Saddle Up With Planet Horse!
It is time to don your riding gear and get into the saddle as game developers Dancing Dots and Site Focus Interactive take you on an amazing ride with Planet Horse, the number one horse game for girls. The game’s premise is simple; you step into the role of a promising young equestrienne and take on a double-continental tour of show jumps, competitions and leisurely rides. In between you manage your riding wardrobe, horse gear and when you gain enough credits – buy more horses to ride and clothes to wear. This is one riding game that is easy to learn, nice to watch and quite fun to play. If you have been hoping to find a great horse riding game that is worth your time, Planet Horse is the answer.
The World of Planet Horse
Planet Horse, contrary to what the name might suggest, is set here on Earth, with the horse choices mostly based on the most commonly available breeds with two unique choices (a Zebra and a Unicorn; more on that later). The locations and places that you get to visit are a combination of real and fictional natural landmarks – centered mostly in the European countryside and the American mid-west. The game’s simplified delivery lets you focus on three important things: you and your horse, the beautiful backgrounds and of course, the mission objectives of the activity.
The game starts out by allowing you to name your own character. Sadly, there are no choices for the rider’s looks. While the game is targeted particularly at girls (hence the female-only riders), the lack of choices for hairstyle and skin color is somewhat disappointing. What the game lacks for choices in character, it makes up for with the horses.
Players get to start out with a wide assortment of horses – particularly 5 specific racing breeds, and two unique horse types: a Zebra and a Unicorn. For those wondering, Zebras are mammals that look a lot like horses, but have a unique black and white striped pattern on their bodies. Unlike horses, Zebras are more commonly found in dry and arid areas, such as savannahs. They are a special riding class since for the most part, Zebras cannot be used as mounts – their weak spines make them vulnerable to injury. Fortunately, in Planet Horse, that little drawback does not exist.
The Unicorn also deserves special mention; this is a fictional creature whose origins are based on various literary myths and legends. One general factor attributed to unicorns is their magical horn – hence the name and the statement that unicorns will only approach those who are pure of heart. This is also what makes the Unicorn quite a fitting ride for any pure-hearted princess.
All breeds, with the exception of the Zebra and the Unicorn, can be customized in terms of looks. There are often two or more basic coat colors to choose from (often ranging from a single matte color to having a pattern), and there are also options for highlights on the head and the legs of the horse.
Once you have been able to decide on the type and colors of the horse that you would like to ride, it is time to decide on what kind skills the horse should have. There are 4 choices to choose from; standard, fast, strong and jumpers. Standard horses have generally good skills in all criteria, but are not specialists in any field. Strong horses have high stamina and are great for taking on long rides. Fast horses will perform well in races and jumpers have an easier time when performing stunts. Choosing your horse type may seem like a deep strategic matter, but in fact, it simply dictates how you will fare at the start of this horse game for girls. The skill specialization can be balanced out later in the game by either increasing the horse’s abilities through events or by buying a better horse.
Planet Horse’s gameplay revolves mainly around three types of events; races, rides and shows. Races often require players to ride through a specified course under a certain amount of time and with the least amount of penalties. A similar rule applies for the shows, though there is more emphasis on the jumping capabilities of the horse. Lastly, rides allow players to spend more time with their horses and the duration of this game pace is determined by the horse’s stamina.
In between the various events, players are able to visit the shop to buy clothes for their rider, riding equipment for the horse and after progressing through certain parts of the game, buy new horses as well. The stable and closet will allow you to equip the various items you have purchased and lastly, the grooming area will let you clean up your horse after an event.
Rides are one of the longest and most interesting events in Planet Horse. These are basically mission where in you can bring your horse anywhere the map (which is usually various courses combined) and the only limitation you have is the amount of stamina your horse has (stamina is represented by a column of carrots on the left side of the screen). Each Riding event has a specific objective that delivers a small back story behind the Stud Ranch.
The very first mission sets you off looking for acorns. This will acquaint players with the basic controls and features of the game as well as some of the finer aspects of maneuvering when on a horse. What the game does not teach however, is proper stamina management. During ride events, making tight turns is better executed by slowing down to a complete stop, clicking once to turn the horse, then moving forward again. This will save your horse precious amounts of stamina that would have been lost had you tried to make a turn while galloping.
All ride missions play in the same manner, you move your horse around collecting items until the stamina bar runs out. Do not fret with getting low ranks in the first few tries. Event with the strong horse types, having enough stamina to acquire items for the gold medals is difficult. The best thing to do is to keep repeating the earlier ride stages and build up enough stamina for the later ones.
While collecting the objective items, players will also run across horseshoes/totem poles and carrots. The horseshoes (in Europe stages) and the totem poles (US stages) are collectible items that will unlock various items and options as you progress in the game. Carrots, on the other hand, will add a partial refill to your stamina bar. Collecting the extra items in a stage is a matter of properly gauging your stamina and planning your route ahead –horseshoes are often placed off the normal track, and collecting them often requires players to sacrifice a good bit of stamina.
Fortunately, for those planning to grab all the collectibles, it is easier to farm horseshoes once you have progressed further in the game and have gained a horse with high enough stamina. Early in the game, players would have to contend with earning only silver or even bronze medals in ride events. It is best to return to certain ride events once a better horse is available. Speaking of collectibles, ride events are also where players can seek out various hidden locations. There are three in each of the two continents to be found. To trigger the special location, all you need to do is to walk up to the immediate area. Locating these can be quite difficult and should only be done when your horse has an extremely high stamina rate –around seven carrots worth.
One of the things we loved about ride events is that the various missions all aim to teach players very important lessons. The clean-up scenario will have players (and their horses) galloping through the course collecting various trash bags that have been left behind. This teaches players to value the importance of a clean environment and understanding that even locations such as horse riding trails require a degree of care and nurturing to keep clean. The one of the last riding missions, Save the Animals, teaches players about the harsh truth behind the reality of trapping and how dangerous it is for many wildlife species. In this mission, players have to collect the various bear traps strewn about the wilderness in order to prevent small animals from getting injured.
Cross Country Races
Race events are all about time, players have to complete set circuits around the tracks under a certain period of time in order to order to gain the top rank. In a race, there are several competitors and each has their own time record. To earn a medal, players have to beat any of the top three equestriennes.
One of the biggest challenges with the race is the fact that in the later stages, the game actually becomes a lot more difficult in terms of medal requirements. You do not get to race side by side against your opponents (in fact, there are no derby type events in Planet Horse game), all you need to do is to keep track of your own time and make sure it is faster than the number 1 ranking opponent. Aside from one’s own time record, players have to mind the penalty count. The penalty score heavily affects the race rankings, so players making good time should also make sure to complete each jump properly –missing a jump acquires 10 penalty points.
In order to win a race, two basic strategies apply best; the first is to cut corners. There seems to be very little or almost no penalty for horses that stray off the set path and run over the grass. Doing so on certain turns and corners will shave off anywhere from half to a full second worth of time. Of course, be sure to keep your horse from bumping the edges of the track as it will force you to a complete stop. And knowing what type of grass can be walked on and what cannot is a matter of trial and error.
The second thing to be careful of is the positioning of the mouse cursor. Since the location of your mouse dictates which direction you face and the speed of your horse, ensure that you provide straight routes as often as possible – to navigate tight corners, keep the mouse within a reasonable distance from your horse as to maintain a solid control over the turn. Doing this will also help you line up any jump in the race.
One of the most satisfying events are the Show Jumps. To win, players simply have to follow the track and jump all the over various obstacles one after the other. While both Races and the Show Jumps have jumping sequences, there is less time pressure to content with in the show jump events. In fact, most of the focus here will simply be being able to line up your gallop properly and being able to time the button presses.
It goes without saying that watching your horse jump across the obstacles in slow motion has a very satisfying feeling. The camera zooms in right on the action and gives you a close up look of you and your steed majestically soaring over the obstacle. It is one of the most beautiful sights to behold in the game and in the Show Jump event, you can enjoy it without having to worry much about getting your horse back in pace when you land.
Not to say that you can simply win this without much effort; in the Show Jumps, precision is a more important factor than speed (though a little haste does help as well) and being able to follow the track as accurately as possible is something that players should be keen on if they want to earn the gold.
The user controls are what makes riding in Planet Horse quite fun. For the most part, players will be relying on their mouse to move around the menus and the game itself. The only time users will need the keyboard is when they need to type in their player name or a name for the horse. Aside from that, all the controls are strictly mouse-exclusive.
While this does mean that the game system is simplified, it also works well for its target users –mainly players who simply want to enjoy the thrill of horse riding, but without the difficulty of deftly controlling the reins and stirrups. All the menus use nice big buttons and wide spaces which mean that clicking on the wrong item will be a very rare occurrence, each button control also provides a quick pop out label to help players identify the icons.
In the game itself, the horse’s speed in direction is dictated by where you click your mouse. Click down any button once to tell the horse to go in that direction (the further away it is determines if the horse will trot or gallop). Holding down a mouse button will actively dictate the direction – quite useful when in full gallop and for navigating turns in a continuous run.
Sights and Sounds
Planet Horse game brings players to various locations set in lush green European meadows and also in the hot and sandy American dry lands. And whether you are competing in a challenging race or just enjoying a brisk ride with your trusty steed, expect to see some of the most impressive riding sights on a monitor.
The user interface for game feels a little bland and the word balloons are pretty hard to read (it uses light pink text on a beige background). Fortunately, they are quite easy to navigate and the pop up displays let you know the content being highlighted.
User interface aside, the game still gives plenty of focus on its visual appeal. Each track and portion of the tour courses have been designed to provide players with a feeling of immersion. There is a distinct difference between the European and American stages as well – a vast blue sky and heavy green foliage surrounds players in one and in the other, the sandy horizon vanishes to a distant view of dry cliffs and an orange sky. But while the scenery is amazing, players will themselves noticing their horses and riders a whole lot more.
The riders, as mentioned above, can be bought clothes and accessories in order to customize and personalize their looks. While we certainly enjoyed this element, the lack of hair and skin colors makes the personalization a little limiting (not all girls are blond after all). At least, this little problem can be remedied by purchasing hats or riding helmets which hides most of the hair. There are also a wide range of tops, leggings and even riding boots to choose from. Of course, most players would want to match up their clothes with the accessories they put on their mounts –and there are also a good range available on the store.
One other thing to mention is the fact that store items are pretty limited at the start of the game. In order to unlock more items to buy for both you and your horse, players need to progress in the game. At the very least, all horse breeds are automatically available at the very start of the game.
Speaking of which, each horse type and breed has a unique coat pattern that makes them distinctly different from the others. As stated above, you also get to chose how the marking on the legs and the head is defined –put together, the choices provides players with unique horses to ride. Aside from the impressive textures, the animations are top notch as well. The horses walk, trot, canter and gallop smoothly and realistically (there is no breed-specific ambling, but that would be nit picking). The jumps are also pretty impressive to watch, and unlike in real world events, Planet Horse lets you focus on the action. As the game switches to jump mode, players get to enjoy the sights in slow-motion –provided you press the mouse button in good timing of course.
The jumps are not just good to look at, the resounding sound of hooves landing on earth are just as satisfying to hear. As you would expect, the relaxing rhythm of trotting will be a frequent sound to hear in the game. When at full gallop, the rhythm becomes more upbeat and exciting. In terms of audio, the game certainly knows how to give players the ride of their life.
The music is pretty well done; while limited number of tracks is very disappointing (there are only two for all of the events), they are, at least, good to listen to. The music for the European stages follow a most dreamy and casual approach while the American stage BGM sounds a little more stereo typical for a western Cowgirl setting (and yes, you can also change your outfit to match a particular location or event).
All in all, Planet Horse is a beautiful game. Despite being limited in the number of stages and music choices, the game delivers both with a polish that will satisfy any horse riding fans’ needs.
In the End
Planet Horse game is an unlikely favorite that manages to charm players with its various gameplay features and of course, a wide array of horses to choose from. Add in the fact that you can also customize the horse’s color, print and equipment and you have got the makings of a great horse riding game for girls that will appeal to the hearts of young girls who have always dreamed of becoming an equestrienne. The tours, shows and rides all simulate the various experiences of a professional rider, without hassle of actually managing a stable (though you do get to enjoy a simplified grooming sequence).
Planet horse’s controls are simple and easy to master, making the game extremely satisfying to play. While the total number of stages is limited, there are plenty of items to collect and secrets to be found, promising players a good degree of replay value as well. On many points, Planet Horse delivers on everything you would expect from it, and goes the extra mile to provide players with a gameplay worth enjoying over and over again. If you have ever dreamt about jumping into the saddle, this is the certainly the best horse game for girls to start with.