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I got this game as part of a multi-game cartridge and, as a horse enthusiast, it was one of the first games I played. I have previously played several horse games for the PC in the past, but now I am "grown up" (technically) haven't played any in a while. The improvement in graphics in this type of game is noticeable. The DS also makes control a lot easier.
While the name mentions the Whitakers, the game doesn't actually mention the famous showjumping family. I'm not sure if the box mentions them, as like I said it was on a multi-game cart. For me this was a plus because I'm not really a huge fan anyway, and games endorsed by one person like that tend to have them as the mentor telling the player what to do, and I find it a little cheesy and irritating.
The object of the game is very familiar - take care of a horse, train and go to competitions. You are guided through everything by a mentor. Each day you can perform five actions - brushing your horse, training, competing, etc. Everything is controlled by the stylus with a map of the farm acting as a menu. Options are:
The stable yard: Where you take care of (brush, shampoo, clean stall) your horse, complete training required to unlock competitions, view your trophies in the lodge, and fuss over your horse in the pasture, which will increase their happiness meter.
The woods: After each competition, for some reason your horse's fitness goes down, I suppose because they are tired. Riding in the woods will increase fitness and you are also able to practise turns and jumps where prompted. You can choose from four types of scenery, each with different trails so it is varied, and you can also choose different music to listen to.
The tack shop: This is where you buy feeds, tack and rider clothing. You can also buy music to listen to whilst riding in the woods. Chosing a good feed combination eg hay/barley will improve your horse's fitness meter, whereas less nutrituous feeds will see his condition decline. Feeding the right thing can mean you dont need to waste one of your five daily actions riding in the woods to improve fitness before competitions.
Competitions: You can compete in dressage, showjumping (which they randomly call "steeplechase"), cross country and eventing. Winning will give you tokens which you can use to in the tack shop. You will also win prestige points.
The basic idea of the game is that you keep your horse healthy by brushing him, cleaning his stall, riding regularly in the woods to keep fitness up and providing a nutritious feed. You work through the various diplomas, which unlock new levels of competition. Winning all competitions in a level will unlock the next diploma.
- Touch-screen control makes it so much easier than similar games, particularly in the showjumping aspect where you would usually have to time it perfectly and press keys.
- I find it fairly addictive as I want to progress to the next levels - although this could just be in case something out of the ordinary happens!
- The graphics are great compared to other games in this genre I've played, although as I haven't played a horse game in quite some time, and never on the DS, I'm not able to compare it to similar titles.
- The game is extremely easy to pick up. Tutorials are given where needed (and sometimes where not needed, read below) and the same formula of tap a dot, follow an arrow. It is easy to navigate the menus.
- It's almost too easy. Yes, it's probably made for kids, but I found myself coming first in every competition and learning the different manoeuvres striaght away in training.
- At first the mentor will give you the same dialogue each time you go to brush your horse, etc even though you know how. Eventually some of the tutorial screens stop but I did have to tap through lots of screens because I already knew what it said.
- In training, you are forced to repeat everything about five times once you learn how. For some movements this can take a while and be pretty boring, but you have to complete it to unlock competitions.
- Necessary tasks such as brushing your horse can get a bit repetitive.
- There are no hidden mini-games or distractions from the goal of training and competing, so it can get somewhat stale.
- Nothing happens at the end.
Overall I found the game fun but this is probably because the horse-mad child in me is interested in the subject. I completed it quickly and was disappointed to find that nothing happened..I finished all the diplomas and got gold in every competition, and nothing...am I supposed to keep doing the same competitions over? Start again? Besides randomly being told to go into the woods to find a unicorn, which you can then play as in a new game (if you want to play again!) there is nothing unlocked for winning the game. It would be nice if the mentor at least said "well done for winning, the game is now over" instead of this useless limbo.
I do think it would be a lot more fun if there were other things to unlock other than just things to buy, such as puzzles or mini games, because at times it does feel like you are going through all the motions for nothing.
I'm doubt I will play this game again now I've completed it, especially as I've just bought a cartridge with 50 games on it! To replay would mean staying on the same game you've already mastered, and already got gold in everything in, or having to put up with all the annoying training sessions again. I think kids will defnitely enjoy it as it is easy to master, but there is a definite lack of storyline which I have seen in Pippa Funnell's PC games for example that would have been a welcome touch.
The game is widely available online at various sites for between £13-25, and I daresay could be picked up at most bigger game retailers. I think it is worth the price for horse enthusiasts, especially children.
*Originally posted on Ciao under same name.