Riding Star Review
Normally, we applaud developers when they attempt subject matter that is unique to the video game industry. Even if their selection is questionable – as it most certainly is in this particular case – we still think it takes guts to present the now-mainstream gaming public with a title that will probably only appeal to fans of the subject. Sports are typically great for games, primarily because they’re loaded with plenty of intriguing action inherent to that sport. However, Equestrian doesn’t lend itself well to the world of interactive entertainment, and there are obvious reasons for this. There just isn’t an underlying theme of excitement; it’s a cultured, civilized sport featuring magnificent animals and expert riders. It’s not home to screaming crowds and high-impact action, and therefore, the quiet luster of the equestrian events may not find a large gaming audience. Even so, had they done this correctly, it could’ve at least been enjoyable for fans of such events. Sadly, they fall far short and this budget title is a waste of time.
The graphics are certainly the worst part of Riding Star; this is one game that could’ve easily been portrayed on the original PlayStation. It would’ve been considered poor even during the first year of the PS2’s existence, as the ridiculously blurry textures and almost complete lack of clarity and detail make for a truly gag-inducing visual experience. We don’t need something too flashy, but considering the sport, we should’ve at least had some attractive horses and scenery. If you’ve ever attended any equestrian competitions, you know it’s one of the prettiest experiences you’ll ever have, thanks mostly to the atmosphere. The lush backdrop combined with beautiful horses is always appealing, and in this game, it’s just plain awful. Even getting up close and personal with the animals involved isn’t worthwhile, and heading out to the fields for a quick joyride is more of an exercise in comedy than anything else. As far as we can tell, there isn’t a single solitary redeeming factor when it comes to the visuals, and that’s…well, that’s bad. Can’t make it any simpler.
The sound isn’t much better, although it’s difficult to be too harsh. Thing is, as we implied earlier, the equestrian tournaments are quiet, sophisticated events that consist of little more than the clip-clop, clip-clop of hooves and the polite applause of the attentive audience. But despite a generic round of applause every now and then and the voice of your instructor, there really isn’t much, here. The soundtrack is completely non-existent and if the horses didn’t actually move, we could’ve sworn they were dead. They offer no evidence of being alive outside of their animation – and even that is stilted and boring – and there isn’t an ounce of engrossing sound in the entire presentation. What we do hear isn’t poor, but it’s no better than mediocre, and the minimal sound effects don’t add any appeal to the experience. Basically, while the lack of quality isn’t as obvious as the visuals, all of the sound could be tossed away and built again from the ground up. And if they did that, they’d realize just how much work needed to be done; overhauling the technicals in Riding Star would probably mean rebuilding from scratch.
We understand the difficulty involved in turning a horse-riding game into interactive entertainment. We fully appreciate the challenge involved in placing the reigns of a horse into an electronic controller. We get it. But we’re also fairly certain it could’ve been done better than this. This is a borderline joke. Due to the fact you use all four shoulder buttons plus both analogs, one would’ve figured the developers might say to themselves, “gee, maybe we should assign some controls to the face buttons.” No, that’d be too logical. Instead, and just as an example, we have to clumsily switch between walk, trot and canter by tapping the R2 and L2 buttons; sometimes more than once to switch between canter and walk and vice versa. Then, they decide to use the right analog to switch between specific figures during the Dressage competitions. This means that during the more complex techniques, you’re holding the right analog in a certain direction while using the left to control direction and trying to select the correct speed with the R2 and L2 buttons. …wow.
You know, if you take into account those who might actually play this game, you might’ve considered make the controls a touch more accessible. It doesn’t take long for the seasoned gamer to get the hang of it, but even then, it’s incredibly awkward and not always responsive. And besides, what seasoned gamer is going to be interested in buying Riding Star? In addition to the totally unreasonable controls, there’s also no evidence of real-life physics. You can make a horse freeze to a halt instantly, and when free riding out in the landscape, you can walk through a rushing river, but apparently, that soft field of wheat is too much for horse. Nope, can’t go there. Last time we checked, horses are good-sized creatures and require some time to change direction and speed; it’s the concept of momentum physics, and it’s nowhere to be found in this production. There’s one other major issue that annoyed us, but we’re not sure if this is authentic: the size of the competitive arenas seemed far too small; avoiding the boundaries with a cantering horse could prove problematic at times. Then again, maybe that really is the size of those areas…we don’t know.
So we won’t deduct points for that, but that’s okay. There are plenty of other places for that, and in fact, we have difficulty awarding points. The Show Jumping is crucially flawed because while your teacher explains that timing is essential, you aren’t given one jot of a clue as to how you should secure that timing. Knowing when to spur the horse and when to relax him is absolutely necessary when it comes to equestrian (we know that much, at least), and as far as we could tell, it was just one big guessing game with Riding Star. Couldn’t we at least have had a marker on the ground or an icon that pops up? At least in the tutorial section so we can learn the timing? Trying to learn it via trial and error is entirely futile, but perhaps that’s just because of the erratic nature of the gameplay. We were told that unless the speed was correct and the horse’s direction was spot-on, the horse would either refuse to make the jump or veer out of the way. Okay, great. Now that we have that information, wouldn’t it be nice to tell us how to implement the correct techniques? Why are we just forced to figure it out for ourselves? Then again, who the heck knows some of the reasons the horse didn’t feel like making the jump; we never could tell.
There is a Career mode where you can choose your rider and horse, and the lone good news is right here- you have some customization options that let you select the style and outfits. You can also take care of your horse, which involves brushing, combing, feeding, scraping the hooves, and of course, training. Once you’ve passed a few rudimentary tests, you are free to enroll in some early competitions, which are easy enough to win. Well, that is, until you get to the more complicated events where the control rears its ugly head to smack you upside the head. And if you want to laugh – really, really hard – go ahead and take care of your horse; while the options are solid, actually holding R2 to run a brush over the animal is downright hysterical. There just isn’t any reason to keep coming back for more, and if you can make it past a single hour of playtime, you’re either the most bored human on earth or an extreme masochist. There’s nothing appealing or entertaining about it, whether you’re out for a simple ride in the country or up against the world’s best in any given tournament.
To be brutally frank, Riding Star is terrible. The graphics are atrocious, the sound is either non-existent or not worth mentioning, and the controls, in terms of both button mapping and accessibility, are horrendous. We’d like to think this game would appeal to equestrian fans, but those people might actually try it, and then come out of the experience with a fresh hatred for the sport. It’s only $20, but there are plenty of PS2 budget titles out there that would be better. Some are actually, you know, fun. This isn’t anything, besides a colossal waste of our time.
6/19/2008 Ben Dutka