By: Quinn Potter
Based on the name Flockers, one would expect something cute or funny involving a flock of sheep. You would be mistaken. The game involves sheep, but nothing cute or funny – unless your idea of funny is “bloody” and “somewhat disturbing.”
The game is a basic puzzler that requires you to herd your sheep through a bizarre Steampunk / Rube Goldberg- type factory that is in the process of turning sheep into weapons. Your goal is to move your flock through each level without having any sheep harmed. The buttons are well laid out and very responsive for what you need to accomplish in the game, as it’s a fairly straightforward process of moving, evading or timing the machine correctly.
You do need to zoom in and out a lot, and it would make for smoother play if this were an easier process. Sometimes you need to manage your sheep on a micro level (to pass the jagged circular sawblade of doom, for example) and sometimes you need to pull back and look at the big picture (to see if your whole flock has made it through the spiky posts of death, for instance).
The graphics are clear and somewhat detailed in the foreground, but the background is blurry and has only the vaguest indication of where the scene is taking place. This is unfortunate, as the background could hold potential details that would lead to more humor or inside jokes for the game. The frame rate holds up very well. Action is smooth and continuous throughout with numerous objects in motion, lots of swerving, saw blades and gears moving, zzz’s bubbling up from sleeping sheep, and so on.
The music is a good fit for this bizarre game, as it’s cute but repetitive… and slightly creepy. Taken at face value, the graphics would have you believe that this is a fun cartoon without much of an edge or challenge. With the music going and sawblades spinning, however, you get more of a sense of challenge and impending doom / destruction / violence / general mayhem.
This is a puzzle-based, single-player game that moves through several levels of difficulty. The game starts with a cut scene of normal sheep becoming weaponized. This is the primary objective of the game. There are at least 66 levels, but more are unlocked or revealed after you’ve moved through some of the lower levels. You don’t have to successfully complete a level to move to a different level of the game.
The game takes place within a factory, where you start with about 50 sheep. The action ramps up pretty quickly. You’re trying to keep the sheep safe while having them jump over large pointed (bloody) sticks, dodge circular sawblades, fall off high ledges and race ahead of bulldozers. Even when you’ve got the timing down, your sheep may get randomly blown up by dynamite or your whole flock may be in danger because there’s a large, hammer-like piece of the machine that wants to pound them all to a bloody pulp.
Various glowing boxes are scattered through the level so your sheep can gain powers. Capes let the sheep fly, hats let them jump very far and dynamite lets sheep explode when needed. You get rewarded for quick timing and keeping your flock intact with stars, extra sheep, and access to user-created levels and customized sheep.
The puzzles are challenging, but the levels can feel somewhat repetitive over time. For older gamers, these levels recall the innocent days of Donkey Kong but without the be-boppy arcade music and banana peels. Younger gamers who have played Lemmings or Worms (developer Team 17’s most famous work) might feel like they are in familiar territory here.
And the youngest of gamers might find that they are being introduced to a new kind of puzzle that demands speed, precision – and a bit of determined curiosity. Many of the strategies needed to get through the levels aren’t outwardly obvious and need to be discovered or stumbled upon after a bit of game time. (Think hidden paths, panels and repeated use of the pause button, and you start to get the idea of the layers of complexity needed to survive.)
Flockers is a bit of an odd game. Team 17 calls it “twisted” and “Tim Burton style macabre” in their press release, and that’s certainly true. Having said that, Flockers is only going to appeal to players who find enjoyment in dark humor. The game seems to be aimed at a younger audience, but it’s so bloody and violent that it has to be rated Teen. It’s jarring to see cute sheep running through a factory that turns them into weapons — especially if the alternative to becoming a weapon is facing a disturbingly brutal death.