IGN Review of Ener-G Horse Riders
Ener-G Horse Riders has a few things going for it, but none of those things go very far. First of all, Ubisoft's Ener-G games can be fun (see the review for Energ-G Gym Rockets). Also, the game uses the Actimagine video codec for its cut scenes. This codec has garnered acclaim for its top notch video qualities on the DS' Final Fantasy III and IV remakes. But despite the optimistic formula making up Horse Riders, it never reaches its full potential.
In Horse Riders, you play as Sue, a young girl who has just moved to the country with her Aunt and Uncle. Next you pick out a horse, name it, and begin caring for it. The horse's stall comes with a handful of caretaking mini-games -- all of which last less than ten seconds. To clean the stable, double tap on the horse's poo and double tap on the bucket. To brush your horse, rub it with the stylus. To feed it, tap the food and tap the trough. These events would be a miniscule amount more enjoyable if you could quit at your leisure, but the game gives you about ten seconds in each one and then you have to do something else.
Another stable option is training. These training sessions teach you how to show your horse for pageants. There are eight total training sessions which, like the care mini-games, last about ten seconds. Draw a line up to make your horse walk; tap its nose to make it stop. Not a lot to it. The bizarre thing about this training is that at no point in the game do you have to enter a horse show. These mini-games were tacked on and serve no purpose at all in the game's actual events which are all about racing.
To train for a race, you can either ride on a practice track or go into an open field. Opting for the field takes you to a meadow where you can ride until your horse gets weary. In the field you can find coins for spending in the game's store as well as rare cards for your card collection. While coins come in handy to an extent, the cards are meant for little more than igniting a form of Pokemon fever. The cards do nothing for the game, but you are encouraged to collect them all nonetheless.
The games controls during riding work for the most part. An upward stroke of the stylus will tell your horse to run faster, a downward stroke tells it to slow down. Touching and holding the stylus to the left or right of the horse will make it turn in your desired direction. While real horses are fairly maneuverable, Horse Riders' horses turn like early model steam rollers. Poor turning causes you to run into trees and other objects, which will either slow you down or make you stop entirely.
Another action you can perform while riding is jumping. Simply double tap the screen to make your horse jump. Sadly, the jump mechanic serves a purpose in the races only. There are no jumpable objects in the free ride areas at all. Trying to jump a fence or other object will simply cause your horse to start. Another odd jumping factoid is that whenever you jump, the frame rate drops dramatically. This isn't swanky bullet time either -- when you jump with your horse, the game struggles to process it visually.
Horse Riders' design flaws are apparent in the race mode as well. Progression in the game truly comes down to the races… all five of them. These five consist of a simple premise: steer your horse through the track's turns and jump the obstacles. Turning turns out to be a mute point however. All you have to do is get your horse to max speed and worry about jumping. The fence boundaries of the race track should slow you down like the objects in free ride, but instead they steer your horse. Literally, all you have to do is double tap the stylus at the right moment to get your horse to jump the obstacles and you will win every race (all five of them).
It's also noteworthy that the term 'race' in Horse Riders should be replaced with 'time trial'. You never see any other riders on their horses during the races (or the rest of the game). You simply run the course as fast as possible and see how your time compares to other racers at the end.
Gameplay issues aside, the story doesn't offer enough to players, either. A "foreigner" (as the game refers to him) named Donald wants to catch the area's wild horses and sell them. It's then up to Sue and her trusty horses to beat Donald in the races and keep the wild horses safe. In order to access subsequent races you will have to talk to certain members of the town and find certain items in the environment. Yellow arrows on the map mark places you can access and white arrows mark places that will progress the story. Just tap on those white arrows and you'll be done in no time.
Exposition is told through pseudo anime 2-D stills and text boxes. Non-playable characters will often refuse to help you unless you win 'x' race, and will immediately become your best friend after you win. It's a very dry, very short experience. Other than a single puzzle where you have to put pieces of a broken stone together, the story is just stills and text. Also, the dialog is designed to get you from A to B with no deviation, imagination, or character development whatsoever.
The game also includes an arbitrary level-up system for your horse's strength, care, trust, and happiness. However, from all accounts your horse can be as depressed and lazy as the emo kids in the stairwell and still take first place by following the prior mentioned race strategy.
The graphics of Horse Riders is truly a mixed affair. The use of Actimagine's video codec allows for some moderately impressive cut scenes. The actual game uses simple 3-D horse and rider models on some uninspired environment. Galloping through a stream causes no splashing or ripples whatsoever, just like running over blue concrete.
Don't look for inspiration from Horse Rider's music, either. There's fairy dust exposition music and Ben Hur epic race music. While the Ben Hur style race music is cool, you'll only hear it a handful of times before beating the game.
The developers threw in a few features to try and extend the life of the game. The five races are repeatable, allowing you to accumulate cash and cards. You can use your money to buy saddles and other horse accessories, as well as new horses. Connecting your DS with a friend's allows you to trade horses and cards. While some people may swoon at the thought of having your own horse herd, it's a lackluster experience. You only need one horse to beat the game easily, and purchasing others is simply an option.
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