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Flock!

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Proper Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

If you've been a reader for any length of time, you probably know that I am usually drawn to games that are a little out of the ordinary. Flock! fits the bill when it comes to unique; though it was also something I was never able to connect with. Don't confuse this with bad - Flock! is far from it - though it is also an acquired taste.

Flock! evokes memories of my sister's bedroom when she was little. At the time, the "quilted" look was all the rage when it came to baby decorations and my parent's happily latched on to the trend. Everything in Flock! features a hand-stitched look, which is refreshing considering the hard-lined, sharp-edged look games usually seem to trend towards. Levels aren't incredibly large, but still interesting enough that you'll want to stare for a bit (well, until you realize the timer is running).

Animals share the same "soft" look and would also find a place in my sister's bedroom. Rather than go for a "realistic" look, Flock!'s livestock look like toys. Sheep are little more than fluff-balls with legs, pigs are round and cows look like a stack of bed sheets. It's a great look and when combined with the jazzy soundtrack, it helps to convey a fun feel.


Gameplay:

Flock! runs on the same basic premise as Marble Blast Ultra or Switchball, only instead of one ball, you are charged with shepherding livestock around a level. However, the underlying premise is still the same; solve puzzles to get from point A to point B while racing the clock. The hook is that you aren't in direct control of the animals. You control a small UFO that emits a light that animals will run away from. Your task is to herd a certain number of animals to the mothership - the MotherFlocker - though you can always go for a perfect abduction for bonus points.

Different animals have different traits that play into the puzzle-solving. Sheep can't pass fences, but if you get them wet, they shrink and can walk under them. Cattle, on the other hand, can stampede and run through fences. These quirks are inventive and are used to create some truly tricky puzzles. At the same time, it feels like the developers were dead-set on fifty levels, so new twists are introduced slowly, causing the game to slow to a crawl.

Your reward for corralling animals is items for the level editor. The toolset that comes with the game is great and the only real limitations are your imagination and lack of items to place. You can even share your creations online, which is a nice touch. I couldn't get into the gameplay, but the ability to unlock new pieces and parts was enough motivation to keep me playing just a little longer. It would have worked too, had it not been for the creeping pace of the single-player game. I would have gladly traded a few levels for a quicker-paced game.


Difficulty:

Beating the clock is a big part of gameplay, so you need to figure out the quickest solution through the level. If you can complete a level within a certain (and sometimes incredibly harsh) time limit, you're rewarded with a medal. In theory the setup works, but since you can't control the animals, the task is harder than it sounds. There's always one sheep that wanders from the group and they tend to gravitate towards the edge of the path. Trying to round up the stray will cost you time and more than likely scatter the rest of the group. It's a pain and the main reason I couldn't get into Flock!, but I also recognize that it will appeal some players. It's a fun challenge, especially when the animal's traits are tossed into the mix, but not something for everyone.

Game Mechanics:

Aside from pacing issues, Flock!'s biggest issue is the control. Steering your ship around levels is simple, but the physics behind the task are too loose. I realize that this is partially by design, but when taken with the animal's wandering ways, it isn't as enjoyable. Sometimes it was like trying to clean up a spill with a paper towel. You'll get most of the liquid in one pass, but there's always a stray and usually you end up with a bigger mess than you originally had. Something a little more precise - or at least something that made me feel like I had a little more control over the animals - would have gone a long way. Again, I think some players will be able to get a handle on the mechanics, but I'm not in that group.

As you pass through levels, you'll earn upgrades for your ship that make things easier. One allows you to quickly zoom around the level, while another lets you grab objects out of the ground. The upgrades mesh well with the animal abilities and level layouts, so I have to give Proper Games credit for thinking through the core of the gameplay. Now if only the ship was a little tighter...

As I said earlier, Flock! is in no way a bad game. It's polished and offers a lot for an XBLA game. At the same time, it never clicked with me. This is partially due to slow pacing and controls, but the $15 price tag is also a little too high. Again, I get that times are changing and with Flock!, you're getting a little more than you would normally expect from a downloadable game, but the price does help to magnify the game's flaws a little more. Flock! will find an audience, however before joining that group, you'll want to give the demo a try.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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