Originally appearing on mobile devices as Join the Pack,Xixgames’ modest strategy title has been ported to PC asHerding Dog. While the path from small screen to PC has been a successful one for some games, the transition fares less well in the case of Herding Dog. Thanks to issues with control, map design and a real lack of engaging content or gameplay, Herding Dog is unfortunately…kind of a dog.
In Herding Dog you play as a little polygonal German Shepherd, running around a polygonal farm and doing herding dog-like tasks, such as chasing foxes and wolves away from sheep, leading pigs to water, finding bags of dog food while dodging lightning strikes, and rescuing animals from hungry predators or more fanciful dangers like alien abductions. Each of the levels has a relatively simple goal, but thanks to poorly implemented and optimized controls and a map design that makes it difficult to visually track objectives, even simple tasks can take a frustratingly long time to complete. There is an overworld map and players can revisit completed missions to try for a better score.
Finger swipes in the mobile version have been replaced by mouse/keyboard or gamepad/mouse (there is only partial controller support). Herding Dog demands little in the way of movement control, but it feels slow and unresponsive using a controller –there doesn’t seem to be any way to make the dog run using gamepad controls — making keyboard and mouse only most viable option. There are still problems, though, as using the WASD keys, the dog moves slowly and awkwardly. Left clicking and holding on a target point — the mouse equivalent of a finger swipe — moves the dog quickly but changing direction is imprecise in a game that demands timing and rewards fast completion. Barking is the only action other than movement that the player controls, and it’s not like there are different barks, either. Just one tinny little yap.
The low-detail polygonal art style is colorful and appealing for the first few minutes, until you realize there are vast tracts of green-brown nothing to wander around on, especially frustrating when you’re supposed to be stopping a fox but you have no idea where it is on the map and the controls and character movement make it a chore to find. It doesn’t seem fair to ask the player to stop a predator from attacking a pig when you can’t reach or even see the part of the map where its taking place.
The dog and other animal characters clip through the scenery and each other, perhaps not as noticeable on a handheld screen, but glaringly unrealistic on a large PC monitor, and yet there are strange exceptions like the dog being unable to swim through water or jump up small hill to follow a sheep that is running away. Like the graphics, the jaunty, Danny Elfman-esque music has short term appeal, but quickly becomes annoyingly repetitive.
Ultimately, what’s disappointing about Herding Dog is that its aspirations, demands, tasks and ideas are simply too small scale. The dog doesn’t get more skilled, the goals aren’t interesting or rewarding to accomplish, there’s no story; there’s just nothing to really motivate the player to move on to the next mission. The core idea isn’t a bad one and as a free-to-play (which it wasn’t) time-killer on the phone,Herding Dog’s scale and platform might be more in alignment. On a PC, it needs to feel more like a real game and offer significantly better, more varied content and gameplay.