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Sheep In Space

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Released: 1984

Genre: Shoot-’em-up

Format reviewed: Commodore 64

Publisher: Llamasoft

Developer: Jeff Minter

Submitted by: Darran Jones

Every morning I thank Jeff for Flossie. A tuft of wool from the ovine heroine of Llamasoft’s homage to Defender is mounted, signed, (by Jeff Minter, not the sheep), framed and hangs just above the bog. Lest we forget.

And many have forgotten Sheep In Space. Minter himself has inexplicably left it off the softography on his website, but then 1984 was a prolific year for him, with Ancipital, Hellgate and Revenge Of The Mutant Camels making it an annus mirabilis.

Sheep In Space is the subtlest of the four. Initially, it appears to be a standard horizontal scrolling shooter, populated by Minter’s usual menagerie of surreal foes. Each level begins with a frantic blast as spacecrafts, camels or third-eye pyramids swarm toward your Sheepoid, but this gives way to a focused pursuit of stray robot drones intent on blowing up the planets that frame the playfield above and below. Now the clever touches are revealed. The ‘Bonios of Doom’ you spit forth as a weapon are affected by gravity, and destroying an escaping enemy with a gracefully curved shot just before it unloads a charge to one of the Planet Busters is a thing of beauty.

The roles are poignantly reversed as you land on a patch of pasture to graze and refuel, watching your stomach go from ‘Famished’ to ‘Replete’, as your adversaries hover ominously in waiting. Your eyes are constantly scanning the screen to check on the state of your shields, the proximity of hostile aliens and how close the twin worlds are to exploding and hurling you into a hellish hyperspace. It’s the yo-yoing tension between calm and chaos, being the hunter and the hunted that makes Sheep In Space such a compelling experience. My childhood friend Pete travels from Australia each Christmas for a two-player game, such is its allure…

Flossie passed away in 2003 and the outpouring of love and sympathy on the YakYak forums was tangible. This is a fitting epitaph to, as Jeff put it, ‘the prettiest sheep in the world’.