Taking a deck of cards to pass the time whilst traveling is not uncommon, though with the Switch now taken everywhere it's nice to see various game types emerge on the system. Card games are a genre still as popular as they were twenty years ago, with games like Gwent being a recent success. Offering its own unique take, Shephy flocks to the Nintendo Switch with an unusual dynamic and interesting premise of keeping your flock of sheep alive. More surprising is that underneath the seemingly friendly exterior there’s a darker tale to be uncovered. Don’t expect any bahhhh-d puns here.
Five cards drawn. One lies on the field. Without losing your flock or going through the deck three times over you must reach 1000 sheep to win. Sounds simple, right? Not exactly. Shephy on a first play-through can seem slightly overwhelming; it can take a few thorough readings of the rules along with knowledge of all event cards before it makes full sense.
If the goal of 1000 sheep has not been reached by the end of the round you must use up every card in your hand – regardless of whether they’re all helpful or not. Knowing exactly when to use cards like “Sheep Dog” and “Planning Sheep” makes Shephy more strategic than one would think on first glance. Is it better to play now and remove a damaging card to the herd, or hold out in the hope of attaining the whimsical “All-purpose Sheep”, allowing a card in the player’s hand to be used as a straight carbon copy? These are the moral dilemmas that Shephy asks if you’re to avoid the big bad wolf.
The controls are friendly and work well, using the analogue stick to move and R trigger to preview your hand; no optional touch screen controls are offered, however. One factor that is a little concerning in general play is the difficulty, meanwhile, where one wrong move can be particularly cruel and fatal. Occasionally the deck can simply be unfavourable, forcing the strongest of players to relent.
Different modes are available from the start, with “Basic Mode” being the standard. “Challenge mode” allows for high scores and “Practice Mode” does the obvious. Story is the most interesting inclusion – known here as “Post Love”. A dark campaign, the Japanese tale tells the ongoings in the life of a Sheep. It describes their endless sentence of being “born to die”, before the S.H.E.P.H.Y scatter the animals into countless realities through a dimensional fork. A mad yet tranquil journey.
There are some highly memorable quotes, with "What right does a Sheep have to play God?" standing out. The dark undertone is a brilliant one, bringing some gravitas to every card dealt and making your actions feel more consequential; what transpires in the seven episodes is very much open to interpretation.
Audio is not a strong point, however, giving most modes a repetitive beat that will get irritating in time; with the same simple piano melody on loop it can be mind-numbing. Away from this the story does a good job conveying the message of different dimensions and higher beings. It’s unusual but fitting.
Design-wise the story depicts the sheep's turbulent time against mankind through beautifully simple yet adorable illustrations. The same praise can be applied to the playing cards themselves, even if one or two are a little cheeky.
The UI, so important in a card game, is solid aside from one oversight; there’s no sheep counter. When building your flock up there is no screen tally, meaning some simple calculations are needed; this isn’t a huge aggravation but seems a strange omission. Besides this there is the glaring absence of multiplayer. Syncing up with friends for some competitive games would feel at home, whether this was something as simple as racing against one another or seeing who can reach the target in the least amount of moves. The core game itself is plenty of fun, so it would be tremendous to share with others.
A strange yet endearing tale of sheep traveling through parallel universes is an unexpected treat. Whilst the theme doesn’t dominate play, its inclusion brings enough gravitas to make every move count. Though the absence of multiplayer and optional touch controls is questionable, the price paid is nothing to squawk at due to a well-thought out single player experience that is potentially endless. Shephy is delightfully addictive, with a dark undertone that shares some realism with society’s treatment of sheep. Above all Shephy teaches you that “if you leave one wolf alive, the sheep are never safe…”