When you think of great games involving horses, the Red Dead Redemption series is usually the first that come to mind. After that, it’s a real struggle, isn’t it? From a poorly made Kinect experience like Champion Jockey, to possibly the worst game I’ve played on Xbox One in the form of Horse Racing 2016, there’s very little joy for horse lovers in gaming. Could the latest effort focusing on horses, My Little Riding Champion, be the mightiest steed of them all and succeed where many others have failed?
Of course not, for there are very few positive things that can be said about My Little Riding Champion on Xbox One. And when you factor in the price, it’s a bit of a joke to be quite honest.
Essentially, it’s a story about a woman named Luisa taking over her recently deceased Uncle’s stables and getting involved in horse riding to help the local village of Rosshain. The aim is to win equestrian competitions, which in turn will keep the riding club alive, whilst also looking after your horse. To add a bit of spice to proceedings, Luisa has an arch-nemesis, Cornelia, who’s the rather bitter reigning champion that’s looking down upon everyone else.
Unfortunately the script is poorly written and voice-acted, coming across extremely wooden and somewhat robotic. So whilst the outline of the story isn’t bad, the execution is simply below par and it’s often laughable to witness the stiff character models talk without moving their mouths. It would’ve been better off having only text dialogue, but nevertheless, gameplay can often make up for shortfalls in storytelling and such.
Not in My Little Riding Champion though. First off, the grooming of the horse is painfully pointless as it’ll have you swiping a brush, and then a sponge, across a horse that already looks clean and tidy, until a meter fills up. You could just brush its belly and the meter will gradually rise, before moving onto the final stage that provides you with a tool that scrapes dirt out of the hooves; an activity in which the detection of the tool touching the dirt is hit and miss, and the horses legs move as if mechanical by nature. So, we’re off to a splendid start eh…
There’s a fairly large free-roam world to explore, either on foot or horseback, but there’s only really the training field, the village and the tournament venue that’s of any importance. The rest is basically a mixture of grassy fields, trees and the odd hut or house to see along the way as you’re traipsing back and forth between areas. It’s a very bland world and the limited draw distance doesn’t help matters, with textures that are fairly close to Luisa rendering after every footstep. Anything past a few metres away looks dreadful, although to be fair, even in the best case scenario it’s akin to the standard of last-generation visuals.
Things don’t get much better when you’re mounting the horse, with training limited to a single course layout until you’ve unlocked more to purchase. The idea is to jump over a selection of fences without garnering any penalties and in the fastest time possible, with successful completion of a course rewarding XP towards your horse levelling up. What’s quite annoying is the delay between landing a rather clunky jump and making another, which is a hindrance when fences are close together. It means that you’ll almost always have to go at a pace no faster than a trot to ensure there’s enough time to perform the next jump – that’s counterintuitive when you’re up against the clock, no?
Not that you’ll be told how fast you need to finish a course when it comes to the actual competitions. Instead it’s a case of guiding the horse to the end of a course and hoping you’ve won, otherwise a retry is needed. With nine competitions present in total, each mimicking the different training courses you can buy from the village, a victory will sees Luisa rise up by one place in the rankings. Given that the competitions are a major part of the game, it’s disappointing that you’ll spend very little time partaking in them. Each one will only take a minute at most if you win at the first try, which is quite possible, and at worst just a few minutes more.
Should you want to spend more time in My Little Riding Champion, then it’s the side missions and optional extras that’ll provide the longevity. Bear in mind that includes the likes of transporting tourists – who look scared stiff – in a cart across the land at a snail’s pace, transporting wood to a hut miles away at a similarly slow speed and generally just venturing to random places to ‘solve a riddle’ or something equally boring. In fairness though, I think many will enjoy the side quest of collecting the 30 miniature horses dotted around the place, which encourages exploration.
Customisation is neither here nor there, with a few pairs of shoes, tops and jackets etc. available for purchase from a local NPC (now known as a No Personality Character). The local horse dealer has different coloured horses to acquire, but I can’t fathom the point of buying more horses that’ll need levelling up via the monotonous training ground. Literally the only reason I see for doing so is to get the related achievement.
And then we move onto the technical issues which make a tedious game into a god damn frustrating one. At any moment in time you may get stuck on the horse and be unable to dismount, leading to a forced quit and loss of progression. You aren’t even safe with the horse and cart, with an iffy turn leading to a jackknife which sees everything go crazy, sending the whole world in a spin and booting you out of the game entirely. These problems, and a couple of others, had me constantly on edge, fearing that I’d have to re-do something and live through the pain again.
In case you haven’t guessed, My Little Riding Champion on Xbox One is a pretty terrible offering all-round. Its main draw of being a horse riding champ is over in the blink of an eye, whilst the additional missions are uneventful and boring. The large open-world is so drab and empty that it comes across as merely a cheap way to make missions seem longer by having the ability to send you far away. Even the horse jumping mechanics aren’t up to scratch, with any failing occurring at no fault of your own. Add in the bugs, the awful acting and the shoddy visuals, and there’s not much good to be found here – except the collectables.
I’m not horsing around here; seriously don’t bother with My Little Riding Champion!