Review: Life with Horses 3D (3DS eShop)

Say neigh

Horses are magnificent creatures. Whether humble labourers or prize-winning performers, each is a complex creature that can be both challenging and rewarding to care for and understand. Life with Horses 3D manages to portray the aspect of hard work in raising horses, but puts the whole “rewarding” part out to pasture.

Players in the main Story Mode of Life with Horses 3D inherit a run-down family ranch and must return it to the horse haven of its former glory. To do so, the ranch's rating needs to be increased by performing certain tasks, many of which require credits earned by doing horse-related jobs or winning race events.

You start off with one horse whose name, colour and coat you can choose. More will be brought onto the ranch later, mainly purchased through an online market and having names like “Pinky,” “Fizzy,” and “Ice Baby.” The horse models are nice, but somewhat stiff; they don't seem to exhibit much personality aside from occasionally moving their heads or hoofing at the ground.

Horses come with needs, of course. Some of them simply involve buying enough feed or ensuring they receive medicine when needed. Others, such as grooming, are more involved yet quickly mundane affairs. Swipe the stylus across each of a horse's four hooves to brush them, but make sure to pick carefully at the clods of dirt! Swipe the stylus across a horse's coat to brush them clean, but don't rub sensitive spots! Or just aim a hose with tilt controls to spray a horse down! All of these duties have an option to pay Play Coins to skip doing them yourself, and you will. Oh, you will.

Credit-earning jobs are often just as dull as grooming, but with the detriment that there's no way around doing them if you want to progress through the game. It tries to take advantage of touch and tilt controls to mix things up a bit, but the tasks themselves are so banal that it doesn't work. Training foals, for example, consists of pressing arrows to make a foal walk around a circle and stop on checkpoints. Massaging involves rotating a brush by jerking the 3DS back and forth like you're driving the express bus to Crazytown. There is no sense of strategy or choice to these tasks, nor do the horses show many reactions to them; they feel like little more than time-wasting chores.

Racing is perhaps the most entertaining part of Life with Horses 3D. Horses who are taken care of well enough to trust the player can be saddled and then ridden over nine courses in three different areas. These tracks are opened gradually through the course of the Story Mode as you win races, build a horse's skills, and buy land, but are all unlocked for play right from the beginning in Instant Mode.

Although each course offers some nice scenery, they all consist of the same kinds of obstacles. Instead of competing against other riders, you try to beat a target time without accruing too many faults. Tapping the A button brings the horse to a gallop, but its stamina needs to be managed. A prompt to press the L and R buttons together will appear on the screen before every jumping obstacle, with successful hits engaging a somewhat awkwardly animated slow-motion jump. Tilt mechanics are employed in this part of the game as well, with the 3DS needing to be leaned in some corners to navigate them better, and they feel more intuitive than they do when massaging a horse. Ultimately, however, the “races” aren't very challenging and can be finished without placing much thought into them.

As the ranch slowly grows, it's odd how little it seems to gain any life or spirit. Your character is almost entirely the only one you see. The buildings do become renovated, but aren't very interactive with the exception of the stables. Some customization is provided with different items that can be bought for the horses and complex, but everything seems far from possessing the kind of personal element that can be found in something like the Harvest Moon series. Add to this a clunky user interface, sometimes difficult overworld navigation, and a soft but repetitive soundtrack and there just isn't much that blooms here.

Conclusion

It seems like those who would be most willing to keep up with the dragging tasks of Life with Horses 3D are the big-time equine fans. However, these same fans would also be most disappointed in how lifeless the world can be and how impersonal treatment of and interaction with the horses can feel. It is possible that one can progress enough through the game to open up enough ways to be satisfied, but the cost in time and repetition to do so just feels too high. There has to be a better way to engage in horseplay.

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