Shephy

I can’t believe Shephy is a honest-to-God contender for the worst game I’ve ever reviewed. It makes no sense. It’s a harder-version of Solitaire with sheep, so I should have liked it. I mean, I like playing with myself.

Um, let me clarify that statement. I like playing with myself with sheep.

I mean, I like the idea of playing with myself with sheep.

No wait, I mean to say while helping breed sheep.

With each other, not with me.

I don’t think this is coming out right.

So yea, Spephy is based on a 2013 physical card game that is allegedly popular in Japan. I was tempted to buy a physical copy to compare for this review, until I saw how much is being charged for it on Amazon. Nearly fifty-fucking-bucks! Outrageous. Anyway, I say allegedly popular because it’s actually not a very good game, mechanically speaking. Think of it as a cross between Solitaire and a punisher. You start with one sheep card and are dealt five “event” cards. Event cards either help you to multiply your sheep or force you to kill or downgrade the ones already in “the field.” Over the course of the game, you have to combine the cards in the seven-cell “field” into higher ranking cards. You have three rounds to eventually get a single 1,000-rank sheep card onto the play-field.

And it has to be the 1,000 rank card. If you run out of rounds and have seven 300-rank sheep cards (the second-highest card you can get), you’ve lost the game even though you actually have 2,100 sheep represented on the play field. Even though the point is you’re supposed to be competing against a rival herd of sheep that reaches exactly 1,000 after you’ve played round three. So you can get a higher number sheep in your flock and still lose to a lesser amount of sheep based on bullshit rules. Fuck that. We already have that in America. We call it “The Electoral College.”

Let’s face it: most people are going to see this picture and buy the game based on it. Hell, *I* bought it based on this pic. At least I have reviewing the game as an excuse. What’s yours?

Dumb concept and design is sort of the order of the day. There’s a card you can get that forces you to destroy seven different sheep cards on the play-field. The play-field which is exactly seven cells large and can’t get bigger. So yea, there’s a game over card. You must play every card in every round. There’s three exceptions to this: there’s meteor card that kills three of the cells’ worth of sheep, but it’s removed from the game after its first use. There’s a sheepdog card that allows you to discard any card in your hand. Finally, there’s a card that lets you remove any card in your hand from the rest of the game so that it doesn’t show up in later rounds. That sounds great, until you remember that there’s a card that is an instant loss. So, no matter what, you have to use one of the two discard cards on it, and since the sheepdog card is only delaying dealing it for another round, the only logical thing you can do is wait to draw the “remove from the game” card and apply it to it. It’s a prime example of why everything is wrong with Shephy: it’s just not a thoughtful, tightly designed game.

And there’s far too many over-powered negative event cards to overcome. In about 25% of the games I played, my opening draw of five cards either was dead on arrival because no matter what card I played, my lone sheep would die, or I had one card I could play just to get to the next card and then I was dead. Twenty-five percent! That’s a lot of stillborn games over the course of the ten hours I put into this. Yea, sometimes you can have that happen in Solitaire as well, but only 0.25% of Solitaire games are unplayable and 8.5% to 18% are unwinnable. Now yes, there’s a running gag with me where I have remarkably bad luck when relying on random-chance in games I review, but even considering that, being dead with no possible opportunity to use strategy at least once out of every four games is kind of shit deal. And stuff like the instant-death card only serves to emphasize how little consideration strategy or complex game theory factored into the design of Shephy. The same problems apply to the positive cards. There’s one card that allows you to select one of the sheep cards in the field and place three sheep cards one-rank lower than the chosen card into empty cells. There’s then a card that allows you to replace existing sheep with ones a rank higher than their current one, excluding all sheep of the highest rank you have. So, if you have a 10-ranked sheep, you’ll get three 3-ranked sheep, which you can then turn into three 10-ranked sheep. These two cards were made for each other, to the point that using them together is basically the only plausible strategy for them.

Yea, I figured out the world belonged to sheep when I found out how popular Twilight was. By the way, Shephy’s tutorial is the worst I’ve ever seen for a physical-game-to-video-game adaption. I had far more questions by time I was done with it than answers.

Usually, I tend to review video-translations of physical games that were solid games to begin with. This is the first one I’ve played where the original game was so bad that it had almost zero chance of winning me over as a video game. For the digital port on Steam and Switch, extra modes were added that change the gameplay or the win/fail conditions. But, you’re still using the same base game, which was broken to begin with. The seven “stages” of the story mode somehow remove even more options for strategy or individualism. One of the stages tasks you with starting with a 1000-rank sheep and eventually making your way towards having a single 1-rank sheep on the field. Certain cards are eliminated from being part of this game, and the concept sounds alright. Well, actually, no. Because the game also eliminates the third round. There’s only two cards that allow you to get lower-ranked cards, and one card that can become a copy of any card. There’s seven sheep ranks. So, the actual means to get to the victory are already in place and unshakable: you have to use those 3 cards together over the 2 rounds. The only strategy is in keeping the cards that wipe out all the sheep from, well, wiping out all your sheep. But there’s almost no strategy involved in that. You’re at the mercy of just getting the cards in a specific order that will allow for the one and only one specific method of winning. That’s awful game design.

This is one of those rare games where I have nothing good to say about it. Even the user-interface is beyond atrocious. Show of hands, who here has played Solitaire? It’s a game responsible for millions, if not billions, of wasted productivity hours. And it got there by having a simple interface. Click the card you want, drag it over to the card you want to place it on. Shephy is based on Solitaire, so there’s no way they could screw up the controls, right? Wrong. You can’t do the most obvious thing, clicking the card you want, dragging it to the cell you want or the card you want to use it on. Oh no, you have to left-click the card you want, click the cell or card you want to apply it to, then press the up-arrow on the keyboard to make the move.

Are you fucking kidding me?

This is a pic of “Challenge Mode”, which is exactly like normal mode only the game doesn’t end once you have one of the 1000 rank cards. It ends after three rounds. There’s no online leader-boards, but now that I think about the highest you can possibly get is 7,000. I only played this mode once and my score was 5,006. I think I’m okay with that.

Oh, and while learning the game, you’ll want to know what each card does. But the text is really small, so  you’ll want to zoom in. That should be as easy as using the right-click on a card, right? Nope. You have to right-click a card, make sure it’s highlighted in blue (sometimes it doesn’t do it), and then press “V” on the keyboard. Why not just allow people to highlight a card with the left-click and then use the wheel or the right-click to zoom? So yea, they didn’t optimize it for PC play. It’s actually sort of remarkable how badly they botched what should have been the most self-evident control scheme they’ll ever encounter in their development careers. This isn’t a complex real-time-strategy game or some kind of stat-driven RPG where a complex series of button-commands are called for. It’s a crappy game of solitaire that has pictures of sheep humping on some of the cards. How the fuck do you screw that up?

So that’s Shephy. A terrible video game port of a terrible card game. The fact that there’s extra modes added or that the developers went above-and-beyond crafting a bat-shit insane story for this mess would normally be admirable, but here I find it sort of annoying. Why were they writing an elaborate story line to go along with this instead of optimizing it for PC? I can’t blame the video game developers on the game play mechanics, since those are what ultimately doomed Shephy, but there’s no excuse to not tailor the control scheme for use with a mouse. But, ultimately, gameplay is king. Shephy is at best frustrating. At worst, Shephy is as sleep-inducing as counting some sort of fluffy bovid animal.

Shephy was developed by Arc System Works
Point of Sale: Steam, Switch

$4.99 would have rather been spent on a video game adaption of Lamb Chop’s Play-Along in the making of this review.

Keeping this review (relatively) sheep-pun free is one of my proudest achievements. You’re welcome.

Switch It Up

No, I don’t hate Nintendo. There seems to be this perception among my fans and my critics that I’m overly critical on Nintendo. I’m not. If you’re a slobbering fanboy for the Big N operating under the delusion that Nintendo and you are besties because they played an important role in your pop-culture upbringing, anyone who is remotely critical of them comes across as too harsh. So if I say that I think the Wii U was a deeply flawed and ill-conceived console, or that having a controller remarkably similar to the one that was the final nail in THQ’s coffin was probably not a good idea, I come across as a total hater, at least in comparison to you. In reality, I am a fan of Nintendo. Fandom and obsession are not the same thing.

For example, I am obsessed with Power Rangers. A franchise designed for children with acting, writing, and special effects so cringe-worthy that my family and friends are all in danger of suffering Bell’s Palsy from being forced to watch it with me. When the teaser trailer for the big-budget Power Ranger movie hit, it was so horrible, so wretched, that I know my family was literally ashamed of me. It looked like a cheap parody trailer, a mix between Breakfast Club and Chronicle that looks and sounds nothing likethe source material, but there’s the faintest hint of the original show’s theme song riff just to make those truly obsessed fans squeal.

And I loved it.

Being obsessed, I came up with every possible excuse to justify its awfulness, and even as I type this, I feel I’m justified in it. “It’s Power Rangers, it’s supposed to be badly acted. It’s okay if it’s silly. It doesn’t need to make sense. Hey, doesn’t Rita look cool? Wow, I love how the morphing looks!” I’m twenty-seven-years-old, and I say this with no shame: I’m more excited by the Power Ranger movie than any person my age has any right to be. I honestly expect it to get a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but that doesn’t matter! I’m obsessed. That’s why, when the second, better trailer hit, I wasted no time rubbing it in the face of my boyfriend. Getting him to admit “it didn’t look bad” was perhaps the biggest victory of my life, even if he was trying to find the right words to break-up with me after I had to wipe tears from my eyes when Bryan Cranston said “it’s Morphin Time!” I mean, that’s Walter White! Saying “it’s Morphin Time!” Holy shit!

Brian would like to note that "doesn't look THAT" still means "looks bad" with the emphasis on "that." Yea, well, phooey on him.

Brian would like to note that “doesn’t look THAT bad” still means “looks bad” and that the emphasis is on “that.” Nuts to him.

Because of my epilepsy, I have to rent a theater to be able to watch a movie at cinemas. I usually get to do this twice a year, for my birthday in July and for Christmas. My family knows I won’t be able to wait for Power Rangers. I need to see it as soon as it comes out. I won’t be able to think straight until I do. I know it’s going to be shit. My heart sank when I saw the toy version of the film’s Megazord. It was so crappy looking that I could barely muster up the enthusiasm to finger myself over it.

So yea, I don’t just love Power Rangers. I am obsessed with Power Rangers. I don’t need to be convinced to see it. I was sold the moment it was announced.

I’m not that way with video games, even though they played a much bigger role in who I am as a person today. I am a fan of games and certain game companies. Obsession? That’s unhealthy. In 2015, I did two editorials on Shenmue III’s Kickstarter campaign. One defended the idea of a AAA using crowd funding to stake a high risk revival of a failed franchise, which is what a sequel to Shenmue is. The other said the actual pitch of the campaign was pretty bad. I got more anger over the article defending the campaign from Shenmue fans than I did the one that called it out for being a terrible pitch. Why? Because I noted that I wasn’t a fan of the series. I don’t get getting angry at something like that. Who cares if someone doesn’t like it? Shouldn’t all that matter to you be how much you like it?

Hey, remember how Vita became on of the biggest busts in gaming history due in no small part to necessary accessories like memory cards costing too much money? Well, this package here costs $79.99. That's a fairly big investment just to play multiplayer.

Hey, remember how Vita became one of the biggest busts in gaming history due in no small part to accessories like memory cards costing too much money? Well, this package here costs $79.99. That’s a fairly big investment just to play multiplayer, and you don’t even get the whole controller (the middle portion is sold separately for $29.99, bringing the total cost to $109.98). Buying just one costs $49.99. “But Cathy, Xbone and PS4 controllers cost $59.99!” Yea, but you get a whole controller for that, not half of one. EDIT: Excuse me, the non-charging center piece “grip” costs $14.99, meaning a complete setup is $94.98. Um, what a bargain?

Nintendo fans get that way too, though I noticed the oomph was taken out of their venom towards the end of the Wii U’s life cycle. When I got Star Fox Zero and said it sucked, it apparently didn’t ruin anyone’s life. But the explanation there was easy: Star Fox Zero fucking sucked. Even the most slobbery fanboys couldn’t believe how borderline-unplayable it was. But, it was the exception, not the norm. The truth is, the Wii U wasn’t horrible and gave us plenty of decent titles. It just looked like a barren wasteland compared to its rivals. Before release, third parties promised support that never arrived. Bayonetta 2 became the crown jewel that Nintendo waved around like a prized pig. Why Bayonetta 2? Of all the franchises Nintendo could have staked, why that one? Maybe the answer is that it’s all they could get. It reminds me of the 2010 NBA free agency season, where the New York Knicks had cleared insane amounts of cap space in hopes of landing LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, or some other prize. Who did they end up with? Amar’e Stoudemire. Bayonetta 2 was the Amar’e Stoudemire of gaming. A perfectly fine pick-up for your console, but nothing to get that excited over, nor are you going to win a lot of people over with it.

I’ve always felt that Nintendo landing Bayonetta 2 was more like settling for Bayonetta 2 after trying and failing to land something more mainstream and desirable, the same way the Knicks settled for Stoudemire.

If people think I’m gloating over Nintendo’s failures, I’ve got news for you: I owned a Wii U. I certainly didn’t want it to fail. Now that it’s basically dead, I can safely say I got my money’s worth. I enjoyed most of Nintendo’s first party stuff just fine, and hell, Splatoon and NES Remix alone were original enough for me to reflect positively overall on it. We got a couple decent new Mario games, a decent Donkey Kong Country game, a decent new Pikmin game, a fun little surprise in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Toad got his own game, and disc release!), and so forth, and so forth.

Here we are, in 2017, and Nintendo is still the best maker of gaming software on the planet. But they’ve had that title my entire gaming life. That’s why when they release something pitiful like Wii Music or Star Fox Zero, it stands out so much more. Because they are too good to make stuff that bad. That’s why pursuing exclusives like Bayonetta 2 or No More Heroes baffles me so much. Third party support or not, the Wii U had the most high quality, low-risk exclusives in gaming.

Switching between the buttons and the stick with the full Joy-Con doesn't exactly look comfy. Maybe Nintendo saved money on its development by firing the person responsible for their controllers ergonomics. It also cracks me up that a company that is so militant against fans uploading videos of their software to social media would have any form of a capture button.

Switching between the buttons and the stick with the full Joy-Con doesn’t exactly look comfy. Maybe Nintendo saved money on its development by firing the person responsible for their controller ergonomics. It also cracks me up that a company that is so militant against fans uploading videos of their software to social media would have any form of a capture button.

So, why did the Wii U fail then? Because most gamers don’t want to be stuck with Nintendo-style games and nothing else. Even Nintendo fans don’t. That’s why they’re so excited to finally get their hands on Skyrim, a game that came out over five years and one full console generation ago. It’s something that’s not Nintendoish. Something big and exciting. Something Nintendo themselves would NEVER make. Something completely different to sink your teeth into between rounds of the latest remakes disguised as sequels of Mario Kart or Smash Bros.

The missing ingredient for Wii U wasn’t the stuff no other console owners could play, but the stuff all other console owners were playing.

Nintendo should already know this better than anyone else. In 1993, Mortal Kombat released on both the SNES and Genesis. At this point, Nintendo had Street Fighter II exclusively, and children of the 90s who chose the Super Nintendo over the Genesis had bragging rights. Then came Mortal Kombat, sanitized and lacking blood or fatalities on the SNES. Even though the Genesis controller didn’t have enough buttons to completely mimic the arcade experience, and even though the gore required a code to unlock it, it was a turning point in the Nintendo v Sega war. It bought the Genesis nearly two extra years of lifespan on its own.

Then came Mortal Kombat II. With blood intact, the SNES version far outsold the Genesis version when they sat side-by-side on the shelf.

That’s what the Switch needs. Not exclusives, but the same third-party software that Sony and Microsoft have. This alone would eliminate the dire perception problem that Nintendo has always had. The day consumers can go to a store on the release day of the latest Call of Duty or Madden or Battlefield and see a Nintendo port sitting alongside the PlayStation or Xbox, nearly indistinguishable from each-other, is the day Nintendo is finally back into the competition.

1-2-Switch looks like a perfectly fine tech demo pack-in. But it's not a pack-in. Utterly baffling to me. If it came with a controller, like Wii Play, then I could justified paying $50 for a tech demo.

1-2-Switch looks like a perfectly fine tech demo pack-in. But it’s not a pack-in. Utterly baffling to me. If it came with a controller, like Wii Play, then I could justified paying $50 for a tech demo.

Nintendo fans have told themselves for over a decade now that their favorite soulless corporation that targets its own fans on social media for uploading videos of them enjoying their products doesn’t need to compete. “People buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo products.” Hell, even I’ve said that. But the Wii U had a relatively short life-cycle and never fully lived up to its potential. That’s because it costs money to experiment, and the risk of spending that money is lessened if the customer pool for the final product is big. One of my favorite mid-2000s titles was Katamari Damacy. There was nothing like it. It was weird, and quirky, and new, and different. But, if the PlayStation 2 hadn’t been a huge global success, Namco would never have taken it off the drawing board. If they had only had the Wii U’s base to draw from, it would have been too high risk to develop. Consoles can’t just appeal to the hardcore, never-say-die fans. There’s just not enough of them to move the amount of units a developer needs to be successful.

Will the Switch accomplish that? I don’t know. I’ve talked to a few directors at some major AAA studios. Some say it’s just powerful enough to port to. Some say it’s not. But here is an undeniable fact: Nintendo doesn’t have to do a whole lot to migrate its fans from one console to the next. They’re already sold. They were sold before the name was announced. They were sold before the controller was unveiled. They were sold before any software was shown. Much the same way that I’ll be there for Power Rangers day one, with a smile on my face, Nintendo fans need no convincing about the Switch. That has never been Nintendo’s problem. It’s everybody else. Having Call of Duty for Switch sit alongside Call of Duty for PlayStation and Xbox isn’t about convincing the diehards. It simply makes Switch a viable option. It enters it into the discussion, to buy or not to buy. Nintendo doesn’t need third-party exclusives. They just need third-party wide releases that look and feel close enough to their competition. Why waste energy trying to convince the skeptical with exclusives? They already have the best in gaming: their own first-party software.

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