Super Happy Happy Mega-Fun Monday!
Sheep Raider

By Jamie Love - December 1st, 2008

Sheep Raider

Good morning, fellow Thumbs! Do you know what day it is? It’s Super Happy Happy Mega-Fun Monday!

We here at Toronto Thumbs know that there are so many ways you’d prefer to spend today rather than going to (or being at) work. Perhaps taking a bath with that new toaster you bought! Two bagels at once, what an age we live in! But before you start experimenting with the conductive attributes of Mr. Bubbles, why not let us distract you with the lighthearted remembrance of games past…

This week we again visit the PSOne era, that golden age when expanding game sales and the advent of cheap CD technology resulted in titles being produced faster than game designers could be bred – which I’m told led to strange experiments with farms, DNA samples, tubes and the like. It was a time in gaming history that shared attributes with the Atari age, primarily because demand and opportunity led to some truly awful games being created by the storm of small and growing studios that suddenly appeared. On the other hand, there were games that presented solid ideas and design concepts that might never have seen the light of day if not for that environment

In 1999 Infogrames published Bugs Bunny: Lost in Time, and though it isn’t remembered as a great accomplishment, the game defied the fairly well-established logic that developers couldn’t create a competent game based on an existing license. That hadn’t always been the rule, but most seasoned gamers share more than enough nightmares involving games based on popular franchises from other mediums. The game managed to treat the source material respectfully and create fun situations for players, but it also followed a predictable setup, applying these characters to an established 3D platforming standard. But with the 2001 release of Sheep Raider, Infogrames managed to both develop and publish a title that managed to employ game-play mechanics that fully represented the source material inspiring its creation.

Fans of Looney Tunes surely remember the series of shorts staring Sam the Sheepdog and Ralph the Wolf. But for anyone who doesn’t recall them, both these characters would arrive at work (a grazing area for sheep), and used a punch-clock to start and end their day. Ralph would then commence trying to steal sheep while continually foiled and savagely beaten by Sam. It was without a doubt my favorite Looney Tunes premise, and one I still find myself relating to far too often.

So how did it translate into a game you ask? The presentation is absolutely terrible! Daffy Duck arrives at the start of the game, informing Ralph that he is the newest contestant on the game show Who Wants to Be a Sheep Stealer. This narrative setup works to frame the missions of the game, but is often ridiculous, stretching itself in several directions to allow the continual introduction of more classic characters. It also ensures that the player’s ultimate victory over Sam proves less satisfying in the most obnoxious of ways: the “It Was All Just a Dream” scam!

The cut-scenes share the dreadful pacing issues that so many titles at the time inflicted on gamers – and in the just plain weird department, Daffy’s audience consists of cardboard cutouts of Looney Tunes characters who never utter a word, even when shaking excitedly. And despite this, Daffy then asks for silence(?)! The game-play shares the problems common to other 3D platformers from that time. Clipping issues and a continual fight for camera control often challenge the ability to play. All of which begs the question, why the hell am I mentioning the game at all?

Despite those irritations, what Sheep Raider does successfully is take newly emerging game-play mechanics and create a game that truly respects the source material. Assuming the role of Ralph doesn’t involve players collecting gems or playing mini-games, but instead focuses the core game-play on stealing sheep. And when the game leaves the player to this task, it becomes better than the sum of its parts. It builds on the established aesthetics and spatial structuring of Bugs Bunny: Lost in Time, applying simplified elements of Metal Gear Solid with surprising success.

Nostalgia aside, players instantly adopt the fiendish role of Ralph while searching for ways to avoid Sam, hiding in bushes that you move with that classic Looney Tunes “tip-toe,” or curling Ralph’s body behind rocks while sneaking toward the flock. Additionally, players have access to classic Acme inventions which help Ralph overcome obstacles. Even the classic boulder see-saw is here, ideal for flinging sheep toward the goal area. There’s something about using a fan and a bottle of “lady sheep perfume” to lure your prey toward you that perfectly represents the cartoon and proves ridiculously fun at times.

Sheep Raider manages to incorporate characters from a favourite classic and treat them with a more creative eye. It doesn’t break new ground by any means, merely borrowing innovations and inventions from other titles, but applies them in a way perfectly suited to the source material – an example that still stands to be learned from and improved on when adapting franchises. It’s the perfect nostalgic escape for fellow fans, and certainly worth experiencing the childish thrill of hoisting a sheep over your head while finally dashing away in victory over Sam.

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    4 responses so far:
  2. By Alex
    Posted on Dec 1, 2008

    Wow I rememeber this game!! although I only had a demo of it back then, it was still alot of fun!.Now this is on my list of older games to get along with Tomba 1 and 2… if anyone knows where to get them it would be incredibly appreciated 😀

  3. By Jamie Love
    Posted on Dec 1, 2008


    I know first hand what a pain it can be finding PSOne games. EBgames tends to shift them to the newest stores to beef up stock, and the pickings are slim. Not being a fan of Ebay or the flea markets I would recommend collector forums like as a starting point. Members there recently organized a swap meet that both Shaun and I made it to, and I managed to find several classic PSOne games for $5 a piece.

  4. By Marcy
    Posted on Dec 1, 2008

    I’m a gamer who loves the quirky titles, and I have a collection of LooneyTunes games that are surprisingly good. Sheep Raider tops this list, its just pure joy that never makes me stop smiling. The other 2 I would recommend for ps1 are, Bugs Bunny Lost in Time and Buugs Bunny & Taz Time Busters. The above author can at least vouch for bugs lost in time he borrowed it and played the @#*T out of it.

  5. By Alex
    Posted on Dec 1, 2008

    I lucked out and found Xenogears at EB for 5$ it was shocking, but yea that sounds like a good idea I’ll check out that site. Thanks Jamie

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