Overall Score 76%
It's lucky that I got to review this game rather than Bytten's other reviewer Andrew Williams. As our resident proof reader, he might never have recovered from the shock of seeing “sheeps” used as the plural of sheep and been unable to continue with the review. I'll let it slide. If nothing else “Flying Sheeps” makes for an aptly descriptive if slightly uncomfortable title for our review game this week.
It's a simple game to play. The player controls a hot air balloon. By using the left and right arrow keys they can move the corresponding direction, with the up arrow key used to heat the air inside the balloon and make it rise. There is no immediate way to lose altitude and air inside the balloon needs to cool off before the craft will begin a descent. The controls feel necessarily loose and sluggish with a good deal of delay factored in. Controlling the balloon's path in a tight obstacle course is quite a challenge. Acceleration and deceleration are gradual and the player needs to use foresight and calculation to navigate through the 50 maps in the game.
Some practical joker has tied helium balloons to all the sheep in the area, causing them to be suspended in mid-air awaiting rescue. Although the sheep and their associated balloons are happily enjoying the laws of physics up there, some nasty obstacles that our intrepid balloon pilot also needs to face, are not. Bricks cannons, giant fans, storm clouds, mines, airborne wolf detachments and buzz-saws are all going to make the life of the hot air balloon rescue pilot a very brief one indeed. The aim on each level is to pick up the sheep (which are then unceremoniously grappled to the bottom of your basket in a daisy-chain) and plop them down in their pasture. You can make multiple trips if you like and there is no limit to the amount of balloons you can send up. Even if your balloon is downed, all rescued sheep stay in the pen.
You need to complete each of the 50 missions in a linear order but once cleared you can start subsequent plays from any beaten level. Balloon designs and motifs are unlocked the further you progress. There is also a WYSIWYG level editor that allows the creation of all sorts of levels to add to your game. It's simple to use and comes unlocked right from the start.
There are a lot of things to like about the game. Its bright and colourful and the graphics are very good indeed. Levels are spread over day, night and sunset environments, and the quasi 3-D backgrounds, complete with reflective water textures, shadows and particle effects look awesome. Every now and then, a shooting star will flash across the sky at night, or during the day, you might see an old barnstorming biplane out enjoying the great weather. Sounds and music are perfect for the tranquil setting and even as the levels become more and more difficult, the game tends to promote a relaxed, almost meditative playstyle.
The physics seem quite good too. The delay between a blast of heat into the balloon and the consequent upward movement is just right, and the corresponding cooling of the air feels just right as well (in the context of the game). At the bottom of the display are gauges that measure altitude, speed and temperature of the air in the balloon. All elements just come together very nicely.
The main issue that I have with the game is longevity. Of the 50 levels, I have only got to about level 15 or so, and already they are getting very difficult. The slow pace of the balloon around the levels coupled with some brutally difficult areas means one slip up and you'll be returning the launching pad and face a long journey back to where you were downed. Since progression through the levels is strictly linear, and there is no way to download custom made content from other users, once you get stuck on a level, that's pretty much it. Having a central repository for user created maps might be a way to get around this. Dynamite Jack is a game that showcases this very feature exceedingly well.
If you're at all fan of action puzzle games, then Flying Sheeps is certainly worth a download. It's easily learnt, presented beautifully and the developers have released it on a “pay as much as you think it's worth” sales model. It's not going to keep you glued to your computer for days on end, but it's a quirky and fun offering from a development team that show a lot of promise for the future.
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