Release Date: August 31, 2004
Number 9 is speeding past all others and is neck-and-neck with Number 5. Who will win? It's all down to a photo finish, and the winner is ....
Another year, another release. With so many releases coming out for the PS2, there are sure to be a few "dark horses" that we gamers will miss out on, like Gallop Racer 2004, a horse simulation game much like Sega's Championship Derby and G1 Jockey. Don't get me wrong -- I love the top-notch first or third party games, but it's always the no-name games that produce the unexpected gems. When Andrea Frechette, Tecmo's Marketing Manager, said that this was the "most advanced chapter" in the horse racing series and was "a fun and addicting pick-up and play type game," she truly meant it.
Since I'm new to the series, I can't really compare it to the older versions or the other games, but I have always wanted to try it out, and I finally got the chance. Some will think that horse racing is boring, but after you try GR you may be more than pleasantly surprised. The game has one of the easiest control sets to pick up and play, but it is exceptionally difficult to achieve victory. I'm sure everyone has channel surfed from time to time and seen a horse race in progress. It all appears quite effortless, but once you get your hands on GR, you will know more about the sport, and it's certainly a lot harder than one would think.
The controls are simple: up to speed up, down to speed down, square to whip with the left hand, circle to whip with the right hand, x to switch whip hands (it automatically switches when you hit the opposite whip hand), L1 to look left, R1 to look right, right and left directional pad to steer the horse left or right. Pretty simple, right? Well, not everyone is created equal, and that applies to horses as well. Some are bred better than others and are happier, and the individual horses also have different stats, which give the rider (that's you) a higher or lower chance of winning. There are a total of 14 stats, some of which include: SPD maximum capable speed, STY ability to maintain speed, STM stamina during the race, and PWR ability to deal with rough and slopes. Personally, I find that a horse with higher STM makes it easier to complete your objective or even upset your competition and win the race.
The reason this game is so challenging is because of these stats. Each horse has its own characteristics, and some horses are better suited to win the track while others are the underdogs. In order to win with any horse, you must master and perfect the understanding of the game. Horses each have their own desired speed and position. For example, if your horse were a frontrunner, it would mean that the horse wants to be in front. So in order for the horse to run well, you have to get a near-perfect start. Not only is the start important for this horse, but you must also maintain position and keep your horse happy. This is where the slots – located in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen – come in. It's a slot-machine inspired "indicator" that shows how well you are running the horse. If you produce a row of 7's, then you are racing the horse correctly. There are three positions on the indicator, exactly like the casino slot machines, but with one major difference: these three numbers do not lock into place at the same time. Instead, they lock at different points of the race; the first "7" serves as an indicator for the beginning stretch, the second for the middle, and the last for the final section. These stats inform you of whether you need to run the horse faster, slower, or if you need to maintain speed.
Above these slot indicators would be the control of your horse. Horse control is based on the directional controls (up would speed up your horse and down would slow it down). Within the meter, you will see a red section; if you are ever in this section, it means that you are overworking your horse. The only time you should be in this section is during the last few furlongs. The most ideal speed is between the white and red border, and you can also see from the horse's picture if he is enjoying his current speed. The facial expressions will show how determined the horse is to win, whether he is overeager or unenthusiastic, and much more. You will understand what each means when you start the game and read the tutorials from the academy.
If you are new to this game, the academy is the first place you should go in order to familiarize yourself with the sport. It won't be easily understandable, but it will lead you in the right direction. You will get information about the special abilities, terminology, and unlock more lessons as time goes on; unfortunately, the lessons aren't interactive, and there is no tutorial to be found. You are basically "learning" by reading text on the screen and figuring out things on your own within the game. Die-hard fans can skip this step, but the lack of intermediate stepping stones makes it difficult for newcomers like me.
The more prestige and goals you complete, the more likely you will receive requests to ride horses, which you really needed at the outset. The more experience you gain, the better your chances of getting your own horse and eventually becoming a horse breeder.
The audio and video in the game certainly isn't bad, but isn't great either. It fits the races well, but over time, it's the same repeated material. Graphically, there are different views when you race, but most the time, you will be looking at the jockey's behind, and I, for one, find it slightly disturbing. Thankfully, there is a choice to race in first-person view.
Overall, this game is excellent and probably one of the most overlooked just because of its genre. If you are running out of games and need a new one, this is an excellent sim and gets more fun over time, especially when you can create your own horse and breed. You can play until you achieve a perfect stable and set some insanely incredibly record. If you are a horse fan, this may be the best game available at this time.