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Slow Down, Bull (PC) artwork

Slow Down, Bull (PC) review

"Help a bull gather everything he needs to create his masterpiece. It's for a good cause!"

Slow Down, Bull is the latest release from Insomiac Games, a studio that brought us the likes of Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, and last year's Sunset Overdrive. This newest effort, the company's first foray into PC gaming, is built on a smaller scale than those other titles, but still packs a lot of personality. It's a shame, then, that it's frequently such a chore to play.

Developed by a small team led by Lisa Brown, Slow Down, Bull feels like something you'd expect from an indie outfit. The idea is simple: you control (sort of) a steadily advancing bull named Esteban who is trying to gather crafts so that he can produce beautiful artwork. The problem is that he's easily excitable, and he doesn't take well to direction. Each prompt you give him, by pressing an arrow key or pulling on the left or right trigger if you're using a controller, starts to fill his meter. If it reaches the breaking point, he'll stampede and you won't be able to control him again until he finally calms down a bit.

Stampedes are a proper nuisance, since the areas Esteban must explore tend to be quite crowded. Construction workers roam about them, and unexpectedly colliding with pedestrians causes Esteban to drop everything he has gathered up to that point. He can retrieve some of it if he hurries, but it's still a considerable setback. Elsewhere, people carry panes of glass. Running into them, even intentionally, isn't half as fun as it sounds like it would be, since it yields the same unfortunate result.

Despite his initially calm demeanor, Esteban is difficult to keep in line. He requires frequent corrections if you want him to dash over the crafts that are scattered around the environments, and that means you constantly have to watch for ways to calm him. Rebounding from barriers is one way to accomplish that, but such bumps also speed him up a bit. Dashing through puddles of water slows him and soothes his frayed nerves, but you can't afford to casually wander around for long because there's a fairly strict timer counting down, as well.

Early stages are fairly simple to clear, but things get hectic as early as the second themed world. You'll eventually have to deal with portals that warp the bull around a play area, along with a matador who chases him and shaves precious seconds from the timer if she overtakes him. Construction workers spawn more frequently, and they also tend to block off objects that Esteban is expected to ram in order to knock loose more crafts and score multipliers. That's all presumably meant to add to the challenge, but it feels cheap.

Slow Down, Bull (PC) image

Even finding one of Esteban's friends isn't necessarily helpful. One, a possum, blocks his vision so that the bull fights against your input for a set period. Another, an anti-social cat, will jump from the bull's back to eliminate human threats… but also turns nasty if she rides for too long. You can convince her to dismount by having Esteban dash through a puddle, but then you just have to pick her up again because she's your ticket through some barriers that appear throughout any stage she occupies.

Advancing through the game also takes time because the various worlds are separated by locked barriers. You can easily reach the end of one world and find that you haven't earned enough medals in previous stages, which requires a return to earlier levels so you can improve your performance. A lot of games employ a similar mechanic, but here it's more irritating than usual because the percentage of available medals you are expected to acquire is so high. It works out so that you have to earn three medals in virtually every stage if you want to advance.

Not unreasonably, medals are awarded based on the number of crafts you deposit in the receptacles placed throughout each stage. A meter at the top of the screen makes it easy to tell when you have passed a threshold for one, two, or three medals, and there's definitely some strategy required. If you grab a bunch of crafts and then pick up a multiplier, that's a wasted opportunity. You should try to do it the other way around. And if you drop off your loot too early, which resets any bonuses you may have accrued, you could clear the stage without enough points amassed to even matter. Meanwhile, if you gather too many crafts at once, hazards seem to become more numerous and you're more likely to lose nearly everything to a sudden collision.

Slow Down, Bull (PC) image

If Slow Down, Bull were an ugly game, its generally repetitive design probably wouldn't inspire players to keep going. However, the visual design is extremely attractive, typically employing pastels and more vibrant hues in equal measure. The result is quite appealing, and the world is populated by the sort of characters who would likely have little trouble keeping youngsters engaged if they were to appear in a half-hour cartoon. Their comments about having confidence are at odds with the punishing stage design, though, and could have an effect that is the opposite of the one intended.

Slow Down, Bull debuted with a relatively affordable $5.99 price tag, and Insomniac Games promises that 50% of the net proceeds will be donated to the Starlight Children's Foundation. That fact, along with the unique design and vibrant visuals, are enough to ensure that the game is worth your consideration. Just don't be shocked if your own rage meter reaches the boiling point a time or two along the way. If it does, be sure you don't stampede. As Esteban has capably proven, that almost never ends well...


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Staff review by Jason Venter (April 26, 2015)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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