It's good to see developers finally trying something new with the platforming genre. There are only so many Super Mario 64 clones and collecting frenzies one can take. Core Design's latest project, Herdy Gerdy, steps outside the box and injects some refreshing ideas into the platforming genre. But technical limitations undermine the game's unique premise and impressive visuals to create a game that is far too frustrating to play.
The story behind Herdy Gerdy is a simple one. Gerdy, a young lad living in a simple village, wakes one day to find that his father refuses to get out of bed. He soon learns that a magic spell has been placed over his father to keep him from entering and winning his island's annual herding tournament. Looking for answers, Gerdy heads off for the tournament in search of the vile person responsible for the spell. Gerdy meets plenty of people along his journey who will aid him along his quest, but it's never really clear just who the antagonist is, and it keeps the game from building any sort of tension.
If you couldn't already tell by its name, the gameplay in Herdy Gerdy primarily consists of herding different types of animals. But to do so, Gerdy must gradually win new items to upgrade his herding and adventuring abilities. Sometimes you'll be forced to move on and return to the level when you've acquired new abilities that will grant you access to new areas. There is some light platforming to be done, 100 bells to collect in each level, and several fetch quests to be completed, but herding is the backbone of the game. There are two primary types of creatures in the game, and each requires a special herding technique. The doops look like pink chickens and are the most popular creatures in the game. To herd them you simply run behind them until they form a pack. The game's other primary creatures, bleeps, must be herded using a magical instrument that Gerdy wins from one of the bosses in the game. Once Gerdy begins playing the instrument, the bleeps will form a single-file line behind Gerdy and follow him wherever he goes. Bleeps can fly, but they'll die if they come into contact with water. The game manipulates the levels around the abilities of each creature to create simple puzzles. Sometimes a bleep pen will have walls built around it, forcing you to find a high point to fly down from and into the pen. Bleeps are also commonly placed around water so that the chance for their immediate death is always a possibility.
But what pose the most immediate threat to your creatures are huge pink monsters called gromps. If a gromp catches a glimpse of Gerdy, it will immediately begin chasing him unless he comes across some bleeps or doops, in which case the monster will stop and begin eating them. If the gromp catches Gerdy, it will strike him with an uppercut and send him back to the beginning of the level. Gromps have a tendency to hide around blind corners, which can make for excellent surprises. But Gerdy isn't completely helpless against the gromps. Often the best course of action to take when starting a new level is to lead the gromps into traps that will permanently disable them. This lets you herd the animals without the threat of leading them into a gromp ambush. To complete each level, you must pen the doops and bleeps before they're eaten by the gromps. It's a simple premise and one that could have been executed in a much less elaborate manner. The level design can be confusing, and many times you'll run around the level with a gromp on your tail for several minutes before locating a trap.
One of the primary issues with the gameplay is the creature AI. Doops are stupid, and there's always one stray that seems to want to ignore the rest of the pack and do its own thing. This can cause headaches, particularly in the timed boss levels when you're trying to win an item that will give Gerdy new abilities. Creatures will also get stuck on portions of the level and remain stuck until the game is reset. Another problem is that each group of creatures seems predetermined to be herded to a particular pen. You may have a group of 15 doops right in front of a doop pen, but they will fight going in and instead run in the opposite direction toward another doop pen. Because of these AI problems, it's always good to keep the camera panned way out, but this only brings the game's largest issue to the fore.