BY EMILY TAPLEY
Let me take 5 minutes out of your day to fill you in on why I’m so annoyed.
I started playing games as young as 6 years old. As far as I can recall, my first game ever was Petz Horsez for my bright pink Gameboy Advance SP. As a little girl who was completely new to gaming, this was the most amazing thing to ever happen to me. Complete with dreadful chiptune music on an 8 second loop and comically awful sound effects, this game blew my mind despite the fact that it was mind numbingly boring. The seed was planted. This was only the beginning.
Fast forward about three years, and I had played nearly every horse game in the Petz franchise a hundred times over. Of course the stories were pointless, the gameplay was repetitive and obnoxious, but I was still happy. They had horses! I branched out to some other titles, most of them licensed by Nintendo, but nothing was exciting me like it had before. Every horse game was a copy of another horse game, which was a copy of another horse game.
Nine also happened to be the same year that I actually touched a real horse. I liked it so much, I decided I wanted to give riding lessons a try. My wonderful parents humored me, and I sat on a horse and walked around with her once a week. Consider me enamored at that point, but I wanted to do it for the rest of my life! Unfortunately, that’s not how budgets work. So back to the handheld ranch I went.
As I grew older, the fog of childhood wonder began to lift. My horse games were boring, unrealistic, sugarcoated, and obnoxiously catered towards little girls that didn’t know a damn thing about the equestrian world! With the newfound glory of the internet at my side, I set out on a mission to find it—the ultimate horse game.
Wiimote in hand, I scoured the internet. I read every top ten list, bought every 4 star 2 review horse game off of Amazon, braved my local gamestop for any sign of a halfway decent horse game. After years of trials, I only found one horse game that was tolerable as far as progression, realism, and gameplay are concerned: Gallop & Ride for the Wii.
This was an underwhelming result, but it was something. After playing the game to death, I could say with confidence it was the best game I’d ever played in the genre, but that wasn’t a huge achievement. It did some things right. In the game you play as the heir and manager of a sort of dude ranch. Guests come to stay at your inn, ride your horses, and enjoy the scenery. The game introduced some impressive concepts, such as vaccination, strain on your working horses, and a fun points system besides the regular currency. The controls were obnoxious, as every wii horse game demands you hold the Wiimote and nunchuk as if they were reins, but this beautiful game gave you the option to toggle your riding controls to a basic joystick and A button. 10x better. I have reason to believe other competitors in the horse genre thought little girls were too stupid to even navigate to the settings, since no other game had this possibility. Thank you, Gallop & Ride. You didn’t stink so much.
But, let’s get back to why I’m annoyed. While Gallop & Ride was one of the most mature equestrian games I’ve ever played, it’s basically a unicorn. As a 19 year old woman who is still shamelessly infatuated with horse games, I cannot find a single game on any console, much less PC, that boasts the same performance. Star Stable? Are you kidding me? Howrse? It doesn’t even have gameplay. You know your favorite genre is suffering when the only tolerable way to play it is IN OTHER GENRES. While Horsez did get me started, I thankfully moved on to greener pastures. I discovered Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, Dark Souls, all the games I love as an adult. I can say with confidence, Breath of the Wild does horse physics and mannerisms better than any specialized horse game. If you google “horse games” some of your top results will consist of Red Dead Redemption, Shadow of the Colossus, and Breath of the Wild… My friends, these are obviously not horse games.
I didn’t enter the horse gaming world to make friends. I’m here to make champions, bank, and a helluva reputation. I want to see my horses age and retire, I want to break out of this pocket dimension that every horse game seems to be stuck in and watch my estate age as it would in reality. A serious equestrian gamer doesn’t have time for projectile hearts and 5 minute long nose rubs—we want gameplay. Where is the strategic breeding? The real world illnesses and dilemmas, the branching careers, the satisfaction of rising to the occasion and being the best goddamn manager and equestrian you can be? Where is the soul? I truly believe this is a game that hasn’t been made yet.
I can’t say with certainty whether there is or isn’t an equestrian game demand. Maybe I’m the only one who cares, and I’m destined to be angry about this for the rest of my life. But, should anybody else share in this passion, there is a serious genre to be fulfilled here. I won’t lose hope. As someone interested in game design, I won’t abandon my own ideas for what the ultimate horse game should look like, but for god’s sake, give the weird horse girls and guys of the world something to look forward to. We’re keeping our eyes open, playing and reviewing horse games, and waiting for something good to finally come out of the woodwork. It’s been time.
Emily Tapley is a college student hailing from a military family. Born in San Diego, CA, her family frequently moved but has now settled in San Antonio, TX. Her passions currently lie in gaming, concept design, and being a cat mom.