Flockers is the newest title from Team17, the venerable studio behind the enduring Worms franchise, and their first new IP in ten years. It’s a puzzle title that is very much of the capital-o, capital-s Old School. Recalling classic titles like Lemmings, it’s not the first (to coin a term) Lemminglike to come out in the last few years (Mario vs. Donkey Kong, World of Goo, Loco Roco and Chu Chu Rocket all spring to mind) it is among the first to introduce something different – a combination of twisted humour and extreme cartoon violence. From a studio like Team17, we should expect no less.
The object of the game is fairly simple – it is your task to guide a number of sheep safely from one end of a dangerous labyrinth of whirling buzzsaws, pounding hammers, moving platforms and spikes, to the other. Do accomplish this you are given a wide range of modifiers for your sheep. You can make them stop, jump, glide short distances and even explode on command to clear a path if required.
Each level contains pickups that will help you to progress as well – staircases and further blockades to keep the sheep moving or from cheerfully plunging to their bloody deaths. These are either placed helpfully in your path or painfully far away. Two things I really liked were the ability to zoom in and out to move around the maps faster and the ability to grow and shrink the selection reticule. This allows you to select just one sheep if you only need one to form a barrier or select a bunch of them if you need to equip them with Jump in a hurry.
The game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames. The art design is cartoony and perfectly suits the tone the devs are trying to achieve. It’s the gore that’ll surprise you. Sheep cartoonishly splatter when they fall from a great height, blood geysers erupt when crushed by a rolling boulder and meaty chunks fly about when they get caught in the buzzsaws. This is going to make me sound utterly unhinged … but I love it. Flockers’s sense of humour and it’s reliance on blood fountains serve a dual purpose – a) it’s hard to be frustrated by failure when you’re laughing at so much unstoppable, unpredictable carnage, and b) you become attached to these derpy sheep. You don’t WANT the little guys to get gibbed.
I reviewed this title on Xbox One and the only complaint I really had about the console version was that the controls take a little getting used to early on. This is due to the controls being explained on a large wooden banner using pictograms instead of actually telling you straight up what each button does. In attempting to be a bit more universal, it made it tricky to remember which button did what initially. The cursor, also, moves around reasonably quickly using the left stick but when your sheep are in trouble and you need to highlight them fast, it can feel like it’s moving through molasses. This can be remedied by pressing Left on the D-Pad, which effectively pauses the game while letting you look around and plan your next move, stress-free. To be fair, though, if you’re playing the game on PC then your mouse will alleviate this problem entirely.
The level design has a nice difficulty curve that eases you in with the first few levels before becoming positively Machiavellian later on. Each level brings something really different to the table and there are some true brainbenders among them, making the “AHA!” moment when you finally figure it out all the sweeter.
The game’s format is similar to many popular mobile games these days. Broken up into different worlds, each containing multiple levels, you are awarded a star rating out of 3 for how well you performed. This provides a fair bit of incentive to go back and start trying to 3-star every level once you get your head around some of the devious later levels.
I had a great time with Flockers. It’s small, it’s cheap, it’s fun and it’s very, very funny. It’s also an excellent turn-based multiplayer game. Have a few friends over? Fire it up and pass the controller around. I promise, you’ll have a lot of fun with this one.
Flockers is out today.
Review Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Smart level design, engaging puzzles and presentation, wicked sense of humour.
Lowlights: Controls take some getting used to initially.
Released: Sept 19, 2014
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
Reviewed on Xbox One