When you lose something valuable, how far will you go to get it back? In Peta Game's Shaban, a shepherd travels across vast ravines, haunted forests and snow-capped peaks to rescue his kidnapped flock. Along the way, he is daunted by the three invidious thieves who stole his sheep in the first place. Now, the little herdsman must repair destroyed conveyances, help villagers in rampaged towns, and fend off the villains outright attacks upon him.
Your role in this beguiling puzzle adventure game is to help the winsome pilgrim in his sheep recovery quest by solving a slew of thorny puzzles all while enjoying the hand-drawn watercolor surroundings and comic strip style narratives. Move about by pointing and clicking wherever you want to go—an arrow cursor indicates the entrance to a new scene, but otherwise, almost anywhere you click, the characters will follow. The cursor also changes to indicate interactive areas, anything worth a closer look, and items to pick up. A drop down inventory at the top keeps your possessions organized until you're ready to use or combine them.
The story mainly follows the young sheep herder but, for added cuteness, there are times when you play as his pet goat. In fact, some puzzles are only doable by the goat while others are more human friendly. You'll know this by each character's reaction to the puzzles they encounter. The puzzles and mini-games employ the same charm and artwork as the rest of the adventure and include such tasks as uncrossing wires, reassembling torn pictures, solving codes and completing fragmented object searches. There is little in the way of help, though; the "hint" button is just that: a subtle hint. Except in the case of the arcade-type mini-games, there is also no way to skip these puzzles. Even so, it doesn't take long to get the hang of things, and soon you'll be looking forward to the next challenge.
Analysis: Because both the sheep herder's story and the puzzle instructions are conveyed almost entirely through visuals, there is a meditative feel to Shaban. Most the appeal is in the game's unique style, beautiful design and endearing characters. The story and the gaming elements overlap so that the puzzles convey as much story as any narrative would. Similar to Albert Lamorisse's The Red Balloon, without the intrusion of verbal elements, the experience of playing Shaban becomes more absorbing and poignant.
Even the puzzle instructions (a.k.a. "hints") give little in the way of textual explanation. This might prove frustrating to those who are unaccustomed to this type of gameplay, but at the same time it will be a refreshing delight to those who like figuring things out on their own. Lateral thinking and keen eyesight are also leaned on heavily here. The reflex-based mini-games seem a bit out of place but are good for adding action to the adventure. The exception to the fun, from this reviewer's perspective, was an overly difficult fishing excursion, but it was nothing the "skip" button couldn't solve.
Another good way to describe Shaban is to compare it to Machinarium and The Tiny Bang Story. Still, it has a few more rough edges than those titles along with a distinct hand-made, artisan feel to it. While extremely appealing in both overall design and the unassisted challenge to the puzzles, Shaban tends to vacillate between awkward quirkiness and a quirky charm. Players who are impatient with the slow presentation or who take less stock in aesthetic qualities might not see its appeal. Give it a demo first, see what you think. This is a game that caters to those looking for something uniquely creative, uncommonly gorgeous and simply adora-baaahh!