To be a successful artist, it takes practice, persistence and above all else, stress management. Great artists suffer for their work, just like Esteban the bull, star of Insomniac’s new top-down action/puzzle/collection game “Slow Down, Bull.”
Esteban is a passionate artist, and a bit of a perfectionist. When he ventures off to find the ideal materials for his art projects, he does so with great anxiety, as he can’t stand the thought of messing it up in any way. As a result, it’s the player’s job to guide the high-strung bull through each stage and collect as many decorations as possible without stressing him out.
This concept and the controls that drive the experience are deceptively simple. From an isometric 2-D perspective, players shepherd Esteban through a series of colorful and varied environments, from pastures and beaches to busy city streets. It only takes two buttons/keys to steer Esteban through each stage, but it gets much harder from there. The more Esteban changes direction through steering, the more stressed he becomes. Push him too far and he’ll start stampeding, become uncontrollable and trample any precious collectable decoration in his path.
The trick is to bounce Esteban off walls in the stage, which calms him down and increases his speed. However, higher speed means Esteban’s stress rises faster and he’s harder to control. Path-planning and wise use of steering, bounce angles and slowing obstacles are vital for hitting that top score, as each stage is graded on speed, amount collected and whether or not Esteban lost his cool.
There are several things that Slow Down, Bull succeeds at. Players are welcomed into the game world with soft, bright, pastel visuals and a catchy, lighthearted soundtrack but are quickly challenged with evolving game rules. Just when the levels start to seem repetitive, a new obstacle or element is introduced for the player to negotiate.
One of very few flaws in the game would be the difficulty; the learning curve is sharp at times and some players may become frustrated by mounting dangers and punishing time limits.
However, the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses in Slow Down, Bull when the game is taken for what it is: a concise, cheerful, addictive, funny, occasionally frustrating, simple adventure title. The experience is made all the more fulfilling considering developer Insomniac is donating half of all proceeds from sales of the games to the Starlight Children’s Foundation, which works to improve access to and quality of healthcare for children and their families.
Slow Down, Bull marks a creative departure for Insomniac as the developer’s first-ever PC game and also presents a commendable charity effort. The cartoonish, youthful spirit of the game and the top-down collectathon premise certainly won’t hold every gamer’s attention, but inner children and actual children alike will likely find themselves strongly engaged.