Slow Down, Bull Review

  • First Released Apr 20, 2015
  • PC

Bull in a hobby shop.

Poor Esteban has a bit of an image problem. The shy, blue bull wants nothing more than to collect vibrant decorations to use in his art to share with the world. Sadly, due to his perfectionist nature, he is never satisfied with anything he creates. That is the conceit of the Insomniac-developed Slow Down, Bull, a game set up to donate half its profits to Starlight Children's Foundation, a charity aimed at improving the lives of children and their families. Slow Down, Bull is an item-collection game with wisdom to share for the overachievers in all of us. It's a fair game, if not an innovative one, pleasant to the eyes, though unfortunately held back in places due to rigid controls and some frustrating level design.

In Slow Down, Bull, you don't control Esteban so much as you guide his direction. The bull dashes forward across colorful 2-D landscapes. You can alter his course only by pressing two buttons which steer him left or right, accessing these buttons either by the clicks of a mouse, or the triggers on a controller. You bounce off walls to gain speed, avoiding dangerous obstacles and wandering creatures that inhabit the worlds, while collecting decorations ranging from buttons to shells and googly eyes--which follow in a floating clump behind him--for Esteban's beloved art projects, all within a time limit. Ramming trees and hedges along the walls causes them to drop decorations as well as stars, which add a multiplier bonus to the items you collect, while picking up random spawning clocks provides a few extra seconds.

Holding down both buttons allows you to charge, but watch that stress level.
Holding down both buttons allows you to charge, but watch that stress level.

Stress is the central element to watch for in Slow Down, Bull. It quickly builds up every time you steer, as well as when you hold down the buttons to briefly charge forward. Reaching the breaking point causes Esteban to become enraged and lose control, sending him on a path of destruction, trampling decorations into useless grey clumps. Hitting one of the many meandering inhabitants scatters your inventory onto the ground. And the inhabitants become impossible to avoid if they're right in front of you when Esteban snaps under pressure. Running straight, bouncing into walls, or splashing into a pool of refreshing water causes Esteban's stress levels to fall back to normal.

The progression in Slow Down, Bull takes its cues from many popular mobile games. As in Vector or Candy Crush Saga, levels are split into sections, each ending in a locked gate. Opening the gate requires you to collect a set number of hoof prints (replacing the more common stars), which are gathered by reaching point objectives during levels. You can collect up to three colored hoof prints in a level. The required number of decorations needed to gather all three is displayed by a progress bar that fills with every payload of collectables dropped into bins that dot each level. Finishing a stage rewards you with a single hoof print, but moving on from a section can require multiple attempts.

In some levels the action gets too hectic, leading to some frustrating moments.
In some levels the action gets too hectic, leading to some frustrating moments.

Slow Down, Bull is challenging, though mostly in a positive way. As your bull-steering expertise grows, so too does your ability to gather even more treasured goods. You will begin to notice the areas in levels which promise to yield a high number of trinkets, as well as recognize the best times to turn in your collection of items before returning to nab some stars in order to eventually yield an even larger surplus of decorations. In many of the more well-designed levels, gathering two or even three hoof prints occurs smoothly, leaving you feeling both rewarded and satisfied. However, this isn't always the case.

There are a few levels that are far too trying in their attempt to stop your decoration-collecting schemes, made more difficult due to stiff controls. These stages waste little time swarming their rooms and corridors with vase- and window-carriers, blocking all but the narrowest of escape routes. If you can imagine awkwardly steering a bovine rocket through these obstacles, as you try to gather random souvenirs while an angry bull hunter gives chase, knowing that one mistake means a restart, then you have a sense of just how aggravating this game can become. Better controls could have made things flow more naturally, but sadly they only exacerbate the issue. When you're presented with too many obstacles (and you will be), trying to make precise turns to dodge them becomes a useless endeavor. It becomes especially difficult when much of that fight is against Esteban's fickle stress level. During the worst moments, for example, trying to hastily avoid every danger onscreen merely enrages the stressed-out Esteban, who runs directly into the very enemy you're desperately trying to avoid in the first place. Let's just say that Esteban isn't the only one occasionally hitting his head against a wall over events in Slow Down, Bull.

Esteban can move quickly. Watch out for obstacles!
Esteban can move quickly. Watch out for obstacles!

The playful, clever art design, however, is wonderful, and kept me from staying too irritable with the light-hearted Slow Down, Bull for long. The aesthetics shrewdly mimes what you would expect from a child's imaginative art class presentation. Popsicle sticks make up barriers encompassing scenery crafted of pieces of green and yellow construction paper, creating a colorful grassland field, where blue patches of water crumple and bend as Esteban tramples across. In other areas, colored pasta makes up the shells of a sandy beach, and pink flowers attached to sticks bring the beautiful pink hues of a cherry blossom tree to Japanese-themed stages. Esteban himself is made up of blue and purple hatching lines of a crayon or colored pencil. This drawing technique is further highlighted in the game's adorable cut scenes, which star Esteban and other characters such as his sassy feline sister Mango and the relentless bull catcher Annette.

Despite some nagging issues, Slow Down, Bull is charming, with plenty of good messages to share for the whole family. During some cut scenes, the game takes a moment to provide lines of encouragement, from the value of hard work to never giving up on your goals, even if what you create, be it art or otherwise, isn't quite perfect. It's fair to say that the game would sit well with children or parents looking for a game with a cheerful nature and some worthwhile advice--though some of the more difficult stages do tarnish the theme. Still, Slow Down, Bull is a mildly entertaining little adventure, worth a look if only to help support a good cause. And that's something of which I feel Esteban would calmly approve.

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The Good

  • Good-natured and appealing themes
  • Colorful, delightful art style

The Bad

  • Some levels spike in difficulty
  • Stiff, unwieldy controls

About the Author

Cameron Woolsey was never that much of an artist, and not nearly as dedicated to the craft as Esteban the bull. During the course of this review, Cameron smiled more often than he grumbled in frustration, though he may have done so a good few times.