Sheepo Review: A Peculiar Take on the Metroidvania Genre
Sheepo wasn’t a game I had on my 2021 Bingo card at all. I knew practically nothing about it when I was generously offered an unsolicited review key. All I knew was that it touted itself as a “pacifist Metroidvania.” And as someone that loves blasting foes to smithereens, I wasn’t sure that was a premise I was interested in. But I’m glad I finally decided to give Sheepo a look, because it’s one of the most fascinating games in the genre I’ve played in a long time. Keep reading this Sheepo review to discover what I found so captivating.
A Quick Detour on Planet Cebron
The game starts with a training regimen from an unseen supervisor named Cynthia. She helpfully teaches you the ropes and provides a mission – to save the planet Cebron! Or at least save its indigenous lifeforms therein from extinction. To do so, you’ll land on the planet via rocketship and collect an egg from all six species. Not only is that endeavor laudable, but it also has a curious side effect. All collected eggs in your pack provide your Sheepo with the capacity to transform into different creatures!
Now, I’ll emphasize again that Sheepo isn’t a Metroidvania focused on combat. But what that actually means is that you’re not actively attacking things. There’s still plenty of nasty critters on Cebron that want to annihilate you. Each egg is protected by a fearsome adult of that species, and they aren’t happy about you capturing their wee children. To defeat them, you’ll have to cleverly turn their own attacks against them while avoiding taking too much damage yourself.
Beastly Birds and Other Critters
I actually really enjoyed the boss fights in the game, especially since each one was a puzzle of sorts. Though many of them do force you to inflict damage using boss attacks against themselves, a couple of them are pure tests of endurance. One particularly nasty one has you jumping across crumbling platforms while surrounded by dangerous spikes as cacti-like beasts hurl themselves at you. Another early one has you running back and forth as a skeletal worm bursts through the ground and keeps erasing any safe harbor. There’s a lot of creativity and fun in Sheepo, and that’s not just present in the bosses. It’s also bursting at the seams in all the other aspects of the game.
Worth More Than a Chuckle
Sheepo is undoubtedly one of the most humorous and quirky Metroidvanias I’ve played. It’s very offbeat and is sure to force a guffaw or two loose as you play. Though Cynthia is technically your supervisor, she’s also never present in person. Probably cause she’s a giant coward, and turns off her intercom whenever you’re confronted by a boss. And the entire planet of Cebron is a dark mirror of our own. It’s been devastated by a changing climate and junk, even without humans around to screw things up. The closest approximation to humans are bird-like creatures called Longbirds, and they’re just as capable of ruining their own planet. It’s more than a bit bittersweet, but conveyed in such a way that you’ll smile instead of grimacing.
How Is This a Sheep?
The one curiosity I had was the character you play. Though their species is supposed to be sheep-like (hence Sheepo), I found they looked anything but. Even if we’re talking about shorn sheep, our bipedal hero doesn’t really strike me as a fluffy dream counter. Which isn’t a problem, just something that stood out to me the more I played. And hopefully, you’re not the type to get invested in characters, since the main character gets zero development as you play. Which was fine by me, since the various NPCs provided plenty of narrative focus. I prefer to focus on the platforming in my Metroidvanias, and that’s one of the strongest elements in the game.
Pitch Perfect Platforming
In many ways, the platforming in Sheepo reminded me of classics like Super Meat Boy, just not nearly as frustrating. You have a basic jump, wall jump, and double jump, and that’s it. To use any other abilities, you’ll first need the corresponding eggs. Once you have them and are in range of a species you can mimic, you just press the button and instantly transform. You can flap your wings and fly as Longbirds, or burst through the ground as a Spineworm, plus several others. The only downside to these transformations is they all have a time limit. I really appreciated the sheer simplicity of the platforming. You don’t have to memorize any really tricky maneuvers; you just have to use the controls available skillfully. You’ll come across boxes that use your momentum to hurl you in any direction and dots that fire you like cannonballs. Everything is super intuitive and a joy to experience. While those that dislike tricky platforming might be frustrated by some sections, there’s nothing that’s unfair. Thanks largely to plentiful checkpoints, manual save points, and a health meter that can be extended with hidden items.
Quick side note, I thought the way health was conveyed was particularly clever. Instead of a meter, you quickly come across a roving insect that bonds with you. It essentially takes damage in your stead, and changes color to show how weak it is, from green to red. Just by watching the screen carefully, it’s immediately apparent how at risk your Sheepo adventurer is. It’s a nice and subtle visual cue that more games should try and implement.
When In Doubt, Talk To the Bird Queen
Though the game doesn’t really hold your hand, I only got lost a handful of times, mostly in late-game sections. Eventually, you’ll get the ability to warp between Froggo statues, which makes exploration much more streamlined. And if you ever get really flummoxed, you can find the way forwards by talking with a particular bird that shares helpful hints. As an incentive to explore every nook and cranny, there are hidden feathers and health boosters in hard-to-reach places. As even more incentive, finding everything lets you unlock a gate at the very end of the game, which leads to another quick scavenger hunt of sorts. Fulfilling it not only gets you 105% map completion, but also what I suspect is a preview of a Sheepo sequel in the works.
Visually, Sheepo is pretty minimalist. But that’s hardly the same as being ugly. I enjoyed the many colors the game employed, especially since each area is color-coded differently on the mini-map. You’ll explore hidden forests, decrepit malls, underground tunnels, and all sorts of fun places. And while there’s an air of sadness about Cebron in decline, I nevertheless was uplifted by the cartoony aesthetic. Musically Sheepo is an interesting title. While the soundtracks were mostly ambient noises tied together, this is the first game in a long time where I adored the sound effects. They’re bombastic, distinct, and really do a great job of making the game buzz with energy.
Over Too Soon
I hate complaining about anything in this game. But the following issues kept me from gifting Sheepo with a perfect score. One is that, much as I enjoyed the plot, it ends much sooner than I was expecting. You can beat the game easily in less than 5 hours, less if you know what you’re doing and don’t get lost. I really felt the adventure ended right as things were going to start opening up. And though the challenge is fair and there’s no lack of map to explore, I found myself wishing Cebron was only one of several planets I could explore.
A Trip Worth Taking
It’s pretty impressive for a game to go from not being on my radar to one of my favorite Metroidvanias in recent years, especially in a year that had the release of Metroid Dread. Sheepo does almost everything right, and only frustrated me because it was over so soon. But if you enjoy Metroidvanias and want to try something delightfully different, you really need to check this one out.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S; Publisher: Top Hat Studios; Developer: Kyle Thompson; Players: 1; Released: October 20, 2021; ESRB: E for Everyone – Mild Fantasy Violence; MSRP: $10.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.