Sheepo Review

Sometimes it seems like Xbox is the forgotten destination for Metroidvanias, but we’ve received some great additions to the sub-genre so far this year. Most of them have been on the more conventional side, which is why I was excited to hear that Sheepo was coming to Xbox this month. Sheepo was originally developed and released on Steam by Kyle Thompson, a one-man game dev, and then ported elsewhere by publisher Top Hat Studios. It is billed as a 2D pacifist Metroidvania, which essentially translates to it being a platformer. There is a lot to like about this quirky game, and I’m going to attempt to explain why I think it would appeal to a wide range of gamers. 

Sheepo is the story of an odd-looking alien that appears to be part sheep and part… rat? I really don’t know. It’s a unique combination of cute and strange. I’m not sure if its name is Sheepo or if that’s the name of its species, but what I do know is that it has the ability to shapeshift. The game starts inside Sheepo’s spaceship, which just landed on an unfamiliar planet. After a quick tutorial, you are given your mission: You need to collect six eggs from six separate alien species that inhabit the planet in order to document them and save the planet.

Despite not having any combat, Sheepo is packed with action and excitement and is a prime example of fantastic game design. You start with a few basic abilities, like a double jump, as well as the ability to shapeshift into a few different basic objects in the environment, such as an orb that will shoot you in any direction you choose. I really like the way Sheepo’s momentum is designed, he starts out somewhat slow but picks up a good amount of speed if you keep moving in one direction. The game world is set up like a typical Metroidvania, in this case, one medium-sized map. The path you must take starts out pretty linear, but there are plenty of opportunities for exploration, and eventually, you’ll have to backtrack to reach other areas. The main form of collectible is feathers, which are scattered throughout the game world, sometimes hidden and usually just out of reach. Make sure you collect any that you see because they are needed to buy an item that is necessary to progress further into the game. There are also two sets of health upgrades and a few other secrets. 

Each room and area has a wonderful feeling of flow in its design almost like a Super Meat Boy level but on a much larger scale. I felt like the game always kept me engaged; each of the rooms has a good mix of mechanics that you need to make use of to make it to the next area. The game also presents the player with what feels like a perfect amount of resistance – meaning that the difficulty stays at a reasonable level, never getting too tough, yet the gameplay manages to keep your attention through most of the experience. The game has three difficulty options. Initially, I wondered how separate difficulty levels would work in a game without combat, so I ended up completing a playthrough on both easy and hard. As far as I can tell there are only two mechanical differences between the options. Easy, and I assume normal mode as well, have health orbs scattered about the game world that will heal you, whereas hard mode does not. The only other thing I noticed is that the bosses’ movesets are expanded in hard mode, making the encounters more difficult.

Overall the game feels very approachable and I never felt “stuck” at any point due to the difficulty; however, there was one point where I was unsure where I should go next. As I’ve said the game is designed as a Metroidvania so after completing an area (by beating that section’s boss) you usually have to backtrack in order to take a previously inaccessible path. The boss fights are definitely one of the high points in the game; even though they pretty much stick to two design outlines. Some of them require you to make your way from one side of a large boss area to the other, while avoiding the boss’s attacks and using different shapeshifting mechanics, and the others take place in a single screen-sized room where you have to dodge the boss’s attacks and then eventually trick them into damaging themselves. They definitely reminded me of the boss encounters in the first Super Meat Boy, meaning they were superb.

After beating a boss you are rewarded with one of the six eggs. The first five of these eggs expand your shapeshifting capabilities, allowing you to shift into a specific creature. You most likely have seen these creatures while exploring the environment and probably wondered to yourself at some point, “What will that do?”. The first creature you gain the power to shift into is the Long Bird, which grants you the ability to fly. You are only able to stay in that shape for a limited amount of time, and there’s a handy circular meter that appears around Sheepo indicating how much time is left. These abilities are the traversal-expanding, gatekeeping mechanic in Sheepo. The bird will obviously allow you to reach higher platforms you couldn’t access before. The second egg lets you shift into a worm which grants you the ability to travel through certain underground areas (these areas become visible while you are in worm form). The rest similarly expand your options in some unique way. A lot of regular platformers expand the gameplay mechanics as you progress through the game, but I think in this case, making it a Metroidvania with one big world that opens up as you grow stronger is a refreshing take on the platformer genre.

The game world is split up into nine sections and there’s a decent amount of variety in the visuals department. Setting the game on an unfamiliar alien planet allows the designer to get more creative with the flora and fauna, and overall the game has a look to it that’s somewhere between cute and odd. Some areas feature vibrant, lush colors which are highlighted even more by the contrasting black of the negative space. My favorite is probably the first area that has a picturesque sunset in the background with the sky changing from dark purple to orange. Other areas are more on the gloomy side, like the snow-covered cliff area. There’s also a good mix of interior and exterior spaces. The only qualm I have with the art design is that sometimes I found the black empty areas of the backgrounds kind of boring. I think just adding a few rocks or skeletons/fossils would have made a difference.

The audio design is just as well designed as the gameplay, and I think the sound effects add to the odd, quirky feel of the game. Eric Thompson (who I assume is the brother of the developer) composed all the music for the game, and he did a wonderful job creating a soundtrack that adds to the atmosphere. A lot of it has a very chill, laid-back sound to it, but other tracks increase in tempo and intensity such as the ones scoring the boss encounters.

The biggest issue I had while playing Sheepo doesn’t concern the gameplay at all. Like a few other games I’ve reviewed the buttons are mapped in a slightly unusual way. B is jump and A is used for interactions like talking as well as functioning as the action button (for shapeshifting). I think jump should always be A on an Xbox controller. It took a while to get used to it being B in this game, and when I finally became accustomed to it I noticed I was mixing up the buttons in a different platformer I played afterwards. I spoke to the publishers about this and they said they hope to add button remapping to the options, if not by release then shortly after.

When it comes to Metroidvanias, Sheepo is on the shorter side in terms of playtime. Getting all the achievements took me less than ten hours. My 100% playthrough took about five hours which in a way is refreshing – it’s nice sometimes not having to devote dozens of hours to complete a game, and I think it is fairly priced at $11 USD. The game has a few speedrun achievements; when these appear in other games sometimes they can feel a little imposing – ‘how am I supposed to beat this game in four hours when it took me forty hours the first time?’ But I feel confident telling you that they are definitely attainable in Sheepo, especially if you attempt your run right after your regular playthrough when the game is still fresh in your mind.

Conclusion

Sheepo is sort of a goldilocks game, every aspect of the game feels “just right”. The level design and game world are well designed, the difficulty makes the game approachable for many players, and the game doesn’t overstay its welcome thanks to its playtime which is on the shorter, more reasonable side. Whether you’re a platformer fan, a Metroidvania veteran, or a newcomer, Sheepo is a game you should try (and if you do, maybe you could tell me what type of animal you think he is).

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.
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Good
  • Refreshing combat-free gameplay that feels unique, but also familiar
  • Wonderful art style
  • Great soundtrack that sets the tone for the adventure
  • Fun boss fights
Bad
  • Some people might think the playtime is on the short side
  • Map is kind of hard to see, no zoom-in option
8.7
Great
Gameplay - 9.2
Graphics - 8.6
Audio - 9
Longevity - 8
Written by
I started my gaming odyssey playing 8-bit console and arcade games. My first Xbox was the 360 and I immediately fell in love with achievement hunting and the overall ecosystem. That love was cemented with my purchase of an Xbox One. I play a bit of everything, but I usually end up playing fast paced games that remind me of my days spent in dark, smoky arcades spending quarter after quarter, telling myself "one more try!". Gamertag: Morbid237.

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