Gamers have a myriad of vocational simulations to occupy their recreation hours outside of work. Options range from the exotic- piloting a jet fighter or a futuristic mechanized robot, to the mundane, which expends from the kitchen antics of Cooking Mama to the virtual animal husbandry of Viva Pinata. Typically, even the more pedestrian experiences are rewarding, fulfilling an inner need for precision or achievement.
Capcom’s latest downloadable offering, Flock!, blends these two contradictory perspectives. Players control a small UFO, which is used in a very earthy pursuit- corralling wayward barnyard animals. The goal of the title is surprisingly simple: round up a specified number of sheep, chickens, pigs and cows into a tractor beam in a specified time frame. Players that accomplish this feat quickly enough are awarded a gold, silver or bronze medal, while merely completing the level unlocks pieces for the game’s level editor.
Players use the left thumbstick to guide their alien vessel across the playfield. Within a few levels a boost feature is enabled that allows the craft to receive a temporary boost via use of the left trigger. Each of the game’s animals are frightened by a green beam emitted by the UFO, thus repelling the animals away from the craft. By carefully maneuvering the ship the animals can be herded over inclines, and around corners; sheep can be soaked with water to allow them access to otherwise impenetrable areas.
Sadly, shepherding the animals isn’t as enjoyable as it should be. While there are basic puzzle elements- a heard of cows can trample fences, while chicken fly for short distances, the game rarely taxes the gamer’s intellect. The focuses on hand-eye coordination which offers an occasionally frustrating experience. While herding the virtual animals through the game’s playfields, the creatures have the tendency to wander off from the UFO’s green beam, or worse yet- get stuck in corners. Although your craft receives periodic upgrades to assist you on your quest, they never elevate the level of control to a threshold above ‘mildly irksome’. Thus lies Flock!’s greatest quandary; players never feel like they are in influencing the barnyard beings, never completely controlling them.
Local co-op spreads the provocation between two players, subtly changing the nature of the game. When working cooperatively, a constant exchange of communication is required, making level completion a rewarding diversion. Flock!’s level editor is sufficiently versatile, and contributes greatly to the longevity of the game. While no substitute for Little Big Planet, being able to create, share, and rate user levels is a delightful supplement.
Flock’s graphical aesthetic is wonderfully charming, yet subtly organic. Each levels features a patchwork-quilt style that is emphasized by bright colors across green grasslands, frigid snowfields or rustic soils. Even on a low-end HDTV, the game’s textures look astonishingly tactile, and add to the title’s visual allure. Each mammal is cuddly cute, and exhibit a variety of moods from fear, to contentment. Sonically, the title’s tunes are sufficiently bouncy, but slightly overused across levels; play for too long and you’ll likely reach for the volume control.
At $15, Flock! might not offer enough diversity for the frugal gamer; each of the game’s 50+ levels are variations on a simple, and occasional frustrating game mechanic. We suggest gamers play through the Xbox Live or PSN demo before committing. For players that enjoy the herding gameplay, the full game’s creation, sharing and rating system as well as its enchanting visual presentation will likely justify the title’s price.