Review: Saving Private Sheep
To be honest, I thought I'd seen the last of the big name game ports from other mobile platforms - yet Saving Private Sheep, a big hit on the iPhone and on Android, is now available for Symbian, (almost) immaculately converted and working impeccably. Its structure is almost identical to Angry Birds, it's just as physics-based and the addiction factor is just as high - but don't think that this is a rip-off title, once you get 'into' Saving Private Sheep, you'll find that there's greater variety and a higher degree of hand-eye coordination needed than in Angry Birds. Oh yes, and it's about sheep, not err..... birds!
The idea here is that you have a military sheep (or two - a clone pops up on some levels and both have to be err.... saved!) and he's in trouble, high and dry on packing crates, oil barrels, girders, and beams. Below all this, there's a limited patch of solid ground, and either side of this, a hungry wolf lurks to gobble Private Sheep right up...
[layout note: for technical reasons, this game refused to be screenshotted properly on Symbian, so I'm using the near identical screenshots from other mobile versions]
Your task, of course, is to save Private Sheep, by removing some of these obstacles with your rifle/rocket gun (the exact ammunition isn't important). Being impeccably physics-based, gravity rules and the various crates, barrels, wedges, beams, ropes and so on all fall naturally - as does Private Sheep, and your task is to engineer the destruction such that he settles on safe ground. Get it right and he salutes your accuracy and the level's complete, along with an Angry Birds-style star rating to show you how efficient you were compared to the level designer's 'optimum' solution.
Get it wrong, such that Private Sheep falls into the ravine and he's the wolf's lunch, complete with sound effects and a (ahem) lamb chop being thrown up into the air!
All of which sounds easy enough, and indeed the initial dozen or so levels are very Angry Birds-like, but after that, things quickly get more complicated - a lot more complicated. With the aforementioned clone popping up and needing to be saved sometimes, with imposter sheep popping up that must be sacrificed and not saved, and with extra things you can do, from deploy extra bombs to side-shooting rockets, there's plenty going on - trust me.
The secret to Saving Private Sheep's quality is not this 'what order do I blow things up in?' static puzzle, but in the dynamics of each level. Once things start falling, their arcs often have to be combined/interleaved, in order that something else falls just right and - eventually - gets the sheep to safety. Split second timing is often needed in order to complete the level.
For instance, in the level shown above, you have to blow apart the crates on the middle beam, such that they land on the balance, which then raises Private Sheep up and you then tap to destroy the appropriate rope section to roll the sheep onto solid ground. This is one of the easier levels, but you get the idea.
Note that the sheep is pentagonal, so that you can roll him if there's enough momentum, but square sided enough that he won't keep on rolling, etc. - It's all very well thought out.
If you're looking at these screenshots and thinking 'Oh yes, you send that up there and then this drops down, I can see how this works', then Saving Private Sheep is for you - I got through 50 or so levels in the course of writing this review, but there are a staggering 600 in all, split into eight military campaigns ("Operation Sheeplord", etc). Plenty of gameplay here and all of it playtested to the max on iOS and Android...!
One particularly nice feature is that the 'retry' icon is always active. In Angry Birds, if you wanted to retry a level, you had to either wait several seconds or tap multiple times. Here, one tap and you're instantly blasting and scheming. This ultra-quick way back into the action helps the flow of the game and increases the 'just one more go' factor.
Thoughout Saving Private Sheep, there are cute animations and humourous touches. From the wolf to birds to UFOs, they're all here to add atmosphere.
Although it's hard to fault the game, the porting of the title from iOS, which runs with 4:3 aspect ratio, higher resolution displays, has meant that Saving Private Sheep doesn't run full-screen. Instead, there are black bars, roughly 60 pixels wide on either side. With a black phone and AMOLED technology (in my case on the Nokia 808), the bars aren't that noticeable, but it could annoy on some devices, especially with smaller displays to start with.
You'd have thought that BulkyPix could have done more to use the available screen real estate here in the 16:9 Symbian operating system, but I do appreciate that changing the layout of the puzzles might have broken some of them. And, trust me, some of the layouts are very precise.
In terms of physics and real time puzzling against Gravity, Saving Private Sheep has a lot in common with both Angry Birds and Cut the Rope - but it also stands alone in terms of the variety and scope of the levels presented. There are slick tutorial screens to accompany the gentle learning curve, as each new game element is introduced, so you never feel out of your depth, yet always feel challenged.
The aspect ratio quirk is the only, repeat only thing stopping me wholeheartedly recommending Saving Private Sheep as a 90% 'AAS megagame'. But at £1.50 in the Nokia Store it's still a stonkingly good title and one that's great value for money. Grab it - you won't regret it.
Reviewed by Steve Litchfield at