Being from the NES generation, I find myself most attracted to games that use a simple set of commands and creative stage designs to create difficulty and challenge more than those that simply overwhelm the player with cheating AI or sheer force of numbers. Flock!, with its two button control scheme and bright color palette might look and feel like a kiddie game at the outset, but underneath is a devilishly elegant action/ puzzle game. This is the sort of game I longed for back in the NES and SNES era, but does it work now, in the era of online deathmatches and such?
The first thing that is evident when loading up Flock! is it’s coherent audio and visual design. The music, much like that of the 8 and 16-bit generation, is fitting and harmless, but not the star of the show. The theremin style sound effects elicit a feeling of whimsy and thoughts of Mystery Science Theater 3000 caliber space invaders. The sheep, pigs, cows, and chickens all make the requisite Old MacDonald sound effects as they are being pushed along and the dung heaps make a satisfyingly flatulent sound when smashed.
Visually, Flock! looks like a video game your grandma would have quilted for you instead of buying you Saint’s Row 2 or the like. The stages are pillowy and soft, looking like a baby’s room, something I say with no sarcasm. The animals are each given a supremely cute, and decidedly Western, look. The sheep look like cotton balls, the bulls like shag carpets, the chickens look overstuffed, and the pigs are rightfully roly poly. Even the UFO you pilot and the Mother Flocker you herd towards have a preschool look. Thing is, the kiddie look works. The graphics, and music, are as light-hearted and rollicking as the game is. A perfect fit.
The basic play mechanic works like this. The player guides a small UFO through a stage and uses his spot light to guide livestock back to the Mother Flocker, where they are sucked up. The animals run away from the alien vessel, for good reason, so opposing force is necesary. The beasts are chased and herded towards the goal instead of the usual mechanic of being controlled or guided. This takes some getting used to, but once mastered is a satisfactory control scheme. The UFO can also boost to a higher speed for a short time and lift certain, but not all, obstacles in it’s beam.
The animals, naturally, have their own tendencies. The sheep are most herdable and can be shrunken by the introduction of water, since sheep are, apperently, cotton. Who knew? The cows can charge through fences and piles of feces with ease and can be aggrevated to the point of angrily charging. Chickens have a short glide, but should not be dropped from helicopters. Best of all, the pigs are balls that bounce around in a most satisfyingly pinball sort of way.
One major annoyance I have with the majority of games is the way in which new tools and techniques are introduced. The newest mechanic is brought forth, learned, used, and then discarded in favor of a new toy. Many games race through the new ideas and simply end when they are all introduced. This sort of sequel oriented game design is most annoying when the sequel insists on shovelling even more mechanics on top without make best use of the older ones. Flock!, thankfully, does not fall into this trap. By using the magic of the Internet, Flock! uses the single player mode to teach the player all of the relevant techniques and then gives them the power to create their own stages and enjoy the stages of others. How grand! With a nearly endless supply of new stages available, Flock! could be around for a very long time.
Miscellaneous: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
Flock! was not a game I was expecting to love, but I did and do. From it’s look to it’s play style, Flock! is a charming game that will live on my PS3 hard drive forever. Rarely does a game exceed my expectations, but Flock! did so in spades. For a classic, old school game with modern graphics, drop the 15 bones and pick up Flock!