Slow Down, Bull is a cute, semi-casual puzzle game where you control Esteban, a very nervous bull. He wants to collect materials for an art project, and easily grows stressed out. But there's probably good reason for him to get stressed, because there are plenty of obstacles in the way of him collecting buttons, sea shells, and all the other materials he needs to make the perfect work of art. Stress is measured by how much red is in him, and if he gets too stressed out, he'll go into a rampage and trample through everything in his path. Bumping into walls reduces stress and has the added benefit of increasing his speed. Then it's just a matter of making sure Esteban doesn't run into anyone while collecting parts for his masterpiece, and depositing all the pieces before the time limit runs out. But even with the cute story and art style, which appears to be geared towards kids, I couldn't help feeling my own stress levels rise as I played.
The Running of the Bull
This is the first PC release for Insomniac Games, famous for creating the Ratchet & Clank series, and most recently Sunset Overdrive, and half the proceeds from its sales go to the Starlight Children's Foundation. Players control Esteban by tilting and turning him around to avoid obstacles. Running through water slows the bull down, while colliding with bystanders will cause him to drop his whole collection. However, turning him mid-stride adds to his stress levels, as does hitting the rush buttons to speed past some of the pedestrians. The puzzles become really tricky when Annette the Bullcatcher enters in, who will steal time from you.
You can use a gamepad's triggers or the left and right mouse buttons to steer Esteban, but maneuvering the bull is tricky no matter which control method you use. When using a gamepad, I often found myself instinctively trying to use the thumbsticks to control the bull instead of pressing the trigger buttons. Not only is Annette chasing you around, but some of the puzzles increase in difficulty as time progresses. Meaning that more wandering citizens will materialize and get in your way.
Levels look like they were made out of basic arts and crafts, like how the walls are popsicle sticks laid down flat. I love watching the bull bounce off walls, which shake with each hit, and hurdle around in a level like a Taurus driven pinball game. Objects like trees hide items inside, so you want to ram them until they're empty. Unfortunately, you can't tell whether or not an object is done until you ram it one last time and nothing comes flying out. I'm not a huge fan of time limit games, but Slow Down, Bull's characters like Esteban's brother (who happens to be a cat), and its outright style have enough charm to keep me wanting to play. Another touch I loved is the little counter on the bottom corner counting the number of days since Esteban's last rampage.
Rising Stress Levels
However, the game's difficulty quickly escalates. Annette is my biggest problem, since there's no way ditch her except by leading her into water for a temporary stun. The problem is, she doesn't back off far enough if she catches you, and there's no temporary invincibility. She might pause for a second, but she can steal more time away from you almost immediately. This makes it easy for her to pin Esteban against a corner.
Similarly, even some of your allies can become problematic. Your possum buddy will give you a nice collection bonus, but he has to cling to your face first. He'll steer you off track for a bit, even if it's into water, people, or other hazards. Instead of running around and collecting, players are locked into constantly trying to course correct the possum's influence without getting the Esteban stressed out.
The game's increasing difficulty runs contrary to its presentation. Its art style, music and story suggests that Slow Down, Bull is geared towards kids, but its challenge might be a bit much. Players have to collect a set a fixed number of materials to unlock next area, which means replaying levels for a better score. But there are some areas that I got completely stuck on, usually because I had to contend with Annette or the Possum while running against the clock.
Mess With the Bull
Like I stated previously, I'm not a big fan of time limit games, but Slow Down, Bull has just enough cuteness to keep me interested. However, the interest wears thin after replaying a level for the tenth time and not getting much further. Maybe a kid could get past these levels with more ease and skill than I could, which makes me wish that the game had some sort of cooperative element to it, so that parents could play alongside their kids instead of watching them outperform them.
Still, Slow Down, Bull is a cute game, and it's hard to fault a game that's developed for charity. But for a game that has a cute and casual style, it sure does have a tendency to stress players out. I guess it's a great way to empathize with the bull.
This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. Slow Down, Bull is available digitally for $5.99. Slow Down, Bull was made to benefit a charity, so Shacknews has decided to forgo a scored review.