Maybe I was overreacting, but I asked the Atari reps to take my pen away from me while I previewed My Horse and Me: Riding for Gold. I had a serious concern about stabbing myself in the leg after even five minutes in the presence of this game.
It wasn't as bad as I'd feared - there were no cutesy horses with big sparkly eyes and not too, too much overt sexism in the minute details of the game (the girl character even had realistically-sized hips). But think about it: this game is made only for girls. That in and of itself is sexist - is Atari saying boys can't ride horses? But on top of that, the game doesn't look that great - so maybe they're saying that girls can have their own games, but they have to be lame?
I'll climb down from the soapbox now. My Horse and Me: Riding for Gold is an equestrian sim for the Wii, Xbox 360, Nintendo DS and PC. I got to try out the Wii version where my character was a top-heavy teenager with bad taste in fashion. I found out that it was actually the PR rep's bad taste in fashion as the clothes in the game are customizable (most of the good stuff you unlock by winning competitions). You have your primary riding outfit, your casual riding outfit and special outfits for jumping, dressage or cross-country racing.
I will give My Horse and Me this: the tournaments were very realistic. Most little girls that dream of owning ponies don't realise how boring these competitions can get. Most of the time, a rider will be sitting atop her horse, sweating profusely in her riding gear, slowly moving the horse from one end of the field to the other so the judges can see how pretty the horse looks and how straight the rider is sitting.
The modes I tried had a lot of this (sans the sweating), where I had to move the analogue stick to get the horse to turn along a series of coloured markers on the parade grounds. The markers would change colour if I needed to tap B to speed up the horse or A to slow it down. Periodically, a Wiimote icon would flash on screen, telling me I had to turn the controller up right, or point it down to execute a little prancing flourish to please the judges. At the higher difficulty settings, the riding part of the game gets more engaging as you've got to tilt the Wiimote this way and that to turn the horse instead of just using the analogue stick. It almost feels like holding the reigns... almost.
The reality stops there, though and the rest of the game had me right back to wanting to shank myself. The first insult was that there are no horse breeds in this game - only different colours of horses. This is wrong, if want this game to be about horses. By not treating the horse as a real horse, how can the developer expect the player to treat the horse like a real horse? Oh sure, there's all this crap about how you have to feed your horse and clean it with little motion-controlled mini-games, etc. - but the consequences for not doing these things are pretty shallow: you just don't get to race the horse until you feed it. It doesn't ever die and it hardly ever gets sick, and the brands you put on your horses are all girly things like hearts and stars which you don't have to use a red-hot branding iron to apply.
I'm not asking to use my Wiimote to burn patterns onto horses' butts. I'm just saying that if you're going to tout yourself as an "equestrian experience" sim, you'd better be ready to provide real horse fans with realistic horses and realistic horse chores.
The problem here is that My Horse and Me is trying to be both a girlie-girl game that they can market to 8-year-olds and be an equestrian sim. Based on my experience, I'd say it fails at both, but it is early days yet for the title. Maybe by the release date in March 2009, they'll have added an unlockable unicorn skin to the horse colours you can choose from or made the game more about being an equestrian.
Screens on the link.