Platforms: PC and Mac (reviewed)
Slow Down, Bull is an item collect-athon for the PC and Mac with a rather interesting premise. You play as a bull with a bit of an artistic and perfectionist streak that’s also prone to mood swings at the drop of a hat. In his quest to make the ultimate piece of art, you take Esteban, the titular bull, from area to area to collect different decorations to add to his masterpiece. Esteban is guided by his feline sister, Mango (you read that right) who not only acts as the tutorial for the game, but will also help you in-game fairly quickly into the game.
The goal of the game is to plow (get it?) through each level and collect as many decorations as you can in the given time limit. Ramming into walls will give you a speed boost while trees and shrubbery will loosen not only extra decorations , but also multipliers for decoration-collecting. There are also characters putzing about the levels that you need to either avoid or dash through. Bumping into them will either cause you to lose all your decorations or time, but also make Esteban’s speed boost drop to zilch, making it tough to pick up what you’ve dropped.
The controls for Slow Down, Bull are fairly simple. To steer Esteban, you can use the mouse’s left and right click buttons, the triggers on a controller, or the left and right arrow keys on a Mac. And steer him is the best way to describe it. Esteban will move forward indefinitely. You can turn him the direction you want him to go and he’ll continue that way until he bumps into a border, in which case, he turns around in the opposite direction. The camera will also pan out a bit more with each speed boost to allow you to see what’s around you a bit better as you move more quickly. Click in both triggers, arrow, or clickers (is that what you PC people call them when referring to both of them?) and Esteban will dash, allowing him to escape a character intent on “catching” you with a butterfly net or dash through certain other characters.
While the controls are quite simple, there’s a bit of frustration that comes with them. Since Esteban will continue to move forward, he can only deal with you steering (get it?) him so much. Every time you change the direction he’s running, he stresses out. Leaving him be, bouncing into a wall, or running through a pool of water will bring the meter back down. Not managing the stress meter and having it max out and will have him go out of control. Finding a balance can be more than a bit tricky in some stages, especially as the game starts piling on more and more characters to hinder your progress.
While the game starts off a bit easy, the difficulty will spike pretty hard fairly quickly. It’s not impossibly difficult, but the sudden increase in difficulty might turn some players away. If you keep plugging away at it though, you’ll likely figure out the trick to each level. Some levels are considerably less forgiving than others, almost seeming a bit malicious at times with the amount of obstacles it throws at you. Those stages are definitely an exercise in patience and can be the breaking point on your progress.
Slow Down, Bull is rather colorful and pleasing to look at. The art direction reminds me of a younger child’s arts and crafts project, with popsicle sticks for the level borders, patches of terrain that look like patches of construction paper that have been cut up and crumpled, and characters that look like Colorforms. It’s a nice nod to the lighthearted tone of the game and the charity, Starlight Children’s Foundation, it supports.
I’m not really sure who Insomniac is aiming for with Slow Down, Bull. It’s got a cute aesthetic that should appeal to a younger or more casual audience, but the difficulty spikes and cumbersome controls might prove a bit too much for some. The sometimes frustrating level design and the controls (again) might drive more than a few of the core gamer audience away. While the game is friendly for all ages with a sweet little message, there are times you might feel like Esteban himself and just want to run away from it. If you’re able to either keep your head or be willing to walk away from time to time, Slow Down, Bull can be a bit of fun for the few hours that it lasts that also supports a pretty great charity. If that doesn’t sound like you, maybe just consider making a donation to your favorite charity and I’m sure Insomniac won’t hate you for it.