Sheep are kind of a big deal in Australia. While we are best known for our utterly bizarre native wildlife, like the Pokémon-esque blend of a rabbit and deer that a kangaroo resembles, the country also boasts a vast farming industry, with wool and lamb among the most valuable exports. Sheep outnumber humans three to one, and can be found just about everywhere outside the suburban sprawl, grazing in every brown-green field. Such saturation of the fluffy flocks proved inspirational to Brisbane developer No Ewe Productions in the making of Isle of Ewe, using manipulation of sheep as a key game mechanic. Featuring a nice blend of puzzles and platforming, Isle of Ewe is a well-paced two-hour adventure with a couple rough edges, but loads of charm.
Players control Belle, a young shepherd whose sheep have wandered far and wide across the land. Travelling through windy plains, damp caverns, and an active volcano, she must recover the flock one by one and send them safely home.
Isle of Ewe consists of small gated stages, which require the player to collect a certain number of sheep and deposit them at the exit to progress. Aside from their value as collectables, sheep also help Belle navigate the world. Each creature can be grabbed and thrown at any time, useful for hitting targets or holding down switches. Jumping on the back of a ewe will bounce Belle high into the air, giving her access to new areas. These abilities are used cleverly, weaving an intricate path back and forth through each level. Checkpoints are frequent, ensuring the player does not lose too much progress if they miss a jump.
The two-hour run-time of the game is filled to the brim with ideas, with each level offering something different. One area is filled with many targets to hit, another requires precision jumps while holding a stack of three sheep. A hungry golem serves as a unique spin on a boss battle, with the player throwing fruit into his mouth as he tries to blow them off the stage. In the cave section an incoming boulder triggers a Sonic-like running sequence, and the lava pits of the final area require Belle to make her own platforms to get across. The ambition is admirable, but some of the later sequences are not quite as well balanced as the opening act. The chase sequence is quite buggy and overly harsh compared to the relatively gentle difficulty of the rest of the game. The tunnel that Belle is running down is lined with bouncy mushrooms, which can be jumped on to progress, but hitting one on the wrong angle can send her down a pit or get her stuck in a wall. Platform creation in the end-game also presents some problems, with the aiming reticule only appearing half of the time and the slippery curved shape of the platform allowing little room for error. Neither issue is severe enough to make the game unplayable, but they did cause frustration in a game that is otherwise quite relaxing.
As someone who grew up on console games, trying to tackle a three-dimensional platformer without a gamepad always gives me pause. While most genres I can play comfortably either way, precision jumping while wrangling the camera with the mouse and pressing buttons with my pinkie finger just feels all kinds of wrong. Thankfully, the controls are super tight in Isle of Ewe, and the jumps that require forming my hand into an awkward claw are kept to a minimum. That being said, controller support would be a welcome addition in the future.
Isle of Ewe is an utterly adorable game, with a bright colourful world and super cute sheep. Lots of little details give the sheep personality, like wearing a green knitted jumper or reading glasses. The screen is highly legible, with the level design naturally flowing towards the next objective. I would have liked more emphasis on sound design: the title screen has a lovely dreamy piano tune, but in-game is mostly silent except for the baas of sheep and the rustle of leaves in the wind. Some energetic background music would help tie together the atmosphere of a bright, friendly platformer.
I was utterly charmed by Isle of Ewe. 3D platformers were my favourite thing as a kid, and the game does a great job of modernising the concept. Developer No Ewe Productions is off to a great start.
Next week, we will be playing Sono, a 2D exploration game with a big focus on music. The game can be downloaded from Steam here. Discussions are happening in the Discord Server, or you can email me here.