Slow Down, Bull: Insomniac colors outside the lines

April 27, 2015


Young children like to make art projects. You can give a kid a box of crayons and a coloring book and they’re good for an entire afternoon. Sometimes, though, you’ve made that child miserable, because they’re not articulate enough to color inside the lines yet and your box of 16 crayons doesn’t have the exact right shade of purple to color that particular character from My Little Pony.

Esteban the Bull is that child. He loves making art projects, but he needs everything to be just right. This need for perfection makes him stressed and prone to act out. You can help Esteban out, though. He’ll listen to you and turn when you tell him. You’re not saving the world; collecting buttons and googly eyes is all Esteban wants, so when you help him, you’re saving his world, and that’s enough.

You don’t control Esteban so much as you influence where he’s headed. There are buttons, googly eyes and flowers scattered all around the level, and Esteban wants to collect them. At any time, the left and right mouse buttons or left and right triggers on a controller can be pressed to turn Esteban on the spot. Turning raises Esteban’s stress level, and running through water or into walls takes his stress away. Stress also decreases naturally over time. If you turn too much and Esteban’s stress gets too high, his direction can’t be influenced anymore and he tramples the same decorations he’s trying to collect. He takes off at a breakneck pace and can’t be calmed until getting wet or hitting a wall.


In the opening levels, this isn’t a terrible problem, as you’ll hit a wall, calm down and carry on collecting buttons. Things ramp up quickly, though. First, vase carriers are introduced. If Esteban strikes a vase carrier, he drops all of his unbanked art supplies on the ground where they very quickly flicker and disappear. You can recover a few, but it’s best to avoid the vase carriers altogether. And as soon as you’ve got a handle on avoiding vase carriers, Annette makes her debut.

Annette is a bullcatcher. If she gets too close, she catches Esteban in her net and takes some time off of the level timer. Leading Annette into a pool of water will grant Esteban a brief respite, but her presence on a level instantly ups the tension and getting caught often means not having enough time to complete the level with enough stamps to open the next area. There are three stamps available in each level for collecting preset amounts of supplies, and you’ll need to meet thresholds to open new level sets.


All of these things come together in a deceptively simple passage. It’s super-easy to influence Esteban’s route, but it gets fiendishly difficult to avoid all of the obstacles, collect enough art supplies for stamps and balance a high rate of speed with feeling in control of Esteban’s trajectory. And while you’re stressing out just like Esteban, everything around you is adorable.

Levels are made of construction paper, bordered in popsicle sticks and colored in with crayons and colored pencils. Esteban himself looks to be drawn in marker and colored with colored pencils in his character portrait and watercolor paints in gameplay. Everything is beautiful, and it looks like it could be part of a grade-school art project in a perfectly calming way.

Replaying levels for higher scores and more stamps is fun. Discovering new gameplay elements feels fresh, like window carriers that can’t be boosted through and an armadillo that clings to Esteban’s face, doubling scores but turning randomly. I want to collect art supplies to make Esteban happy in the same way that I want to bring home a new box of crayons and coloring books to make my own children happy.


Slow Down, Bull is cute and refreshing, and while it can get frustrating, that feeling is quickly eclipsed by a desire to help Esteban out.

Pros: Adorable art style, simple controls
Cons: Annette is too stressful, getting caught in a small passage and trying to turn is quite difficult

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.