IGN Review of Gallop & Ride
The Chinese Zodiac may argue that 2008 is the year of the rat, but videogame publishers the world over beg to differ. No, according to them, 2008 is most definitely the year of the horse. Floods of new, equestrian-themed titles have been released into the retail channels since January, from Ubisoft's Ener-G Horse Rider to Atari's My Horse and Me. Not to be outdone, THQ has thrown its own stallion-based contender into the proverbial ring. Gallop and Ride manages to distinguish itself from the crowd with a relatively deep ranch management simulation, closing out the 2008 Wii horse game invasion on barely better than average note.
Gallop and Ride tasks players with renovating the Old Mill Ranch, a once thriving horse farm that has slowly succumbed to the ravages of time. You'll start by molding your character from a small selection of male or female features as well as specifying the ideal horse with which to begin the ranch's revitalization. Crawling up the ranks of notoriety from a zero to four-star rating, players must manage the entire ranch from the training of foals to the booking and caring for of guests. Gallop and Ride's unique gameplay angle – allowing aspiring equestrians to also manage a working ranch – provides more depth than the standard horse racing game, but gamers looking for a casual title allowing them to just ride around on their favorite horse breed should probably look elsewhere.
The Old Mill Ranch serves as the centralized gameplay hub throughout Gallop and Ride. From here, players will train and groom horses, provide physical therapy, book guests, upgrade facilities and order new equipment and supplies. As the game begins, the only accessible horse-related facilities are the stables, allowing one horse to be stalled. Everything else must be purchased after the appropriate star rating has been achieved. As facilities are built and improved, more gameplay options open up and expand the game's scope by a large margin.
If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed by the game's open-ended nature, that's likely because Gallop and Ride is, in fact, quite overwhelming at the start. The game does its best to guide players through the whole process, but there are so many options and so little financial leeway at the game's outset that it's hard to ever feel truly comfortable with your decisions. Should you buy pellets right away or upgrade the therapy center? Should you spent the day training your horse and practicing for the next race or cleaning the stables? It's easy to get lost in the host of options Gallop and Ride presents, but after dealing with the trial by fire nature of the opening hour, the vast array of options thankfully become much more manageable.
It certainly doesn't help that Gallop and Ride gets off to an extremely slow start. Not only does the game just toss you into the fray and expect a preexisting knowledge of where to go next, it offers very little in the way of credits early on in your managerial career. This opening section is so slow that many gamers will likely get turned off before they even achieve their first star rating, as the game initially consists of nothing more than feeding your horse, riding around in the fields and then going to sleep before repeating the whole process the next day. As the game goes on and guests start arriving, players can train foals and give physical therapy to guest horses for extra credits. These extra sources of credit are absolutely vital, and it would have been better had the game provided more of them early on in the career.
Outside of the ranch management mechanics, Gallop and Ride offers players the ability to actually ride their horses around several large, open environments for two distinct purposes. The first is to build a horse's strength by simply running around and exploring, while the second is to build the horse's skill by jumping the various logs and fences strewn about the environment. Once your steed has reached a certain skill level, it becomes eligible to race in timed events on certain days of the week. Completing these races unlocks further events as well as nets you some serious cash, which is essential in the continued renovation of Old Mill Ranch. While the general mechanics of these race segments are decent enough, their ultimate quality is inherently tied to Gallop and Ride's riding controls, which are decidedly less than ideal.
The game offers two distinct control styles, one based on the motion sensing capabilities of Wii Remote and Nunchuck while the other involves more traditional, joystick-based movement. Gallop and Ride defaults to the motion sensing controls option, an input scheme that is frankly broken in both design and implementation. Basically, players hold both the Wii Remote and Nunchuck in front of them like they might hold the reins of an actual horse. Lift them both up to "whip" the reins and send the horse in motion, pull up on the Wii Remote in the right hand to turn right and the Nunchuck in the left hand to turn left. In theory, this sounds like a great idea. In practice, however, the Wii's imperfect motion detection makes this method of control nearly impossible to use precisely. One second the horse won't recognize that you're pulling to the right and the next it'll veer so sharply that you're suddenly way off course, crushing any hope you may have had in finishing the time trial in the lead.
The other control method, relegating movement to the Nunchuck's joystick, is much easier to handle. The game's races seem to have been balanced for the more difficult default input method, however, basically rendering the races a cakewalk for those smart enough to choose the more intuitive of the two included control schemes. For this reason, neither control method works particularly well, making the racing segments either too frustrating or too boring to offer anything more than a break from Gallop and Ride's ranch management simulation. Those more excited by the managerial aspects of the gameplay need not fear, but gamers who are looking for a strong racing mechanic in their horse title will be sorely disappointed.
When players aren't racing horses or managing Old Mill, Gallop and Ride offers a selection of hands-on horse interactions. Players can expect to participate in countless rounds of grooming, hoof cleaning, foal training and horse therapy before the ranch earns its fourth star. None of these mini-games are particularly fun in the traditional sense of the word, but the fact that your work translates into tangible statistic boosts (in areas such as health, hygiene and stress) mostly makes up for that fact. These tasks provide a nice break from the usual routine of managing and riding, adding yet another layer of gameplay depth to an already relatively full-featured title.
While a lot of work has obviously gone into building the deep management mechanics, the same can't be said of Gallop and Ride's visuals. The art design is, simply put, extremely bland and unappealing. Player avatar models look extremely generic and animate awkwardly, and the unmoving, isometric camera angle does nothing to jazz up the experience. To be fair, the horses look relatively decent and come in a variety of breeds and colors, but they just aren't enough to save the game's extremely underwhelming visuals.
One feature Gallop and Ride lacks is any sort of multiplayer component. Letting two friends race each other in the game's time trials seems like it would have been a simple addition, but the game remains a strictly single-player affair. That said, management simulators have an inherent amount of replay value built right into the underlying mechanics even without multiplayer support, though Gallop and Ride in particular offers a relatively linear experience compared to most other titles in the genre. There's definitely enough content to keep players busy for a few hours, with the real potential to double or triple that based on how thorough you're willing to be when it comes to managing Old Mill Ranch on your own.
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