Flockers is both a charming and at times quite bloody puzzle game released by Team17. The premise is simple – guide your flock through the level avoiding the perilous traps along the way, from deadly drops to giant whirring saw blades intent on making your little lambs chopped.
Each level starts with the sheep (your flock) spewed unceremoniously from a large vacuum cleaner attachment, for want of a better description, and they instantly start marching ever onward as if pursued by some invisible Sheepdog, even if this means they walk straight off the edge of a platform to their doom. Arranged along the bottom of the screen are a variety of power ups and abilities you are able to apply to certain sheep in the hopes of putting off their death a little longer – from walls to stop them walking off the edge of things to steps and even a “Super” that, when applied to sheep, grants them a cape and the ability to fly straight up the edge of otherwise unreachable platforms.
By using these abilities the idea is to then guide them from one side of the screen to the other, avoiding the perils along the way until you reach the vacuum cleaner attachment (again, for want of a better description) at the other end which sucks up any sheep that managed to survive, whisking them off to what you assume is the next level, or that could in all possibility be the butchers round the corner. This can get a bit annoying at times, as often in the process of trying to save as many sheep as possible you will find you ram (no pun intended) as many sheep into as tight a space as possible and individual sheep get hard to distinguish – the frustration kicks in when you apply an ability to the wrong sheep and watch as the others (including your intended target) are ground into mince.
The second the game starts up and the first level has loaded you are almost certainly guaranteed to share the same thought as I did – “Ohh, it’s just like Lemmings!” Comparisons between Flockers and Lemmings is one that is difficult to ignore, with the former clearly taking inspiration from the latter – guide some helpless animals across a 2d landscape by using a variety of tools and skills at your disposal or else watch them walk happily and unflinchingly to their doom. Flockers is almost like an updated homage, the younger hipster brother to the older, slightly outdated one , and at times this connection is hard to ignore. This doesn’t take anything away from the experience, and standing on it’s own, Flockers is an enjoyable puzzler that is easy to dip into and one that won’t cause too many sleepless nights, provided you liked Lemmings. If Lemmings isn’t your cup of tea, then chances are Flockers won’t be either, as the similarities at times could not be more apparent.
Each level can quickly be sailed through using trial and error, and few of the levels will really have you stumped for what to do next or where to go. One of the biggest challenges I faced was upon entering the teleporter I was sometimes unsure where the flock would pop out. Teleporters work on a paired system, so upon entering one you pop out the other, so this was only ever a case of finding the partner to the teleporter I had entered, and as such I became quite the pro at zooming the camera in and out using the shoulder buttons. Other systems that come in to play, such as buttons that activate traps or giant spinning orbs that flip the gravity for all the sheep that enter, are soon introduced to keep the puzzles feeling fresh for that bit longer.
If you’re anything at all like me, the reason you will come back to each level is in trying to beat your best score and gain a position on the global leaderboard. Hi-scores have always been a mainstay with games, that chance to gain one up on your mates or even total strangers to hard to ignore, and Game Developers know this – Flockers is no exception. Pair this with trophy support and you might as well hook me up to a drip – I often found myself coming back to levels knowing that I could avoid more sheep being slaughtered, or without using as many powerups as I had on my first run through. Each of these different aspects is totalled up at the end of each level and you are awarded a score based on these various bonuses, and that score is then reflected in the age old system of “Stars out of Three”, with each mark awarded assigned to the level select screen afterwards, so as to forever goad you in the fact that on this level you only scored one star, what is wrong with you, are you stupid? It is a simple and effective technique that is often used with varying degrees of success, but it is used well here. Gold sheep and hidden bonus levels only add to this compulsion to replay certain levels and try new things, as these are also reflected on the level selection screen that is displayed before each level.
Flcokers does a good job of taking something established and trying to do something new with it, but I did find my attention waning and my eyes looking elsewhere after a few hours in it’s company. For a quick fix, Flockers is great, it’s level design and layout allowing for easy pick up and play without having to assign hours to refreshing yourself with the controls and what your next objective is and where you have to go next – simply get as many sheep from point A to point B as you can. Longer sessions can get a bit boring partly due to the limited abilities on offer, but if Lemmings was right up your street you would be hard pressed to find a game that is as much the same and yet different as Flockers, which does try, with some success, to move out of the shadow of it’s older inspiration.
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