IGN Review of Let's Ride: Silver Buckle Stables
For the pony-loving children out there and the parents that love them, Let's Ride: Silver Buckle Stables is a good way to scratch that horse riding itch. With a strong emphasis on riding a horse through some tricky courses as well as a little bit of horse maintenance, this title pulls off the double feat of introducing kids to a new world as well as helping them to appreciate some of the skills that are needed there. There may not be a lot to dig through here, but this is a budget title that focuses in on one main area and almost pulls it off.
The main goal in Let's Ride: SBS is to become the best rider at the various horse riding competitions in the game. There are four skill levels in the competitions and each individual competition is made up of several events. Ribbons are won for the individual events, but the key to winning is to have the lowest combined time of all the events. With other riders making mistakes in their own events it's possible to not come in first in any of the individual events and still walk away with top honors. Perseverance is the key.
The individual events in these competitions are all based upon precise control of the horses between poles, around barrels, and jumping over barriers. The jumping part is automatic and the timer for each event starts when the horse crosses the starting line so that players can focus on nailing the sharp turns that dominate the events. The simplest event here is just racing around a pole and back to the starting line. This gets more complex later on with events that feature multiple u-turns and weaving, slalom-style, through a line of poles. Except for a couple of situations these events are purely determined by skill which is as it should be. If you come in last it can be obvious it's because you cut one pole short and had to double back to make sure it counted.
The control of the horse feels comfortable with the analog sticks each controlling one of the reins and the shoulder buttons controlling the speed. There are some minor issues with the rein control that often results in users accidentally slowing the horse down while just trying to turn it. But the bigger problem is with two events that use the R3 or L3 buttons. One of these, Speedball, is an event where the rider needs to drop a coin into a cone while turning around it. But tapping a button on a stick (or even the other stick) while turning can throw the control off and lead to a disqualification. That can lead to a lot more time on the record and an uphill fight to winning the competition. These issues are disappointing, but the rest of the events make up for it.
While the riding in the events largely on the mark, the rest of the game can be educational even if they're not very entertaining. Between competitions, the horses need to be taken care of in the stable. This involves washing the horses, filling up buckets with water, tossing some feed into the trough, petting the horses, and even feeding them some treats. This all helps to keep the horses healthy and, more importantly, fast. Once they've been tended to they can be brought back into the competitions.
In the competitions themselves, the horses need some care as well. This means watching their status and giving them a pat or a treat to give them a boost. This is great for providing an extra bit of strategy to the competitions, but it goes too far. If you want to retry a competition after losing, the horse's status is not reset. The horse is as tired as he was at the end and unlikely to win the second time around. The only thing to do is go back to the stable and go through the motions of washing and feeding before starting over. It's even more annoying if you screw up one event and want to start over. This means quitting to the main menu, going back to the stable and then entering the competition again. It may be realistic, but it really serves to provide a little more filler in the game and waste time that would've been spent racing.
The competitions are fun and there's variety in the events, but not nearly enough between the competitions. All of the competitions in each class have the same set of events in the same order. Doing well in one of them guarantees that the rest will go along just as well. Once kids have mastered the skills they need to control the horse the awards should pile up pretty quick. A skilled gamer should be able to finish the whole game in just a few hours.
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