by Tom Mackey
reviewed on PC
Cute and Cuddly Slaughter
Never has a game been more deserving of the description Ďadorably cruelí than Victor Solodilov and Denis Novikovís Divide by Sheep. Its cute and cuddly creatures and vibrantly colourful design might fool you into thinking this is a child friendly time-killer, but that couldn't be further from the truth. A time-killer it is, but child friendly it certainly isnít, as youíll realise after the first set of mauled sheep carcasses slap bloodily onto the ground. But this gameís strengths lie not only in its unusually endearing aesthetic, but also in its solid mechanics and the creative ways it keeps upping the challenge.
Maths, Lasers and Mutton
So why sheep? Well, it turns out the Grim Reaper is lonely, and has decided to get himself some new friends. Being the shepherd of the dead he can only befriend the dead, so he has flooded the world to try and drag all the sheep down below to join him. Now all of the sheep, along with some other misplaced animals, are stranded on islands and need you to help them escape. You have to help specific numbers of sheep to the life rafts, but they can only take so many, so some must be sacrificed for the greater good. As you rescue more and more sheep, the Reaper comes up with inventive and often gruesome ways to try and stop you.
At its core, Divide by Sheep is a maths puzzle game, three words that would usually bring me out in a cold sweat. You are presented with a series of different worlds, each consisting of 30 puzzles to solve, with more being released in the future. The puzzle solving essentially boils down to adding and subtracting. You have a selection of sheep positioned on different sized islands, and have to move them across adjacent islands to get the correct number to the life raft. The adding and subtracting comes into play when you lose or gain sheep depending on the islands you move them to. For example, move five sheep to an island with three spaces and youíll sacrifice two to the Grim Reaperís domain. Move two sheep to an island with three sheep and five spaces and youíll create a group of five. Things heat up a little when obstacles like barriers or laser grids that split your sheep in two turn up. Animals like wolves who will gobble up your unsuspecting bleeters also throw in an extra level of challenge as you progress.
Casual Game Design
The game was developed not just for PC but for iOS as well, and this is apparent in almost every aspect of the game. The way you are rewarded in Divide by Sheep feels very reminiscent of how games like Angry Birds inspired scoring in countless mobile games. For each level you are challenged to get three separate numbers of sheep to the life raft. For each group successfully rescued you are awarded a star, and you only require one from each level to progress. This inspires that incredibly addicting need to achieve three stars in every level and makes it perfect when it comes to replayability. Itís also perfect for short bursts of play, although itís incredibly easy to find the minutes turning into hours as you desperately sacrifice sheep looking for the perfect solution. The control scheme is also clearly meant to appeal to touch screen users, but is also perfectly straight forward and comfortable for players using a mouse.
A Brilliant Puzzler
Divide by Sheep is a fantastically addictive example of modern puzzle gaming. The puzzles are robust, starting out relatively simple to get you hooked from the beginning and gradually ramping up in difficulty. Having gotten the core of the game so well tuned, youíd forgive the developers for feeling like they'd done enough. But the game layers everything with an aesthetic that is appealing in every respect. From the colourful and endearing world and characters to the simple yet catchy soundtrack, there is a wonderful satisfaction from just the feel of the game, let alone solving its puzzles. Divide by Sheep is a brilliant puzzler and you donít have to be a maths whiz to get the most out of it.
Fantastic look and feel, solid puzzle design.
Quite challenging in later levels.