Sunday, December 27, 2020

Horse Illustrated: Championship Season

The ultimate riding adventure! Champisonship Season as the game keeps calling itself, despite being the smallest part of the title, is possibly one of the most obscure titles from American budget publisher Head Games. From the second I start the title, I can see that however much I spent on this abomination against good taste was probably too much. From the low-quality company introductions, to the name Radish Works, to the low-quality horse FMV...oh...this is going to be bad.

Now, if you don't know who Head Games are, they were effectively Activision's budget for a period in the late '90s. In practice, they released a LOT of trash, just absolute trash. Mostly sports game, for which they've become known these days, but they also had a hand in a few unofficial FPS expansions. Oh, excuse me, there's a horse talking to me. Don't know who the hell Barney is yet, but he's probably not going to be fun to ride...if anything is...

Of course, actually getting to that point isn't fun either. I dare say the majority of playing time here is spent in what amounts to a weird-ass Myst-clone. I repeat. Horse simulation/Myst-clone game. Just because a sentence hasn't been used in the English language before doesn't mean you should use it. I know nothing about horses, and thus the confusing talking horse, Sylvia, while the most annoying thing ever, is vaguely useful.

Oh, but don't get me wrong, the Myst-clone section isn't fun, not even to my Myst-clone enjoying mind. Find the tack, find the bridle. Oh, you don't know what that is? Too bad. Oh, you weren't paying attention to the one your horse needed? Go back and get it. Remember to wash and care for your horse or you'll lose horse points! You really think I'm going to be here long enough for that to be an issue? Everything is hidden away in some small hidey-hole.

Once I get past training section is a trap, at least now. The third message causes the game to hang, because the talking horse's prompt disappears. I mean, this game always had issues with the talking horse, but this feels like it was just broken and never fixed. The two page manual says the controls anyway, and its not exactly hard to figure out. Arrow keys and space, like most games of its kind. By that I mean quick and simple arcade games. There are three events.
The first is Dressage, which is running at a certain speed over a series of dots. This is slightly harder than it sounds. Don't confuse that with fun though.
The second is stadium jumping, which involves jumping over a bunch of set fences. This is both harder and easier than you imagine. You need to be earlier than you might think in order to successfully jump over a fence. This caused me a lot of trouble getting used to, although that was with the final event. When I got to this, I only fell off once or twice.
The final one is cross-country, which I started first. Funny. Its like stadium jumping, except with a lot more space. This was the first event I did, but to be honest, its a tad grueling. In all these there's an announcer who speaks whenever you come to a difficult jump, and goes on whenever you jump over anything, success or failure. He's really annoying.
After that, its cleaning the horse...which is really, really lame. I'm not a horse fan or anything, but the lack of feedback in the game is a crime against good design practices. Its especially a problem when the game says it'll penalize you for screwing things up. I can't wash him? Well, why didn't you mention that? That's the only thing I got. Tell me game!
I might have been inclined to play this for a while, but this game is so unresponsive. Button prompts just don't work half the time and if an item doesn't do anything in a specific situation, it just ignores it and treats it like a normal click. Great...great...great. Let's not talk about the generic music. After finishing up perfectly I had less than 50 horse credits, enough to unlock the next event level. Continuing would require me to do increasingly strange choices of event combination, doing all three nearly perfectly got me 15 points. Playing as a different horse? 150. Curiously, there's evidence to suggestion the creation of a horse in-game, although this seems to have been scrapped.

I do not suggest you play this, even as a joke. Its bizarreness is outweighed by its unplayability. Normal service will return after Christmas.

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