While not being the world’s first herding game (Sheep on the PlayStation was the first), it was the first for Sony’s next-gen console, the PlayStation 2. Herdy Gerdy begins with Gerdy, a young boy who is unable to wake his father from his sleep. He then seeks help from other characters, who then reveals to him that things are not what they seem. Apparently, Gerdy’s father has fallen victim to a nasty spell by Sadorf. In order to break the spell, Gerdy must learn to herd the various creatures in the game, win the herding tournament to get the magical acorn and defeat Sadorf.
The core of the game is herding. To complete the levels, you must successfully herd all the necessary creatures into pens, while avoiding Grumps (fluffy monsters who eat the creatures) and various obstacles such as water and cliffs. Each creature have their own behavioural subroutines, i.e. they react differently to Gerdy’s herding technique and obstacles. This means that you’ll have to use the correct skill for each corresponding creature. While this may sound like a great idea, again Herdy Gerdy fails in its execution.
Well, first of all the camera has a live of its own. The choice of three camera views doesn’t help matters, as the camera sways around wildly, and generally lock up for no apparent reason. Walk under a tree and the camera stays there and doesn’t follow you. This makes for a very frustrating gaming experience. If that’s not enough, the camera also zooms in and out on its own, even when you’re just standing still.
And then there’s the map. Tapping a special button brings out the map, which for reasons beyond my understanding, can’t be enlarged or rotated. Most of the time you don’t know where you are, as Gerdy is virtually indistinguishable from the the rest of the dots. Very confusing.
Most of the time, you’re required to talk to several people to advance the plot of the game. But the problem is that their names are not displayed on screen, so you don’t know who you just talked to, or where to find them for that matter. So, you’ll end up running clumsily around talking to everyone until you found the right person.
One of the most annoying thing is that there’s no in-game save feature. Every level resets when you leave them, and when that one creature falls from the cliff and dies, you have to restart the whole level again. Even if Core decided against giving players the option to save mid-game, a checkpoint saving system would be been a better alternative.
The only good thing that Herdy Gerdy has is the sound, which is excellent. The ambient sound from the environment is excellent, making you think that you’re in a real forest. The sound of the wind blowing gently, and the birds chirping in the background is certainly the highlight of the game. Plus the voiceovers are also quite good. Everyone speaking with an English accent, except Gerdy, which is curious. Pity the lipsync in very poor.
If you’re looking for an animated and fully interactive cartoon environment, then look elsewhere. The game promises so much in terms of graphics, but the delivery falls flat on its face. The so-called hand-drawn textures are low resolution, and coupled with drab choice of colours create a very dull, static and ultimately unexciting world. Everything looks washed out, like being drawn with watercolours. While Core might be excused for going for a ’classic cartoony look’, the result leaves much to be desired, especially after witnessing what the PlayStation 2 is capable of graphically in Metal Gear Solid 2 and Final Fantasy X.
The levels are huge, I give you that. But what’s the use when it all looks uninteresting? Furthermore, Herdy Gerdy suffers from long loading time, though to have been banished from next-generation consoles. At first I thought my machine has broken down, but after giving a full 30 seconds more, the game starts to load. Again Core might be forgiven if the graphics are great, or the game employs spectacular real-time effects, but that’s clearly not the case here. The framerate also suffers from time to time, dropping to 15 fps in some instances. Unacceptable.
The characters animation is very poor. The movements are stiff and there’s barely any facial movement at all. Gerdy swaggers around like a monkey, and moves like one too - and I’m not saying that metaphorically. Move the analogue stick and he runs. Stop and he skids. While this may have been intended to give him that cartoony look, it just ends up being annoying and counter-productive, especially in later levels where you try to complete the timed objectives while avoiding the obstacles.
If your idea of fun is running around in a huge, drab and static world seeking things to do while the camera dances around on its own accord, then this game might be for you. With no variation in the gameplay, and no incentive for replays, Herdy Gerdy has no redeeming value. Of course there’s the odd ’special items’ that you get if you can collect all 100 bells in the level, but that’s not enough to hold your attention.
All in all, Herdy Gerdy is my candidate for the most overhyped game of the year for the PS2. The long load time, the uninteresting world and the inherent technical problems all signal that the game needs more time in the cooker. If you’re looking for a fun game set in a cartoon environment, try Naughty Dog’s Jak and Daxter or Namco’s excellent Klonoa: Lunatea’s Veil. If you must play it, we recommend that you rent it first. Otherwise, avoid at all cost.
Former owner and editor in chief of Darkstation.com