This is part of an ongoing series to view the first post click here.
The critical reception of all horse riding games falls into one of two camps. Either laughing derision that little girls would want to play a game about horses or a condescending “Well it’s okay for little girls but it’s actually a rubbish game” attitude. I’m not saying that those opinions don’t have some truth to them but I do think it’s entirely possible to make an excellent game about horse riding.
Because at the end of the day a horse riding game has to be about the horse riding and in this respect Imagine: Champion Rider delivers. Mostly.
The horse moves with a real sense of weight which is accentuated by the way the camera swings round drunkenly trying to catch up. When you press left or right you see the horse turn it’s head in that direction and then there’s this nice delay before it actually turns. It really helps sell the horse as an autonomous creature under your control. You’ve got four speeds walk, trot, canter and gallop and you switch between them by tapping the up and down arrows. Your character yelps “up”, the horses limbs start moving faster and you take off. It’s quite satisfying. There’s rarely any reason to travel anything other than a gallop but that’s fine by me, canters are for pussies.
Plus the scenery is excellent.
I like that it’s bright, colourful and varied. Each area has a distinct look which makes it feel more worthwhile exploring. They’ve clearly gone for a stylised broad brush strokes art design probably to please the target audience but it does look pretty without being a resource hog. It also won’t date as fast, chasing realism rarely pays off in the long run and this is a welcome change from the grim and gritty textures of 90% of the games I play.
There are plenty of logs and rocks strewn about to jump, just ride into them and the horse does the rest. At first this irritated me, if I don’t have to do anything to perform the jump why have them? Then I noticed that the angle of approach mattered, hit it too wide and the horse will rear back and refuse. So there is some lizard brained skill involved. It’s worth mentioning there is no reason to do the jumps except that it’s fun. I wouldn’t have minded if they’d gamed up the jumps a little, possibly making jumps recharge your turbo boost or something. Yes there’s a turbo boost which on a horse makes no sense but it’s a gamey little element I’m willing to accept, mainly because it’s the only thing that makes the races (which we’ll get to later) even remotely interesting.
So Imagine: Champion Rider is about as good a lite-horse-sim as you could hope for. Still it’s got some problems. It’s far too linear. The world looks open and wide but it’s full of imaginary barriers which cause your horse to reign up and refuse to go further. And given that, as a game, it should be about exploration this is a problem. Also it needs some greater incentives to make you explore, like some form of collectible. I know it’s in vogue to complain about pointless collectibles right now but, while exploring is fun, people usually need to be given a reason to do it. They could have you collect wild flowers (something you do in the plot anyway) and sell them at the ranch to unlock extra saddles and what not. You already unlock saddles in the game but you get them as the story progresses and you never get to choose the ones you want.
Perhaps the biggest kill joy is the constantly obnoxious quest compass. Look at the above screen-shot, notice the subtle and nice way the sign flashes to tell where to go. You’ve also got an easy to read map, in case you get really lost. Then as if all that isn’t enough you’ve got the quest compass sitting there in the corner. I hate quest compasses, especially when I’m trying to explore. When you’re barrelling through a ravine at top speed, under waterfalls and over rocks you want to be looking at the scenery as it zooms past, but instead you end up looking at a little arrow that tells you where to go. If you’ve gone to so much effort to make your game majestic why then boil it down to just following an arrow?
Now it’s at this point that many would say “You’re just nit picking, this game is for little girls, they won’t notice all that stuff, they’ll just have fun with the pretty horses”. To which I ask, do you hate little girls? Or do you just think they’re stupid? Because no one is suggesting that games for little boys don’t need to be good. Maybe that’s why boys play more videogames. I’m not even asking for this game to harder or more challenging, I’m just asking for it to be a better game. Is that really too much to ask for?
And it’s in the competitions that Imagine: Champion Rider really drops the ball.
Next: A Hollow Victory