When you were younger, odds are good you had the “career talk” from either your parents or your teachers. The likelihood is you took part in several classes or seminars in which you very seriously discussed what you wanted to be when you left school with a group of career advisors. Maybe you had something in mind at that time, or maybe you didn’t. Either way, the advisors probably tried to steer you towards a particular career path so as to set you on the road to success.
Say you decided you wanted to be a rodeo rider. That might be a career the advisors would gently try to dissuade you from pursuing. If you said you wanted to be a zookeeper, that would probably be far more palatable for them. If, though, you said you had a dream to combine the two vocations and create a floating zoo in the sky in which you could display the animals you wrangled during your day job as a rodeo rider, there are other facilities in your school you would probably have seen far more than the advisors’ office, like the infirmary.
Luckily, you don’t have to actually pursue this as a career path thanks to Featherweight Games’ Rodeo Stampede: Savannah, which you can play here. Featherweight is an Australian studio founded back in 2014 by a couple of ambitious developers, and the studio describes its mission as “to make ambitious, original, high-quality games”. Rodeo Stampede: Savannah is certainly ambitious and original – we’re struggling to think of many other titles that allow you to run your own zoo in the sky – so all it needs now is to be high quality and that’s Featherweight’s remit very much filled.
If you’re familiar with Featherweight’s previous title Skiiing Yeti Mountain then you’ll know high quality is something the studio does indeed prize. Thankfully, Rodeo Stampede continues this philosophy and once again sees Featherweight on roaring form. This one’s a game of two halves. There’s an auto-runner-style racing-come-arcade game which demands good reflexes and planning from the player, and there’s a sort of very light management sim that’s more about sensible money allocation.
Don’t worry if you’re not super-experienced with management sims, because Rodeo Stampede isn’t particularly interested in testing your business acumen with the zoo portion of its gameplay. Rather, it simply wants to make the arcade sections more enjoyable. Management stuff isn’t particularly taxing or difficult and mainly involves housing animals in attractive enclosures in order to compel visitors to come to your zoo. Each enclosure brings in precious coins, which you can then use to upgrade your ability to go wrangle them animals.
Let’s talk presentation, since that’s something Rodeo Stampede: Savannah does extremely well. The whole experience is wrapped up in a floaty, blocky pixel aesthetic that has a hand-crafted quality to it and looks consistently professional. Animations are excellent: fluid, intricate and with completely invisible seams. The music and sound design, too, are well-observed, with the music following the hooves of the animals as they stampede through the canyon in the action sequences.
In essence, the zoo management stuff is more of a skill tree than an actual management sim. The game is all about attracting new visitors to your zoo, but you’ll do that ambiently over the course of the game simply by adding new and more exotic attractions to it. That said, it works well, and provides a lovely framing device for the real star of the show here, which is the action gameplay. After all, the game is called Rodeo Stampede, not Zoo Manager, so that’s where Featherweight’s focus clearly lies.
This, too, is a delight to experience. It’s difficult to compare Rodeo Stampede to anything in particular, but perhaps the closest spiritual relative it has is indie physics game Clustertruck. In that game, your task is to leap from truck to truck, and in Rodeo Stampede you have a very similar goal, only with trucks replaced by stampeding rodeo animals like bulls and wildebeest. You’ll need to leap from animal to animal in order to secure interesting and exotic acquisitions for your zoo.
How you achieve this is simple. Gameplay resembles a kind of top-down auto-runner with relatively simple controls. The space bar is the star of the show here and drives Rodeo Stampede’s most interesting mechanic: leaping from animal to animal. Pressing space will detach your rider from their animal and fling them in the direction the animal was moving in. Pressing it again while in range of a new animal will land the rider on that animal. After a brief bonding session in which you convince said animal to join your cause (you don’t actually need to do anything here), you now have a new animal.
Simplicity is Rodeo Stampede’s best friend. There’s nothing here that’s overly demanding or complex; you need to dodge some obstacles on the way to capturing each animal, but that’s about it. Each stage ends once you manage to find a new animal to take to your zoo, so gameplay time is quite brief, which makes Rodeo Stampede perfect for lunch breaks or quick procrastination sessions. The stuff you unlock in the zoo also makes it easier to wrangle certain animals, meaning you’ll have a much smoother time jumping between animals as you search for the elusive ostrich or whatever you’re after.
All in all, Rodeo Stampede is great fun. It’s probably not going to set the world on fire, and the management gameplay is really a wraparound for the main event, but that main event is consistently joyful and enjoyable.