Pitched as "Succeed as the ultimate sports-sheep! Run in the top leagues, earn prize money and buy your way into sheep boot camp", what we have here is a one-button casual game that impresses for its presentation, challenge and sense of fun. While commendable, all this isn't enough to raise Barnyard Dash into the top flight of Symbian gaming.
No, it's not your eyes going funny, some of the graphics here are clearly resampled from a similar game on another mobile platform. Not a huge problem, but it will annoy those who like their pixels super-sharp. Sheep Mania - Barnyard Dash (hereafter referred to as just the last two words) is well implemented on Symbian generally, with proper pausing when put into the background and the way your career is automatically saved as you go along. So play the game for the first time for a month and there's your existing 'career' ready to run. Or at least your chosen sheep is!
There's a somewhat annoying country bumpkin character popping up intros and tips - I could live with him if these prompts were one-time occurrences, but even when going to play one of the sheep 'leagues' for the umpteenth time, I still have to put up with the 'newcomer' prompts - very annoying.
The races in Barnyard Dash are split into Sprints, Hurdles and 'Chicken' (of which more below) - as a one-button game, one tap on your sheep starts him accelerating and another starts him braking (to a standstill).
The idea is to time your first tap as close to the starting beep as possible (without preceding it - you get penalised for a 'false start'!) and then time the second so that your sheep slides to a halt just past the finish line. Leave braking too late and there's a nasty collision with the straw bales at the end of each lane. Too much collision 'damage' and you're out of the league for good - time for a visit to the sheep hospital, presumably?
You'll never guess what gets introduced in a 'Hurdles' race.... that's right, rocket launchers. Only kidding. It's hurdles - or at least bales of straw (again). One tap on the sheep at the right time and he jumps the bale proficiently. Then it's on to the end of the lane and a tap-to-brake, as usual.
The final type of race is 'Chicken', in which you have to time your braking so as to end up as close to the bale as possible without hitting it (i.e 'playing chicken'). In practice, this is the hardest of the three race types.
In all there are ten leagues to progress through, with ever faster sheep competition, various different surfaces to accelerate and brake on, different weather conditions (e.g. rain - shown in the above screenshot - and slippery grass) and increasing numbers of races in each league. Every win or placing in a league wins you coins, which you'll need to pay your sheep entry fee into the next league up the ladder. Crash heavily into a bale or perform badly and you'll be down your entry fee, meaning that you may have to step down a league and build up your coins again.
Another use for your coins is 'upgrading' your sheep in the farm shop, increasing its top speed, acceleration or braking - in this virtual world, there seems to be instant genetic engineering!
You'll need the upgrades though, if you're to win in the higher Barnyard Dash leagues. A (rather chunkily low res) ticker tape animated cut scene awaits you if your sheep does triumph, mind you.
The idea of each league as a collection of races means that you can mess up your timing in one, come last, and still pick up good points (and thus coins) by winning all the other races. A summary of the current standings in your league is shown after each race.
At each stage, you have to put up with the ever-more-inane mutterings of the aforementioned bumpkin. These get wearisome and it would be helpful to have a setting to turn these off - something for a future version?
Sheep Mania - Barnyard Dash is a casual game, it's true, yet there's more gameplay here than meets the eye. Casual games often have a difficulty factor that's infuriatingly addictive and this is true here. Just as you get up to league 6, you'll mistime a chicken race, end up as a flattened ball of wool on a bale and you'll be back to league 8 or 9, building up coins again. Rinse and repeat. Trust me, the timing and judgement needed to win races on later/higher leagues is distinctly tricky.
As a lover of casual games, this was perhaps right up my street, too, but the pixellated and sometimes fuzzy graphics, plus the annoying bumpkin character, mean that Barnyard Dash ends up with a mediocre score.
Worth grabbing for uncovering on a boring train or plane journey, perhaps?
Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 21 Feb 2012