What do you get if you cross Super Mario 64 and Metal Gear Solid by way of Tex Avery? Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf (2001 Infogrames), that's what. A hugely underrated puzzle platformer that's all about the stealth starring Wile E. Coyote's cousin Ralph Wolf.
The two wild canines may be drawn similarly and their Acme-fuelled slapstick shenanigans remain hilarious, but there's more to separate the two beyond the colour of their noses. Wile E. Coyote sticks to the plains of the Grand Canyon is his bid to capture Road Runner, while Ralph Wolf sticks to the farmlands with a scheming eye on a flock of sheep. Only Sam the Sheepdog stands in his way.
And that's the premise of the game. Rustle a single sheep from the herb in each level and take him to the finishing line. Or in this case, circle. To give more of a context, Ralph is the sole contestant on the Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf gameshow hosted by Daffy Duck. Between each level, you'll be brought back to the stage to save, load or choose the next stage in front of a large 2D audience. This bridging story is a clever and fun way to view your progress and glue the otherwise unconnected levels together. There's even a training level front and centre which you can revisit any time you want. All of this works in the context of the cartoons too, where both Sam and Ralph will stop fighting and clock out as if they were shift workers.
Ralph Wolf falls for Road Runners magic tricks just like his doppelganger, Wile E Coyote.
The levels are incredibly well designed and will test your brain cells to get through each one. There is no combat with usually only one enemy to overcome - Sam - though you'll never defeat him. It starts off simply enough, try and sneak your way past Sam towards a solitary ball of cloud just outside his field of view and pick it up. All the while, a very handy and easy to understand icon on the top right will gauge how much danger you're in. If it's green, you're approaching the outer edges of his vision. Get closer and it will turn orange. In this state, any sound will alert him to your presence and you'll also have to be hidden when he's looking straight at you. If he spots you the icon will go red and he'll speed towards you like a steam train, knocking you into the air.
There are no real repercussions for getting caught or killed other than lost time and marbles. The developers have rightly chosen to do away with lives and game overs to encourage trial and error. Repeating the same section many times is often necessary as you discover just how close you can get to that bomb or sleeping bull. There are a few moments that rely on twitch-based gameplay and timing which end up being the most frustrating parts of the whole game, but they are thankfully not very frequent. Most of the time patience is the key to success.
The map screen (F12) will show you the locations
of the mail boxes and other important Acme info.
The controls are mostly fine, though you'll have more issue with the camera than anything. You can still rotate the camera using the 'A' and 'S' keys and well as holding 'Shift' for a free-look first-person perspective. This was as a time when camera controls were still a bit wonky but at least the slower-paced nature of Sheep Raider makes it less obtrusive.
Ralph has a basic move-set that feel intuitive for the most part too. Beyond the standard double jump, the hapless wolf can tiptoe - complete with orchestral sneak music - and sprint. That last move is not what you'd expect either. Ralph moves at an adequately brisk pace anyway so a speed button isn't exactly necessary. What running is used for here is crossing small gaps between levels at the expense of control. You know that cartoon routine where a character will run off a cliff and only fall if he looks down? That's what we have here though you have to keep your momentum up by constantly tapping the run button. It's also good at running away from an angry Sam at a pinch if you don't immediately face plant into the nearest tree or rock that is.
Each stage has a number of post boxes which you can use to order items. Each will drop a specific Acme gadget somewhere on the map for you to pick up. Sometimes, it's a puzzle just to get to them, other times it's a few feet away. Most of these are recognisable from the show such as a sheep costume or metal detector and are necessary to complete the level you find them in. The iconic rocket, for example, will take you across huge chasms while the fan can be used to waft sheep pheromones or propel a raft.
The Magic Flute will lure Sam to his all-too-temporary doom (left).
Get yourself and a sheep into the circle to complete a level (right).
The Magic Flute is the cause in one of the most troublesome sections in the game. If you approach Sam with caution and play it when you're near, the music will hypnotise the sheepdog who will then follow you like a zombie puppy. It's on this stage where some problems with the controls arise. After luring Sam into getting his skull cracked open by a boulder, you have a dangerously short amount of time to do any actions before he regains consciousness. In the seconds you have, you need to stop playing your flute (press 'X'), put it away ('Alt'), pick up a fan, pick up a sheep and carry it over to a safe raft that's waiting for you on the other side of the field. Considering the animation frames needed to do each action (as good as it is), that's too much to do in 5 seconds. Especially when you have to wrestle with the controls.
As the 'pick up key' is the same as the 'use item' key, you will waste precious time for an unwanted animation to take place if you haven't put away the current item before you pick up another. You could simply tap 'Alt', the quick inventory key to put it away but if you're holding left or right (and as you're rushing, you most likely will be), you'll just select the next item in the list instead. To get anywhere, you have to force yourself not to rush. In your first attempt, only pick up the fan before hiding to escape Sam's wrath. Hypnotize him a second before going for the sheep but make sure you're heading straight ahead before putting away your flute. You'll hear Sam come for you when you reach the furthest sheep in the field but just ignore it. If you've not dilly-dallied along the way there's just enough time to get to the raft.
The action icons are a little difficult to remember out of context.
Thank goodness the control options in the pause screen tells you what they mean.
Strangely enough, this was the only level I had a real issue with. Sure, I could take some time figuring out some of the more complex stages but none of the others felt unfair like this one did. There is a Simon type mini-game when defusing mines that is more trouble to get your head around, though that's not the fault of the game. Unlike the (inferior) PlayStation original, the keys are not represented on screen. Instead, a number of icons that represent jump, look, run and use are put in place. Until I got it down, it took me a while to react to which key relates to what in the time allocated. For some reason, I don't tend to think about that during normal gameplay.
There's very little at fault with Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf. Even the graphics are still fantastic in their simple, cell-shaded style. They look even better when upscaled to 1920x1080 widescreen with fog turned all the way down. If you want your platformers to be super-puzzlesome, then this classic gem is for you.
To download the game, follow the link below. This is a custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses dgVoodoo to run on modern systems. Manual & Soundtrack (76 Mb) included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 400 Mb. Install Size: 526 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf (aka Sheep Raider) is © Infogrames
Looney Tunes is © Warner Bros.
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me