Capcom has delivered the downloadable puzzler Flock, a charming game built around abducting farm animals. Why do aliens need domesticated animals? No clue, but you get to play as a flying saucer that herds sheep to the Motherflocker. If that sounds like fun to you, then Flock has at least a few other treats in store (namely, herding chickens, pigs and cows, too).
Flock’s gentle learning curve pairs introductions to animals and their respective particularities with corresponding obstacles and tools. You begin with sheep, which move quickly and can only pass through fences when shrunk with water. Cows are slower animals, but if you chase them it causes a stampede that will clear some more difficult obstacles, thus making way for the sheep. Chickens will fly briefly, which helps them traverse gaps, and pigs stop to roll in the dung heaps. The larger the herd, the larger your multiplier, and the harder to keep them all in check. I think I understated that: it is a giant hassle to herd them, which makes otherwise nifty puzzle elements like catapults and boulders icing on a very troublesome cake.
It is a game of stop and start, turn around and try again, as the animals will get stuck, stop moving, drop off or be threatened by beasties as you use the light and their responding fear to steer them towards the Motherflocker. That was likely the design intention, but somebody forgot that herding animals that get stuck on nearly everything from an unwieldy spaceship isn’t fun. Guiding your craft is cumbersome, so you will never feel like you have become adept at abduction. Complicating matters further is the completely improbable notion that your animals will jump off edges into water, sometimes even without you chasing them down. Apparently, sheep and cattle jump at the sight of a flashlight, but fear no abyss or depth of water.
Stylistically, Flock is incredibly appealing. The patchwork landscapes and interaction with environmental elements – like using a tractor beam to strip trees bare, or knocking over gates – is a blast and consistent with Flock’s playful nature. The floaty, toppling environments are not unlike bumping around a simplified LBP. The chirpy music is mostly pleasant and occasionally droning. It is the tone things like “Motherflocker” set that doesn’t match and even deters.
There are 55 single-player stages to complete, which is good for a few hours of fun the first time through, more if you go after medals. Perfecting a level and climbing the leader boards keeps the game pace up and each level has a gimmick to get the perfect score – with some levels moving as fast as ten seconds if you catch on to the trick. Medals (gold, silver and bronze) are determined by how quickly you achieve your abduction quota, with stars given when you achieve a perfect abduction (no animals left behind). The local multi-player does not bring much to the party. Co-op levels are different from the single player puzzles and not nearly as engaging, which makes for a disappointing thirty-minute stint.
Components for the level editor are unlocked as you advance through the stages. Earning elements to use in level creation as you play is a fair incentive, but I couldn’t give two shakes about putting in the work of creating a level after all that shepherding. The level editor is simplified to a fault but if you have a clear plan execution is within your grasp, and should you make a playable stage you can share it with other players.
Flock may charm you enough to keep on herding in spite of the fiddly mechanics, and if you don’t take issue with the stop-start navigation of a spaceship trying to guide and transport farm animals you very well may fall in love. At $15, it is hard to wholeheartedly recommend a game that, while pleasantly quirky, alienates you, but there is no denying that underneath the bumpy mechanics is a game that aims to please.