Game Info:

Herding Dog
Developed by: xixgames
Published by: Black Shell Media
Released: December 25, 2015
Available on: Windows, Mac
Genre: Simulation, action
ESRB rating: E for everyone
Number of players: 1
Price: $2.99


Thank you, Black Shell Media, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

It's been said that the dog is one of the hardest working animals on a ranch. It's their job to patrol the territory, round up stray animals, and chase off predators. In fact, it sounds a lot like the popular book series "Hank, the Cow Dog," doesn't it?

Herding Dog, by xixgames is not "Hank the Cow Dog: The Game." But I would imagine that it would be fairly similar. 

In the game, you control a dog that looks roughly like a German shepherd. You need to click on the terrain – or drag the cursor around while clicking, in order to steer your dog from a top-down perspective. Pressing the spacebar will make your dog bark. The goals vary from level to level – in some, you'll have to try and direct piglets, goats or cows to a specific location. In others, you have to drive off birds or predators. And yet in others, you have to track down and collect various treasures, like bottles of milk or sacks of dog food. In many of these, there will be a combination of all the goals. 

Herding Dog

Strong Points: Cute graphics; good music; low price
Weak Points: Short game; quirky GUI; terrible pathing issues; not every game controller supported
Moral Warnings: Animals can be killed; UFOs appear; farting goats (and other animals)

That's the whole premise of the game, but it doesn't need too much more. Although the levels can be difficult at first (expect to lose the entire herd the first few times a wolf appears!), once you learn where to direct the flocks and how they behave, the levels get easier as you replay them. Each time you play a level you are graded on your performance, ranking from A to D. I'm not entirely sure how the grading process works, however – one time I managed to save only a single sheep, but still managed to pull off a "B" grade. 

Despite the simplicity of the levels, the game is made unnecessarily difficult at times due to some of the odd glitches. For starters, the GUI is surprisingly counter-intuitive, with occasional buttons that don't actually seem to do anything when you click on them. At times, the windows actually get in the way of trying to control your dog – the first time I played, I accidentally clicked off the music player, and there was no readily apparent way to bring it back. It was too bad, too – the music is nice to listen to, even if some of the tracks don't quite match the action on the screen.

The second major issue involves pathing. The animals you're trying to direct have a tendency to run head-first into walls and stay there, convulsing for several seconds, trying to find a way through or over the wall. At times, the only way to solve this issue is to walk away from the animal and hope that it decides to wander away from the wall so you might be able to control it easier. In one particularly egregious example, one level resulted in chickens spawning underneath the terrain, with only their heads poking out of the ground, and two of the cows somehow managed to wander off the edge of the world to climb up an invisible slope – of course, in a place where my dog couldn't follow. As a result, the level was impossible to win, even with the wolf confined to its "pen." Possibly related to the pathing issue, the camera occasionally swings to odd angles, making it difficult to see.

Herding Dog
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 92%
Violence - 7.5/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

Speaking of difficult to see, the terrain can be difficult to determine, due to the camera angle and lack of contrast in the different levels. Often, identifying the initial goals can be a challenge as well. A few playthroughs in each level will solve these issues, as you'll learn how the levels are laid out. The creatures may change with different levels, but the basic terrain remains consistent through the 21 levels.

Although the game says it supports game controllers, Herding Dog didn't register a single button press from my Logitech controller. Other game controllers may work better, but I was disappointed that there wasn't any response with mine, nor was there any apparent way to remap the control schemes.

The game tends to be short. Once you complete a few of the tutorial levels, you can access the world map to get to any of the levels, including ones you haven't played before. The game isn't terribly difficult, either – once you're able to confine the predator, you can take your time to chase the herd animals to their goals. Fortunately, with the low price of $2.99, you can still feel like you're getting your money's worth.

For the moral considerations, there isn't too much to worry about here. If an animal is killed from a predator, it disappears in a puff of octagonal smoke clouds. Barking at the herd animals will cause them to dash in the direction they're facing – typically with a farting sound and brown clouds behind them. Finally, UFOs appear on some of the levels, and are attracted to the cows (which apparently are their natural prey).

Herding Dog may have its quirks – sometimes significantly so – but it also has a quiet charm about it as well. If you're looking for a challenge, you may find the game too simplistic. But at $2.99, it's an inexpensive addition to the game library that can provide some entertainment for a while.


About the Author

J. Todd Cumming

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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