Will you herd Doops with a stick?
Will you herd them double quick?
Will you trap a Gromp with ease?
Or catch floating Bleeps in the breeze?
Will you be fast, and oh so sturdy
To live up to Herdy Gerdy?
(I sincerely apologize to Dr. Seuss for the theft and destruction of his venerated rhyme scheme.)
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: A young, unassuming hero takes off on a whirlwind adventure hoping to save the world from an evil being threatening to plunge the world into darkness. Confronted by a myriad of creatures and aided by friends and magical items, the hero defeats evil and issues in a new age of peace. Although this plot is a trite Hollywood cliché, I’m not talking about Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons, or any other movie that you’ve paid a princely sum to see in the theaters. Instead, I’m describing Eidos’ Herdy Gerdy, a title that places a new spin on this well-worn formula.
Gerdy is not your average hero; he isn’t packing multiple weapons, built with rippling muscles or able to harness incredible amounts of power. Instead, he’s a rather plain, nondescript little boy who looks like he’d be more at home in “Huckleberry Finn” than saving the world. Gerdy’s life is rather idyllic – his father is a Master Herder (one of the most respected roles in the realm), he lives in a beautiful pasture, and he doesn’t have a care in the world. However, all of this changes one morning when he is unable to wake his dad, who has fallen victim to an evil sleeping spell. Panicked, Gerdy sets out to find a way to destroy the enchantment. In order to break the spell, Gerdy must follow in his father’s footsteps, becoming a Master Herder and winning the great herding tournament
Like most adventure or 3D platform games, Gerdy starts out with no equipment and no allies to help him on his quest. As he travels, he meets family and befriends strangers who give him information or tasks to complete. Abilities and newly acquired items are explained by tutorials and cut-scenes, which are sometimes vague and drawn out way too long. The other downside about the tutorials is the lack in preparation for actual play. There are at least two sections where you receive instruction, but barely touch upon the primary focus of the game, that of herding creatures. While it may not seem important when you’re starting out, the dearth of herding opportunities quickly equate into mistakes, tons of wasted time, and mounting levels of frustration.
There are 12 different species within Herdy Gerdy, each with their individual idiosyncrasies. The three most prolific kinds are Doops, Bleeps, and Gromps (hence my poem). Doops are rather stupid, fearful creatures that run away from Gerdy whenever he comes near. Bleeps, on the other hand, are tame and calm around Gerdy, and prefer to listen to music or dance every chance they get. Unfortunately, their greatest predator is the Gromp. Large, aggressive creatures whose pink, bear-like appearance belies their intelligence, they love to eat anything that comes near them. Because of their insatiable hunger, Gromps will go out of their way to swallow any Doops, Bleeps, or other creatures. If a Gromp manages to eat enough animals, Gerdy is forced to restart the level.
Protecting Doops, Bleeps, and smaller animals from the appetite of the Gromps is essential to Gerdy’s journey. The safest way to care for them is to corral them in their corresponding pens. Each animal has a different method of capture that must be learned to successfully move to the next area. For example, Doops need to be chased into their pens, while Bleeps have to be attracted by the musical notes of either the herding stick or the magical flute. Gromps, on the other hand, are much more dangerous, forcing Gerdy to offer himself as bait before he can capture them. As Gerdy sprints away from the charging Gromp, he’s forced to keep the animal’s attention while searching for the trap specifically made to contain it. In the quest to detain these creatures, you will be forced to manipulate your perspective via the game’s camera to find holding pens and Gromp traps.
Unfortunately, the camera is one of the most stubborn I’ve ever seen, easily catching on objects, walls or trees leaving you stranded with a bad view of the action. It’s obvious that the intention of the camera was to capture the best viewpoint of the environment, but fighting to control it is tantamount to wrangling an another beast during play. There are other massive faults with the capturing system. One of the largest problems is that many creatures are placed near things that will kill them. Flocks of Doops or Bleeps are usually placed near Gromps that quickly find and wipe out herds whenever Gerdy comes near. The other downside is that this placement is usually near a natural threat. For example, Bleeps can’t swim, but can often be found near water. While you can attempt to control how and where the Bleep moves, its diminished intelligence will sometimes drive it directly into the path of a waterfall, river, or pool of water. Goodbye Bleep, hello restart screen.
The music within Herdy Gerdy is very well done, with a nice, pastoral feel to the melodies played throughout the title. Sound effects are nicely done as well, ranging from the Doops’ namesake call to the ringing of bells. Additionally, the voice acting is well done, even if the attempted lip-synching within the game is completely off. Graphically, Herdy Gerdy is gorgeous. Comprised entirely of cel-shading, the game looks and feels like a Disney cartoon more than a video game. One of the ways this is accomplished is by the elimination of the harder black edges typically found in cel-shaded titles, allowing for a smoother, cleaner state of animation. This is further augmented by some of the background action, such as large cows chewing their cud, or scampering rabbits reminiscent of Thumper. However, some of the larger, sweeping textures for the ground or the environments can obscure animals, items, or objectives, leading you on a wild goose chase for something that you’ve passed five times because it blended into the background. Additionally, the graphical content for each level is so large that the load times are unbelievably long, which detracts from the playing experience dramatically.
I really wanted to like Herdy Gerdy. From the moment I turned on the power, I was enthralled by the animation and the concept of the game. The puzzle-like quality of herding and controlling animals seemed to be a new and interesting challenge to me. However, the frustrating camera control and the stupidity of the creatures quickly began to change my mind. After a while, I found my desire to help Gerdy on his quest wane, potentially because the sense of conflict was so minimal. For example, the villain is never even shown casting the spell on Gerdy’s father, which, from the beginning, reduces the dramatic tension felt. Graphically worth a look, I’d recommend renting Herdy Gerdy for parents looking for a title for their kids, or puzzle addicts looking for a challenge.