This is part of an ongoing series to view the first post click here.
I remember the moment I knew I wasn’t going to like the competitions. It was when I discovered that my horse Murder wasn’t allowed to compete because she was a girl. I’d bred her, named her, cared for her and gone riding through the countryside with her. We were a team, sisters. Of course if I knew the first thing about equestrian I would have realised that you ride stallions in competition. Perhaps the game should have told me that before it was too late.
As it was I was stuck trying to tame a wild horse I couldn’t care less about.
If Halo teaches little boys to penetrate and destroy everything in their path with an oversized phallus then Imagine: Champion Rider teaches little girls to take noble untamed beasts and annihilate their free will with little more than body language and soothing noises. Oh and fruit. Taming horses plays out as an incredibly slow quick time event. An on-screen prompt pops up telling you to move your mouse in a certain direction. You do what it says and watch your avatar perform an action, like waving or getting on one knee. Once you’ve gained the horse’s trust you then need to feed them their favourite fruit, which is always right next to them. It is insultingly simple, even for children.
Simon Says is about learning to process information before acting. You need to check that the game master said “Simon Says…” before you perform the action and you need to do it better and faster than your peers. That personal challenge mixed with the competitive element creates a game that, while not particularly amazing, is actually fun. Taming horses in Imagine: Champion Rider is Simon Says with the guts ripped out and therefore isn’t even remotely interesting. At least when I bred a horse I got to play around with how it looked and name it myself. I’m going to care more about that horse than the poor sucker I tricked and beat the life out of. I mean his name is Radja was a terrible name for a horse, I would have called him Bronson or Eastwood or something.
Whenever I look at the stupid domesticated grin of my stallion Radja I feel sick inside, our relationship is like something from a depressing French film. I wish I could drown him in the river and ride off into the sunset with my sapphic life partner Murder. But first I need to win the Legend’s Cup.
Competition involves a warm up round and three events. The warm up round consists of riding around an arena, changing speeds and jumping a barrier as the game gives orders. It sounds horrible and it is. But I didn’t mind it because it’s the only time you have to trot and trotting is oddly pleasurable. Doing well in the warm up confers a bonus to the regular events, I’m not sure how much of a bonus because I never performed badly. That’s not a boast by the way, I’m fairly certain you’d need a learning disability to perform badly in the warm up.
The next event is the cross country in which you ride round a course and jump over obstacles. It’s very dull, but using your turbo boost does liven it up a bit as you get some fancy motion blur affects going. Because you never need to time any of the jumps this mode just doesn’t feel like a game. Sid Meier once said that a game is a series of interesting choices. The cross country doesn’t have any choices let alone interesting ones. What it needs to be is something like Mirror’s Edge where it’s all about learning the track and figuring out how to maintain your momentum. There should be different kinds of terrain to avoid or use to your advantage. Instead it’s exactly like the free riding section but horrible because you have to follow their track.
Show jumping blows but at least it’s something different. In this event you ride around an arena jumping hurdles. This is the one time in the game you need to use a jump button. As you approach each gate a circle flashes up above it and slowly turns green, if you press jump when it turns green you clear the gate. The only problem is the timing is totally off, you need to press jump long before you get to the gate. Maybe this is more realistic, maybe horse riders need to command their beasts to jump before they need to but it feels wrong. There are times you need to press jump before you finish the previous jump. The horse then lands takes a few steps and jumps again. It’s totally bizarre. Of the three events this was the most difficult, I never managed to clear a course perfectly. That said I won every time, even though it felt like I was screwing it up.
The final event is the steeplechase, which is exactly the same as the cross country except you don’t need to jump things. Words can not express how pointless that is. To gain the Legends cup you’ll need to do the competition three or four times (I can’t remember and I’m not playing through it again to find out). Each time it’s the same three events on the same courses just the order is switched up. Cross country, show jumping, steeplechase then show jumping, cross country, steeplechase. It never gets harder or goes anywhere. Eventually you are given the Legend’s Cup. Personally I think it’s a horrible message to give young people. Don’t try, just rock up, put your hours in and you’ll get your trophy.
Once I finally had my trophy I sent Radja to “live with Mr Haussman”. I really hope that’s a euphemism for the glue factory but at least I never have to see him again. Then I got back on Murder and went a riding because I still had the story mode to complete.