Given the opportunity, a sheep-herding border collie will work itself so hard on the job that its heart may potentially burst if it’s not reined in from time to time. It’s tragic, and pretty gruesome.
Thankfully, nothing that grim comes close to happening in Happy Flock, an action game from Hidden Door Interactive. This shepherding title is a contender for the cutest game on any digital marketplace anywhere. It’s fluffy, it’s huggable (if you don’t mind hugging your phone or tablet), and it has personality.
But its gameplay is in need of some washing and shearing, especially since it’s obviously engineered with younger players in mind.
Happy Flock puts you in charge of several ranches, though you’re issued only one at the start of the game. Each ranch comes with a collie dog that you control by dragging around your finger.
As might be expected, it’s your job to herd the animals living on each ranch. There are sheep, of course, but Happy Flock doesn’t limit you to pushing around nature’s spools of cotton candy. You can buy other animals to shepherd, including hamsters, dragons, unicorns, and cats (yes, it is possible to herd cats).
Each level takes place in a pasture. You drag your dog towards the animals scattered around the field, gently nudging them towards a fence. Once all your beasts are fenced, the level ends and you’re rewarded according to how fast you did the deed, and how many animals you herded.
The pastures are large and often hide secrets. Your dog can dig for valuable items and gems (the game’s purchasable hard currency), but you need to work fast if you want to grab said items and fence your animals before time runs out. There’s also a nasty fox in some levels (joff-choff-choff) that will grab and hold your sheep if you don’t chase him away.
Happy Flock is packed with things to do, and each level presents a decent challenge. In fact, it might be a little too challenging for very young players. Herding takes patience and decent motor skills, and the time limits in each level are rarely generous. I occasionally found it difficult to beat certain levels, even though I have the coordination necessary to feed and dress myself (I swear).
Happy Flock’s free-to-play trappings are also problematic. Your animals tire out very quickly, and need to rest in between every two or three levels before they can be herded again. You can feed them berries to bring them back to running health, but berries are hard to come by. You can buy them with gems, or even buy berry trees, but berry trees bear fruit slowly, and the animals need a lot to get back on their feet.
It’s also disappointing how many of the animals are purchased with gems. Lots of gems. At least the cats can be bought using the game’s standard gold coins.
Happy Flock is crazy cute, and its concept is sound. Youngsters might find it hard to play, though, and parents are definitely going to want to turn off in-app purchases before handing this title to their lambs.