Clouds & Sheep is a charming game for Android (versions 2.1 or later) in which you maintain a flock of sheep. You play a shepherd with superhuman powers, able to manipulate clouds to bring on a downpour and trigger bolts of lightning that can either chargrill your sheep or keep a shivering flock toasty by the campfire.
"A good shepherd cares for his sheep, especially when they're as cute as this particular flock," writes developer HandyGames. Now our farming experience might start and end with Tap Ranch, but even we know that a good shepherd doesn't throw his sheep in the air or pull their tails to send them hurtling into piles of rocks. Nevertheless, Clouds & Sheep is an adorably simple casual game, which offers open-ended gameplay.
Clouds & Sheep has a somewhat simplified outlook on life, making it a good choice for younger children. Having successfully encouraged a ram and ewe (distinguishable by whether a sheep has fluttering eyelashes) to mate, a red love heart floats into the clouds and a lamb drops from the sky. And when an animal dies, it simply turns into a cloud and drifts away - you may not even notice its passing. Given the large proportion of our herd who greedily gobbled up poisonous mushrooms when we had no resources to buy injections, we like this approach. It meant our enjoyment of the game wasn't shadowed by guilt when we weren't doing a very good job.
The in-game payment system revolves around Happy Stars. The more you play with your sheep (apparently they enjoy being chucked about the screen), keep them well-fed, watered and at just the right temperature, the more Happy Stars they reward you with. You simply click on a star to collect it, and it's then added to your bank balance. Stars can be used to buy sheep, flower and grass seeds, campfires, tomatoes, cool drinks, vaccines and more. We particularly like the branding iron, which lets you name members of your flock. You can go with HandyGame's suggestions, such as Patty, Duke and Martha, or opt for your own names.
Interestingly, you can even change a sheep's gender to aid the mating process. Fear not, the surgery takes place off screen.
Although this free game is ad-supported, with a small banner at the top left of the screen, HandyGames also stands to make extra profit through the purchase of Happy Stars. These range from 86p for 200 to £6.97 for 5,000; as you unlock more levels, stars can be bought in greater bundles and may offer better value. As we noted in our Tap Ranch and Tap Fish reviews, we aren't keen on the idea of swapping real money for virtual tender. While many games incur a one-off purchase fee, this payment model could see you racking up a huge bill over time.
We tried Clouds & Sheep on both our Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc smartphone and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet. Graphics were very good on both platforms, and we love the extra touches HandyGames has made to details as small as the loading screen - rather than 'loading', Clouds & Sheep is 'Counting sheep', 'Spinning wool' or 'Charging thunder clouds', for example.
If other family members take an interest in Clouds & Sheep, it's handy to be able to save up to three games. We also found this useful on our tablet, when our first game repeatedly crashed at the same point during the second level. We started a new game and found no such problems, while freeze-ups weren't an issue on our smartphone.
We expected gameplay to be easier on the larger screen of our tablet, particularly once you've got 20 or so sheep crowding the view. In fact, we found the game more enjoyable on our smartphone, and felt that we were offered a greater number of challenges on this platform.
Challenges are what keep this game interesting for more than a couple of minutes. Those we completed included making a black sheep, in which you must combine a red love heart with a thundercloud, drying sheep by flinging them through the air, drenching others with rainclouds, and sending members of our flock crashing against the rocks. They love it really.
Challenges are offered via small signposts, which can also offer tips on how to play the game - you can turn off the latter once you know what you're doing. Having completed all tasks, you progress to the next level. You can select a new environment in which your sheep will live and view stats on your performance, defined by the number of ecstatic (pointy ears), so-so (normal-looking) and irate (gnarling teeth) sheep in your flock. Our herd didn't appear to be overly impressed with our farming skills, suggesting a slightly higher level of complexity than we initially presumed.