Monday, May 11, 2009

demo monday: flock!

awwww At last, a return to normalcy! Just me and my 360 this week, so I was able to download a big pile of demos and take my pick. It was nice.

Proper Games-developed and Capcom-published Flock! is a game currently out for Xbox 360, the Playstation 3 and the PC, and is delivered digitally to all platforms. When you play games like Raycatcher and The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, you can sort of tell that they were developed with digital distribution in mind. They’re simple games, of the sort that just wouldn’t do so well at retail (especially not at full retail price). Flock! is a downloadable title with enough personality and polish that one might conceivably mistake it for a boxed product – it’s certainly better than some retail video games I can name.

In Flock!, you take control of a flying saucer whose task it is to herd farm animals into its mothership. It’s simple enough, at least until you take into consideration each course’s many obstacles and pitfalls. In the demo, each of the six levels offers up a new obstacle or farm animal for you to play with – I’m sure that the full game can’t keep up this pace, but if the demo is any indication you’re not going to have a chance to get very bored.

It’s not just the environments that change – you quickly rack up new skills as the demo pushes forward. A tractor beam can’t pull up sheep, but it can tumble the fences that block your sheep. A repressor beam pushes down tall grass out of the way, but be careful, because you can also squish your sheep into oblivion. It was an accident, I swear!

The game is also ridiculously adorable – sheep are tiny, bouncy balls of fluff that mate on heart-shaped pads to the strains of porn music. Pigs are perfectly spherical creatures that roll in poop and bounce off of walls. Cows stampede and knock over fences. I know that within five minutes I was so attached to these little animals that I was horrified to see one of my puffy little sheep trundle off the side of the map and into a shark’s waiting maw. To see the last of the level’s livestock tumble to their deaths is more than I can take.

The game is slick, slicker than the vast majority of Xbox Live Arcade titles. It’s fast and smooth and impeccably constructed. Colors pop, the framerate is smooth, and everything in the world seems to have a certain bounce to it that just adds to the fun. Sheep boing boing around the playing field, trees respond to your tractor beam by twisting and bending and bursting into needles, things squashed by your repressor beam spring back to their original shape afterward. Everything seems to have some rubber in it somewhere.

The only negative thing I can really say about the game based on the demo is that the game’s writing relies heavily on that old crutch of almost-cussing – see “unidentified flocking object,” etc. I am aware that this is a matter of taste, but years of movies like Meet the Fockers have deadened me to this sort of humor. I get it. It’s like you’re swearing, but you’re not! Because flocking the word you use in your game is a lot like this cuss word fucking. It is ever so clever. I am aware that there are those who will find this sort of thing cute, but the best thing that I can say about it is that it is easy to ignore in the context of the excellent game you’re playing.

Buy or pass? Like Braid, Flock! has been gently criticized for its $15 price tag at time of release. $15 is a bit steep, but I’m willing to say that, in spite of its fair-to-middling critical reception, Flock! is worth buying. It’s a thoroughly charming little game, and I think you’ll enjoy it.