The year is 2001 and you are five years old. You find yourself booting up your good old PlayStation1 and decide to finally take a plunge into a stealth title that has been sitting in your collection for a while, a game that features full voice-acting, cinematic cutscenes, and a focus on sneaking past enemies using your wide array of tools to complete your mission. You boot the game up, the iconic splash screen booms throughout your entire house, and there it is: Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf.
That long-winded joke does not really work if you read the title beforehand, but alas; Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf, (also known as Sheep Raider in the U.S) was a game that I owned in my small collection of PS1 titles as a young child, along with the legendary stealth game-changer Metal Gear Solid. Against my best attempts, I was always unable to really play Metal Gear Solid due to being clueless at what the idea of stealth even was, as I was determined to run in and throw fists until Snake let out that horrific scream. That is where a game like Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf comes in.
Working as a spin-off of the much beloved Looney Tunes Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner animations, Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf is a stealth-based puzzle-platformer that revolves around the Wolf (Wile E. Coyote) being recruited by Daffy Duck on his game show, in which the game finds its name. Daffy’s show tasks Wile E. Coyote with entering various levels and finding ways to sneak past Sam the sheepdog and leave the area with one of his many Sheep; again, the title of the game appears to make sense.
This starts off simple, with early levels dwindling down to being able to tip-toe behind Sam and quickly nabbing a sheep without him grabbing you by the throat and dealing with you in a comical way that fits the Looney Tunes vibe. However, these levels do surprisingly become quite complex, evolving from this simple grab and go concept all the way up to introducing time-travel as an aid to ensure you get those sheep into that final goal without being caught. It is a game that oozes creativity, fully embracing the fact that it is a Looney Tunes based game by using crazy gadgets and multiple comedic ways for you to be taken care of—if you so happen to fail. It is honestly surprisingly the amount of effort and attention to detail that was placed into a game that, upon first glance, may seem to be a quick cash grab for kids. And while it may in fact be geared towards a younger audience, Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf should be commended for the expansive game mechanics it introduced to those at a young age, like me.
Playing games at a young age, we take for granted how titles slowly build up our abilities to take on greater and more complex challenges. From the age of five, my abilities got me through the initial Spyro The Dragon game, and while that game is an all-time favourite, it does present a fairly simple gameplay loop that was easy to get your head around. Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf, as mentioned, initially presents that concept of stealth to the player very gently, having a very clear indicator on the screen that provides basic yet crucial information: green means you’re safe, yellow means be careful, and red means you’re screwed. This is combined with an animation of Sam swivelling his head left and right as another indicator that allows you to understand where you may be sitting in the Sheepdog’s field of vision.
This is all pretty basic stuff twenty years removed, but to a young player these concepts could be entirely new ideas—they certainly were to me, at least. Each level would add a little bit more to the puzzle, with you gradually becoming more clued in on how best to approach each level and nab yourself a fluffy sheep to continue the game. Sadly, there is a point when Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf begins to lose its footing as a game that could be a great introduction to a stealth genre for kids, as it eventually forgoes the stealth mechanics and becomes more of a puzzle-platformer type of game.
This is not to say that the game dips in quality (far from it), as it remains an incredibly engaging head-scratcher that even on my replay for this article I was truly having to wrack my brain to get through the last few stages. Yet if Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf was a more focused stealth game like in those earlier stages, it could have been a title that allowed younger audiences to get a solid footing in a genre that has spawned some of the best titles of all-time. That is a big ask of a game that is primarily out to let you have a laugh at the expense of a Coyote running into walls and being choked to death; however, the steep difficulty curve in the middle of the game does beg the question—who was this game was ever designed for?
Still, if one can get past the challenge at a young age, there is enough here that may allow them to take a stab at a more complex game like Metal Gear Solid (once they are of age of course). The use of tools throughout Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf, the sneaking around, lurking in the shadows, and especially the hiding in the bush, all resonates with game mechanics that were just a few of the reasons that MGS became the stealth juggernaut it is still to this day. If Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf back in 2001 was willing to try and introduce a whole new genre of game to a wider audience through an accessible and enjoyable romp through the world of Looney Tunes, then perhaps kid’s games should not be written off so quickly.
Then again, kids fifteen years younger than me are better at Warzone than me, so maybe I just suck at games.