Is it strange that I want to compare Horse Life on the DS to another DS title, namely Elite Beat Agents or Ouendan? Don't get me wrong; Horse Life isn't a music rhythm game and doesn't have much of a soundtrack at all, but I don't think I'd be alone in realizing that a certain aspect of the gameplay featured here was almost entirely ripped out of the control scheme that revolves around Nintendo's quirky male cheerleader title from a few years back. Is it properly applied here? Not really.
In Horse Life, you'll start off by picking your character, male or female, and adjusting a couple of options before jumping into the game. You're introduced to the owner of a foal that you picked out, and then the game fast-forwards a few years to a point where the horse is old enough to do something with. I have a very limited real-world experience with horses, and none with breeding and ownership, so how closely this game mimics that experience is admittedly a little lost on me. I am surprised by how many options it gives you when it comes to overall care and keeping of your animal, but I have no clue whether or not this game is indicative of how things actually go down in the horse breeding and training world.
Once you get past the initial introduction phase, you're trained in the proper upkeep of your horse and how to keep it happy throughout the game. Apparently, this impacts the performance of the horse when you start to compete, but I never found a significant enough challenge with the upkeep portion to see any noticeable change in behavior if I let something go. There are a number of statistics to keep track of in relation to your horse; aspects like cleanliness, happiness, health, etc., are all highlighted to give you an idea of which area to work on next. You can't just train with your horse all day long, either; each day is broken up into a few segments, and once you exhaust that time, you'll be forced to retire for the day and start again. Because of this, you'll want to balance your time between training, cleaning, feeding and exercising, so there's a fair amount of maintenance involved. I'm not sure how appealing this approach would be to a younger player, which is the demographic that the title is targeting, but I suppose it's an interesting approach to what could basically be a run-of-the mill kids' title. It may even serve as a good tool to teach kids about responsibility when they inevitably ask for a puppy or kitten.
The meat of the game comes from the training and events that you can participate in. Training almost takes on the role of licenses in the Gran Turismo series, and you must complete a certain number of training options before unlocking Amateur, Veteran and other event levels. Training is basically the in-game tutorial for all the different moves your horse can perform, and this is where my slightly odd comparison to Elite Beat Agents comes into play. When you begin a training or competition session, you see an angled view of your horse and rider, and you can tap on the horse's rear flank to get it moving by using the stylus on the touch-screen. A couple of more taps will speed it up to a run, but depending on what you're aiming for, a slower course of action might be key.
Once the movement starts, small prompts will appear on-screen. Sometimes, these are in the form of white dots that you need to tap in succession before they time out and disappear, and other times, you'll have a ball that you need to follow along a path inside of an arrow until completion. Both of these elements seem to be entirely ripped out of Elite Beat Agents, and anyone who's played that title before will find them instantly familiar here. That's really about all there is to the training and competition segments; the style or pattern changes according to the maneuver you're trying to get your horse to perform, but aside from that, there's nothing else to do. Because of that, theses sections tend to get boring, and since they can be long and drawn-out if the game requires you to only move around at the starting pace, it's also pretty tedious to play.
The real letdown is that these training sessions also make up the majority of Horse Life. There are other things to do — you can visit the local shop to get new outfits for yourself, get new gear or feed for your horse, you can spend some time on grooming and feeding your animal, or use the DS microphone to whistle and call your horse from the pasture screen. However, these are all minor diversions to the competition section of the game, and they'll only last a minute or two at best, while the competition and training take up the majority of your time. When the little diversions are more interesting than the main section of the title, you have a problem on your hands. The end result isn't interesting or fun, and it gets to be very tedious before you get out of the first group of training missions.
I'm not sure that I could suggest Horse Life to any audience, and I am well aware that the game isn't actually intended for me. It may be a decent experience for younger girls or boys, depending on how much your kids love animals, but it's definitely not a title for most adults. Visually it's not too bad, with 3-D models representing the horse and rider, but on the flipside, there's not much else to look at. The music, when present, is bland and lifeless, and the gameplay is incredibly boring. If you have a child who's a fan of horses, I don't think that Horse Life will really satiate any curiosity for them, so I'd suggest avoiding this one.
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