This is part of an ongoing series, to view the first post click here.
One of the first things you’ll do in Imagine: Champion Rider is breed a horse. It involves selecting a Mare and a Stallion and letting them go at it. Once mother nature has done her thing you get to tweak the results. Don’t like the colour of it’s mane? Well you can adjust that. Find the colouring of the hair just above the hooves isn’t to your liking? Go to town playing with your options.
But the horse is always going to be created from the traits of it’s parents. For example I wanted to breed a gargantuan horse as black as sin but because I only had access to one black horse I had to settle for a dark cocoa coloured mount. Was I disappointed? A little but it does give you incentive to tame the wild horses you find later, believe me if I run across a majestic black stallion his arse is mine. All in all it’s not a bad system and is something say the Sims, which just mashes up the parents features and doesn’t allow any player control, could learn from.
But before your new foal becomes a full grown adult you’ll need to groom her and it’s a pain in the arse.
I want to meet the sick bastard who put chores into a videogame and make no mistake these are chores. To groom your horse you go up to them and press enter. You’ll then select which grooming mini-game you want to play, for foals there are two. Brushing involves waggling your mouse around till a meter fills up and your horse is deemed clean. Washing is more tiresome because it involves waggling your mouse around till your horse is deemed “soapy enough” and then hosing it down, where it will look exactly the same as it did before. The soaping up section doesn’t even have a meter to tell you how close to finished you are. You’re supposed to know how much of the horse you need to soap just from looking at it, heaven help you if you’re grooming a white horse.
*Sigh* I know why this game has mini-games. Clearly when Ubisoft committed themselves to publishing a line of games for pre-teen girls they sat a room full of them down and focus tested them. When asked what games they’d like to play the response was probably “I dunno, something with horses would be kinda rad”. Then the Ubisoft suits looked at each other and got rather nervous, because they knew how to make games about killing stuff but horses were beyond their skill set. Voice quivering in fear one of them asked “What would you do in a game about horses?”. The immediate reaction would have been “Duh… ride them” and it’s at this point that the Ubisoft suits should have put down their pens, thanked the girls for their input and hired a talented studio to develop a game about riding horses.
But they didn’t, instead they let the conversation continue and one girl who has never seen a horse, let alone cared for one probably said “Brushing them would be cool”, what followed was a heated debate amongst the girls over whether brushing or washing a horse would be more fun and the poor Ubisoft suits were left with the impression that the game better contain both. But what never once occurred to them was that pre-teen girls for all their media savy ways know nothing about game design. Sure take their input on board but always remember they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Let me put it like this, you wouldn’t let a ten year old boy design the next Halo game so why should you let a ten year old girl design this?
All that aside the mini-games could have worked better. I remember an old car game called Street Rod that required you to play a kind of mechanic mini-game between races and that worked. Am I just too manly to not dig on the more girly horse mini-games? I doubt it, I like Gilmore Girls for heaven’s sake. The mini-games in Street Rod worked because they were very clear and very short. Getting your car prepared for a race took all of one minute. In Imagine: Champion Rider soaping your horse alone can take over two minutes, when you know what you’re doing. The first few times you do it you won’t know what you’re doing so it’ll take longer.
What’s worse if how often you have to groom your horse. To turn a foal into an adult you’ll need to groom it both ways three times. Then before each race you’ll want to groom your horse because for some unknown reason how clean your horse is affects how fast it goes, I mean I know flies clean themselves to improve their aerodynamic performance but come on. Oh if that wasn’t enough there are bits in the story where you’re forced to groom someone else’s horse. Those are the most objectionable, why do I have to groom Clara’s horse? Let her do her own chores, I’ve already done mine, I just want to ride my horse, you never let me ride my horse, I hate you, I hate you, I’m going to my room.
Actually I don’t mind the hoof scratching mini-game. Once your foal is fully grown you’ll also need to clean her hooves. There are a couple of reasons why this is less objectionable than the others. It’s quicker and it makes more sense why it would affect a horse’s performance, having rocks stuck in your foot is going to slow you down. But the main reason, if you’ll let me get a little esoteric for a second, is that it’s the only one that really feels like taking care of the horse.
See it’s the only one you can screw up, the other’s have no penalty for failure you just do it till you don’t have to do it any more. But in the hoof scratching game if you scratch the horse in the wrong spots you can hurt her. It’s not that this adds challenge, or that I’m sadistic and like “accidentally” hurting the horse. No it’s because part of taking care of something is being able to hurt it but choosing not to. Ever gotten soup for someone who is sick? Did the thought ever cross your mind “They trust me so much right now I could probably poison them if I wanted”? That might just be me but this is the one mini-game that shows the trust the horse gives it’s master.
Oh by the way here’s my horse all grown up. Her name is Murder and she likes mountain fruit.