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by Infogrames

7-01.jpg (4114 bytes)I’m all for cartoon games—the zany possibilities are endless, and they have an automatic edge where nostalgia is concerned. I was especially excited when I saw one of the great parings of Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf in a Tomb Raider spoof. This game had tons of potential starting out, but as I played through the levels, I found that although the cartoon antics were fun, the makers really could have taken more of a lesson from the Laura Croft school of thought than Daffy Duck. Because of the title, this game asks for a comparison in which it doesn’t always come out the winner.

5-01.jpg (5002 bytes)Sheep Raider features a training level (a la Croft) and 17 levels of sheep stealing mayhem. The goal of each level is to steal a sheep and get it to a goal marker (in one piece, I might add) and to evade Sam Sheepdog while doing so. Each level brings new surprises and skills, with Daffy Duck helping you out with each new addition. There are also conveniently located mailboxes where you can order supplies from the Acme company. Each mailbox orders one specific item and then loses its usefulness. Items are stored in an easily accessible pull-down screen on the L1 button, and items can also be combined with each other by using the map screen. Ralph’s map also details the location of items of interest, mailboxes, lettuce (used for luring sheep away), and most importantly, Sam and his flock. If all else fails, there are signposts and an occasional character along the way to give you hints.

2-01.jpg (5416 bytes)The graphics on this game leave a wee bit to be desired. There are lots of polygon problems, which are annoying even in animated cartoon characters. This is even the case with cut scenes, which are generally the places where programmers work hard to make things look extra nice. But the problem is bad enough that Daffy’s beak looks deformed and his voice doesn’t even fit its movements. The backgrounds during the cut scenes are better, but lack 3-dimensionality and depth. In actual gameplay, the main characters, Sam and Ralph, look very nice, but the backgrounds become the problematic element. The landscapes are very simple, and the lack of detail occasionally causes problems in figuring out where to go in a level. For levels that are fairly small and simple, I was hoping for a bit more detail.

8-01.jpg (6084 bytes)The camera is well done for the most part. There is a little lag in switching angles when characters go around corners, but otherwise it is fairly reactive. You can even rotate the camera 180 degrees each way with the L1 and R1 buttons, or, even better, you can choose the "Wolf’s-eye view" and see a smooth 360 degrees along with horizontal and vertical control by pressing triangle and using the directional buttons.

6-01.jpg (6223 bytes)The movement options are satisfying as well. You can run by tapping the circle key, which occasionally lets you outrun Sam Sheepdog (though don’t always count on it because he is much faster than you would guess from looking at him). Jump and double jump are available, but two of the Tomb Raider perks are missing here—the first being the ability to grab/climb and the nifty feature of being unable to fall off inclines when you are walking (or in Ralph’s case, sneaking). For a game that almost guarantees younger playing audience, the latter function would have made an excellent addition.

3-01.jpg (7671 bytes)The music is reminiscent of seventies funk, which gets old after a while, but I wouldn’t have dreamed of turning it off because of the great sound effects. From Ralph’s plummet down a cliff (complete with the moment of toe searching for ground and the poof of dust at the bottom), to Sam’s bashing when he catches Ralph, and the cute sheep bleatings, the game gives enough laughs to keep the stereo off and the sound up.

4-01.jpg (4359 bytes)Probably the biggest place where I found myself wishing for a good dose of Tomb Raider was in the level construction. First, most of the level is shown on the map (some missing/obstructed parts don’t show up), along with the location of a good number of the items you need to pick up. This totally took away the "ah-ha!" factor of discovery in the game. Besides this, the levels are very small and fairly simple. It doesn’t take too long to find out where the goal is and to get a good idea of what strategy needs to be employed to retrieve your sheep. Problems occasionally arise when the lack of rounding and detail keep you from finding access to parts of the level that are necessary to complete it. Occasionally it also causes problems because you may understand what has to be done to solve a problem, but it is difficult to see what needs to be done to solve it. This doesn’t mean that it requires skill and practice necessarily, but merely the blind luck of repeated attempts. Some might argue that the levels don’t need to be that detailed for a younger audience, but I would disagree. I think of all the fun that kids I know have with Mario and Sonic (which have multiple and large levels, with increasingly complex goals), and I begin to think that Looney Toons has underestimated its younger playing audience.

In the end, Sheep Raider is a game that has a fabulous premise, funny elements, and lots of potential that just doesn’t come through. I laughed many times with this game and the cartoon additions of silliness, but the gameplay alternates between too frustrating and too simple. I applaud the attempt, but if a game is going to try and stack itself against a goliath like Tomb Raider, or pull off a spoof, it better have all of its ducks…er, sheep…in a row.

Monica Hafer   (12/18/2001)


Ups: Witty dialogue and sound effects; great premise; classic Looney Tunes action.

Downs: Graphic problems interfere with gameplay; control issues; too simple even for younger audiences; levels are very small.

Platform: PlayStation