Slow Down, Bull is a simplistic game with a cute art style about steering a bull into decorations. It is also way harder than I expected it to be.
In Slow Down, Bull you control Esteban, a cute blue bull who enjoys making art. The problem is that Esteban is easily stressed out by his perfectionist tendencies and he frequently destroys his imperfect creations. I get the feeling that the developers at Insomniac who worked on this game are trying to tell me something about developing video games…
The gameplay is pretty basic. A right click will rotate Esteban right and left click will rotate him to the left. Clicking both right and left simultaneously will charge a boost move that allows you to pass though some enemies and builds a bit of speed. The stress that Esteban suffers from also flairs up when he turns. Turning Esteban will slowly build his stress and if you build enough he will go on an uncontrollable rampage that not only destroys decorations but can also force you into enemies causing you to drop all of your unbanked decorations. Your quest for shells, buttons, bells and such might initially seem simple but the difficulty ramps up and never comes back down.
In the first several levels your only concern is leisurely collecting decorations and dropping them in baskets placed as checkpoints. Increasingly restrictive time limits and more wandering enemies will force you to speed up your collecting while still maintaining caution and control. Esteban can be sped up by bouncing him into walls or by preforming boosts. Multiple impacts and boosts will allow you to incrementally increase Esteban’s speed but his turning is never diminished.
Almost every stage throws a new cog in the machine. People wander the levels carrying jars and panes of glass and bull catchers relentlessly pursue Esteban. Each of these living obstacles behave slightly different and have different effects. The jar carriers can be moved though using the boost maneuver but the glass pane carriers and bull catchers cannot. The bull catchers don’t cause Esteban to drop his decorations but drain time from the clock instead. New complexities don’t just come from people though. Bashing trees and hedges will knock decorations on to the level and occasionally drop stars the act as point multipliers. Water pits allow you to instantly drop your stress at the cost of all your speed boosts and also act as a trap for bull catchers. Rainbow colored wormholes will teleport you across levels and a possum named Spike will multiply your decorations assuming you can hold him long enough. Then Mango shows up.
Easteban’s sister makes things even more complicated. Mango essentially acts a projectile attack. A vision cone appears when she rides on Esteban’s head and pointing her at someone will launch her and knock them down. She also acts as a key in some places. You need to drop her in a separate basket that often obstructs the route to the decoration basket. Carrying her near enemies is problematic as she she will launch herself at anything that passes into her vision. This often sends her bouncing off in the wrong direction as you are try to leave. This is one of the few parts of the game where the minimalistic controls needlessly complicate things.
Not all stages are set up in the basket to basket fashion. There are several arena stages that place you in open areas with reappearing decorations and people. These levels change up the game slightly and task you with using a limited number of multipliers to maximize your score before returning to a basket in the center of the area. Slow Down, Bull actually requires you to be good at it to keep advancing though the 5 areas. The exit of each area is locked and requires you to have collected a specific number of score stamps to advance. There isn’t much wiggle room though. You much finish most levels with three score badge in order to accumulate enough badges to advance with the story.
There isn’t much story in Slow Down, Bull but what is here could be seen as commentary on both the difficulty of game development and the nature of gamers who must obtain 100% completion. The game requires a degree of mastery to even advance but failing to collect enough badges will force Esteban back to collect more but at the risk of losing his temper.
Slow Down, Bull is a fun and occasionally frustrating game that manages to induce the stress that it so lovingly warns about. There’s a solid challenge here for someone willing to take the bull by the horns.
Steam copy of Slow Down, Bull provided by Insomniac Games