Games like Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch have been around for a while now. You may have heard or even played games such as Star Stable. Then there’s the old Barbie Horse Adventures games. Horse Tales joins this collection of horse-riding games, and it doesn’t disappoint. Sure, there’s a few teething problems, but no game is perfect. It nearly is though, and if you read this review for Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch, you’ll find out why.
Story: Rebuild a Ranch, Make a Name for Yourself
The story of Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch isn’t overcomplicated, which is a good thing. It’s a simple set-up. Aunt Josephine has invited you to visit her at her horse ranch. When you get there, you discover that the ranch is in a bad case of disrepair. If that wasn’t bad enough, Aunt Josephine doesn’t seem that bothered, and as she’s away on vacation, she leaves it up to you to fix the place up. You might be feeling a bit resentful of Aunt Josephine at this point, but this sets in stone the gameplay, and you’ll find it’s not all that bad.
Gameplay: Playful Horse Adventures Awaits
Seeing as this is a horse riding game, the core gameplay of Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch is of course horse riding. It makes sense to start the gameplay section of this review talking about horse play in Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch. The first thing I should say is that the game has gone to a lot of effort with detail regarding horses. No horse is the same, and there is a lot more to the horses than I anticipated. They have names, genders, likes and dislikes, and abilities. The latter two is very important.
Horses with Personality
Likes will positively affect your horse in certain circumstances, while dislikes will have a negative impact. Likes and dislikes can affect how your horse behaves and rides. For example, you can have a horse who likes forests, so they’ll ride faster. However, you could also have a horse who hates dark places and won’t ride as well in tunnels and dark forests. They’ll even refuse to sprint and jump. Fortunately, you can train your horse out of their dislikes so it’s no longer a problem.
Another important attribute of your horse to watch out for are abilities. There are 5 altogether: endurance, agility, luck, and charisma. These affect how your horse performs in activities such as sprinting and jumping. This is very important if you want your horse to do well in races (especially that tricky Sneaky Ways race). Sadly, you can’t seem to change your horse’s abilities with training and such. You’re stuck with what you get. If you want a horse that is faster and stronger, you’ll need to find yourself a better horse.
Expanding your Collection of Horses
There are two ways to get new horses: breeding and taming wild horses. Both these methods are easier than they sound. To tame a horse, you simply sneak up on it and press a few button prompts, and suddenly you have yourself a new horse. You can even check the horse’s stats before you tame it, so you can pick out the best one. Breeding is also pretty straightforward. You just need two horses, some food, and to leave it at a breeding stable for one day. Before you know it, you have a new horse, hopefully with great stats. You’ll have to build more stables to keep all your horses, but these aren’t too strenuous to put up.
Building Yourself a Ranch
The story is that Aunt Josephine has let the ranch go to ruin, and it’s up to you to restore it. The ranch you have is pretty big, and there are designated areas where you can place new buildings and even decorations such as benches, fountains, trees, and stacks of hay.
The buildings you put down have important and useful purposes. You can keep horses at stables and groom them, you can wash horses at the wash station, grow crops, and build your own breeding station. You can even place down a campsite where you can sleep and get mail. You can later upgrade to a house so you can change your outfit. As you progress through the game, you unlock new buildings and decorations.
It’s satisfying to watch the ranch come together as it’s restored from rack and ruin. There just feels like there’s something missing, but I can’t put my finger on what. Maybe the individual buildings feel a little lacking, or perhaps it’s the lack of flexibility where you can place buildings?
To create buildings (and place bridges and ramps), you need resources. These aren’t too hard to come by. You can find all kinds of resources around the island, but what you find depends on the location. Some resources are harder to find than others, but nothing’s impossible to get. The other great thing is that when you sleep and a day passes, the resources will respawn, so you’ll never run out.
Giving the Locals a Helping Hand
Although the world of Emerald Valley can seem a bit sparse, it is populated with people. You just have to look for them. It might be because the world is so vast that it’s easy to miss people while you’re galloping around on your horse.
When you do manage to find someone, it’s worth talking to them because they can give you tips on gameplay, give you new tasks, or gift you with items.
Horse Care and Racing
There were 3 notable horse gameplay I picked out in Horse Tales: horse care, racing, and breeding.
Horse care is important for keeping your horse happy. You can feed your horse treats, wash and groom them, and pet them. Petting horses functions as a mini-game. You have to find out your horse’s favorite petting spots, and when you do, it’ll fill up their happiness meter. It’s very sweet watching your horse getting petted, whinnying happily. Washing your horse is also a mini-game, although the controls can be a bit trial-and-error. It feels like you have to wriggle the stick around and hope for the best. Cleaning your horse isn’t mandatory, but you feel a bit bad when your horse gets filthy, especially if you’re attached to them. You do find yourself getting fond of your horses, which I think is important in any game with horses.
Racing, while frustrating sometimes, is usually good fun. There are a few different races scattered around, some which seem harder than others. You have to go round tight corners, duck under archways, ride through mud and water, and make jumps over obstacles. One wrong misstep can cost you valuable seconds and a good placement on the leaderboard. One thing to note is that the leaderboard frequently changes, so other racers can beat the high score you set while you’re away. While annoying, it does give you a motive to go back and regain your position.
A Vague Camera
A game’s good camera can make life much easier for a gamer, while a bad camera can make a game frustrating. Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch sits in the middle. While the camera isn’t terrible, it could be better.
By default, it feels like the camera is floating about, not properly fixed in one spot. It does follow you and your horse, but it’s a bit all over the place. You also have to spend a lot of time adjusting the camera while riding your horse, something that isn’t easy if you’re racing or making those tricky jumps. Fortunately, I rectified this issue by going into settings and making it so the camera automatically stayed behind me and my horse all the time, rather than manually doing it. If you’re having the same issue with the camera, I would recommend you try this.
Any Bugs? A Few, But There’s Good News…
As part of this review, I do have to mention that I did encounter a few bugs. One involved beating a girl’s score in a race to progress in the story. Even if you manage to beat her score (something which isn’t that easy), the game fails to register it and you’re essentially stuck. Another bug I encountered in the same race, where the checkmarks you race through weren’t registering, forcing me to reload the game to fix it. The world also went black when I sent my horse into the breeding stable.
As annoying as these bugs are, there is some good news. I am aware that a patch has been released to fix these bugs, including the one for topping the girl’s score on the leaderboard. It’s currently only been released for PC, but console patches are on the way, so if these bugs have hit your game, hang tight, as a fix will hit your game soon.
Another thing I couldn’t ignore was the stuttering I encountered. I played this game on the Switch, so it may not be affected on other platforms. I didn’t find the stuttering issues too annoying though, at least not to the point that it ruined the game for me and made me want to quit.
It’s a shame that this game does suffer from a few bugs and performance issues, because otherwise I’d be giving Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch a better score for this review.
Graphics and Audio: Gentle and Beautiful
With a good game like Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch, you need good graphics as well as sound and music to go with it. It’s great to report that the graphics don’t let the game down. They match the game’s casual style perfectly. There’s a neat mix of realism with some cartoony style. The colors aren’t too bright and in-your-face, very pleasing to the eye. Since Emerald Valley Ranch is an open-world game, it would be bad if the graphics weren’t pretty to look at while riding around. You’ll probably find yourself in awe of the world you can freely ride around in.
There’s not a lot to say about the music of Horse Tales, except it’s pleasant to listen to and doesn’t get too easily annoying after a while. It complements the gameplay and graphics wonderfully.
Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch, with a game key provided by Microids.