Back in May of 2021, Horse Club Adventures trotted onto the Xbox Store. The collaboration between Schleich and Wild River Games was a small-scale hit, and rightfully so: it managed to bring intuitive, fun horse-riding to a game controller, which was no mean feat. There are AAA games that have failed to achieve something even close to that. Better still, they managed to get it right for younger players.

Fast-forward a year and change, and we’re getting Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories. Part of us is anxious: sixteen months is not much time to be making a sequel to any game, and there were definite flaws that would benefit from some time in the oven. While it was a colourful little sandbox, Horse Club Adventures had issues with navigation and repetition that a new game would do well to resolve. 

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There’s a resounding familiarity stepping into Horse Club Adventures’ world again. We’ve not gone anywhere different – this is the same free-roam area that we memorised like the back of our hand, not too long ago. We started again at Lakeside Riding Stable, met up with Lisa, Hannah, Sarah and Sofia, and immediately began to cross off some lightweight chores. Considering we had turned up for the summer holidays, they certainly put us to the grindstone. 

If you’ve got experience of Horse Club Adventures: The First, this will probably give rise to mixed feelings. There’s a certain amount of joy from recalling the game’s map, turning a corner and being confronted by the coffee shop that you expect to be there. But it’s also got a faint aroma of laziness that it never quite shifts. 

There’s the odd addition of course, as Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories makes the curious decision to plop down landmarks as if they’d always been there. Of course there was always a city here. You just didn’t look hard enough (although it’s such a ghost-town that it could have appeared out of the ether). Animal rescue sanctuaries and mountain lodges replace mountain chalets and beaches.

Still, Wild River Games have used the familiar-but-different backdrop to make some needed changes. Rather than return to Lakeside Riding Stable every night, as we did in the first game, which only fomented a sense of fatigue, you and the girls are staying in multiple locations. You get to camp in the caravan that you built in the first game, but also campsites and the animal rescue home that we mentioned earlier. The result is less backtracking, and it’s a complete boon. You tend to stay in the camp that’s closest to you during the campaign.

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It was one of the biggest flaws of the original, and it feels like Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories has taken feedback to heart and really looked to improve things. We complained about navigation in our original review, as another example, and it’s been overhauled here. Destinations aren’t miles away anymore, and glowing circles guide the way. Often you’re riding around with the crew, and your only worry is about keeping in formation with the other riders, like a Red Arrow in horseshoes. Younger players will find themselves lost far less often. 

But two steps forward, two steps back. While Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories makes these quality-of-life improvements, it loosens up in a couple of other areas. The story here is so fluffy and insubstantial that it flies away like a dandelion seed. There’s a photo competition that you and the team want to win, and rival Tori is looking to win it too. So, you’re travelling the area, taking snaps, and rounding up the odd sheep as you do it. It’s a simplistic facade for some fetch questing, and it doesn’t even reach the low-ish heights of the first game, where you were looking to halt the building of a hotel. 

If we were to hazard a guess, we’d also say that the campaign is about half the length of the one in the first game. There’s a benefit smuggled into that criticism: there’s far less repetition, as locations are visited a maximum of three times each. But when this full-price game is packaging in a near-identical map and a half-length campaign, you start arching an eyebrow. 

But Horse Club Adventures was always about the endgame, anyway. The real joys come from when you stray from its critical path and tinker with the various minigames. There’s more this time: apples and horseshoes can be gathered, while new trials include balloon popping and leading your horse by its reins (completely benign and a touch joyless). It’s once the campaign stops that Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories starts to find its voice. 

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Of course, you might not have ventured into Horse Club Adventures before, so we should quickly round up the horses. This is a surprisingly large and colourful sandbox for you to ride around in. If you have kids of five years upwards, and they have an interest in horses or horse-riding, then we’d wager that there is no better game for them to satisfy that interest. The riding becomes second nature almost immediately, and you can choose to stick to a quest-laden campaign or just play miniquests and minigames. Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories passes no judgments. 

More an expansion pack than a full sequel, Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories is a hard one to score. It’s still the best horse-riding sim on the Xbox, and its structure has received some much-needed grooming. But it’s not enough of a revamp to warrant the price, and the campaign is slimline. If ‘more of the same’ sounds like a good thing, then saddle up.

You can buy Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories from the Xbox Store

Back in May of 2021, Horse Club Adventures trotted onto the Xbox Store. The collaboration between Schleich and Wild River Games was a small-scale hit, and rightfully so: it managed to bring intuitive, fun horse-riding to a game controller, which was no mean feat. There are AAA games that have failed to achieve something even close to that. Better still, they managed to get it right for younger players. Fast-forward a year and change, and we’re getting Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories. Part of us is anxious: sixteen months is not much time to be making a sequel to…

Pros:

  • Keeps the strong structure of the original
  • As colourful and endearing as before
  • Makes needed improvements

Cons:

  • Campaign is horse-hair thin
  • Same map as the original
  • Story barely qualifies as one

Info:

  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Wild River Games
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Switch, PC
  • Version reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
  • Release date - 27 October 2022
  • Launch price from - £24.99
TXH Score

3/5

Pros:

  • Keeps the strong structure of the original
  • As colourful and endearing as before
  • Makes needed improvements

Cons:

  • Campaign is horse-hair thin
  • Same map as the original
  • Story barely qualifies as one

Info:

  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Wild River Games
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Switch, PC
  • Version reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
  • Release date - 27 October 2022
  • Launch price from - £24.99

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