner, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Gossamer, the Toro and even Marvin the Martian!

Each stage has its own set of rules and gimmicks to learn in order to face the challenge that simply is stealing a sheep. And it all turns out to be so much more complicated...

Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf offers a very original gameplay combination. Instead of opting for a well-known already established gameplay, they tried to make it a lot more original to actually match the style and tone of the cartoons.

It controls like a genuinely classic 3D platformer. But the goal isn't to defeat bosses, collect coins or jump around really.

It's actually closer to a puzzle game. With a dash of strategy elements and stealth mechanics.

The idea is to avoid being seen by Sam who will instantaneously run after you and punch your head in. To help that matter, there's a Sam icon on the HUD display, one of the very few elements that appear on screen in this game. To keep an eye on Sam's attention when in a nearby area.

You only have 4 action buttons - an action button, the jump button, a release button and a view key to look around in a 1st person perspective, very useful!

Daffy serves as this game host and guide, explaining stuff, with some info every time there's a new gameplay element introduced (such as the above mentioned stealth).

The game begins in the 3D Hub world area, to select the new challenges - the levels.

Every new stage presents a new sets of rules you need to learn to understand as well as a new open environment to play with. It's literally a new puzzle to solve every time!

From the open green pastures to canyons, going through medieval castles, a lakeside, snowy mountains and a whole lot more!

You can interact with the NPC* characters in several ways. While some like Porky can help you with items and new info, others like the Toro or Yosemite Sam need to be dealt with to progress.

And that's where items come in handy... when they aren't meant to get the sheep directly.

You can order an arsenal of specific ACME gadgets around. With mailboxes. Sometimes getting those items will probe a puzzle on its own right. Those will vary each stage from simple bungee jump ropes to little controllable robots, a sheep disguise and more!

The game will give you bonus points to exchange for extra contents in the bonus features. Those includes concept arts, storyboards for the levels (which almost look like storyboards for actual cartoons!) and help to locate the entrance to the secret stages!

You can collect more points by finding the hidden time clocks in every stage.

Once every sheep collected one final last stage will unlock... on Marvin's Planet X! (and much long and trickier - helping Marvin retrieve All of his Instant Martians!)

The entire presentation and absolutely gorgeous visuals really help sell this Looney Tunes game.

Very fun to play, with such simple controls and all the possibilities explored through the campaign. It might be a super long game, but it's a very enjoyable experience. Enough to warrant several playthroughs (plus there's always some secrets to find).

Overall this game leaves us with a very original and interesting puzzle game, a very unique original gameplay combination for what appears to be a platformer on first look. 

There's some hidden races against the Road Runner himself. You can probably solve some levels by cutting through half of what appears to be the main solution.

Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf looks like an actual cartoon, with its lovely cartoony cell shading. Specially on the PC version thanks to the big thick black outlines (absent on the PSX release).

The characters might look simplistic or a bit stylized, but the backgrounds look fairly great to this day. It all seems to come to life on screen.

Probably the closest I've ever seen a Looney Tunes game match the original cartoons (even compared to Space Race).

It's also an hilarious game, with a ton of visual gags and falling anvils from the sky. A(n early) fake Game Over screen. 

Finally the very fun soundtrack composed by Eric Caspar brings it all together with smooth jazz filled with trumpets, drums and more. I love the cool vibe of his music.

My only complaint would be how the game seems to leave you at the end with a Super Marios Bros 2-style ending... *sigh*

Overall, the one and only perfect Looney Tunes video game! Plays like a charm even on a modern setup. 

The closest there's even been to a game capturing the true Looney Tunes spirit.

It's a very smart puzzle game, really entertaining and captivating from start to finish. The final level will test everything you've learnt the entire game! The time travel stages will have you think in more than simply 3 dimensions!

A fantastic highly recommended game for any good gamer out there and cartoon fan alike!
I give it:
3 / 3 Bubbles!

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