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Horse Life Package Art
Action Simulation
D3 Publisher
Game Life / Neko Entertainment

Horse Life

Horses in video games such as The Legend of Zelda or Shadow of the Colossus aren't very realistic. In such games the horse arrives from over a hill when whistled for, but there is little or no behind-the-scenes care and training of the horse that would need to happen in real life. Horse Life fills in those gaps with a more realistic experience that is both fulfilling and fun.


Beautifully modeled horses, riders and environments make this one of the best looking 3D titles to grace the DS yet. The horse's animations are so realistic that either highly skilled animators studying footage of real horses or motion capture technology must have been used. Occasionally there is some slight tearing, but it's minor and does not take away from the experience, especially when the ambition of the rendering is taken into account.

From stable to forest to arena, environments are also modeled in 3D to complete the illusion of realism. Not only are environments in 3D, but different models are used for different areas of the stable, forest tracks and competition arenas. The fact that the sense of riding a horse through a forest can be simulated realistically on a small handheld device is a triumph in itself.


Superb interweaving of varied background music tracks with ambient sound effects makes for a pleasant aural experience. The background music changes subtly in mood depending on whether the player is out for a ride through the forest or in the heat of competition. Similarly, the chirping of birds or clapping applause of spectators accompany various venues.

Across locations, certain sound effects remain reassuringly constant. These include the clip-clop of horse hooves, its snorts and breathing, and sound effects that cue when an action must be performed and relay how well it was executed.


At the start of the game, players get to choose the breed and color of their horse and see it as a foal. Three different breeds (English, French and Arabian) are available from the start, plus one hidden, unlockable breed. Players can even select the color and markings of their horse. While the girl rider and pink colors featured on the game's box art are a great outreach to females, players can choose either a boy or girl character when they begin their game. Both custom breed and character chosen by the player are shown in all riding segments of the game.

In terms of gameplay mechanics, Horse Life is like a cross between Harvest Moon and Elite Beat Agents; and that's a very good thing. The Harvest Moon elements come in to play when deciding which activities to spend time doing each day, managing your horse's health and happiness with feeding, washing and interacting. The Elite Beat Agents elements come into play while riding; players must tap and trace the paths of circles that appear onscreen to perform turns, vaults and other real riding maneuvers.

A seasoned, coach-like mentor will provide commentary as players progress throughout the game, as well as guide them through activities and point out elements of their horse's condition that need attention. The learning curve is relatively gentle to balance the various levels of horse happiness, fitness and cleanliness, making the game approachable to all ages. Players are allotted four activities per day and can choose between horse care, learning to ride and competing for prestige and cash in competitions. To maintain a happy horse and progress, players will usually need to balance a variety of different activities each day.

Once an activity is chosen, players will use the stylus in various ways to either change the hay in their horse's stall, clean and wash their horse, or ride their horse. Cleaning activities require the player to rub the stylus back and forth to simulate brushing or scrubbing, while riding activities require players to tap and trace circles that appear onscreen. These circles correspond with various turns, vaults and other maneuvers, lending a true sense of concentration to the act of riding. Tapping the horse's flanks will spur it on from a stop to a walk, then to a trot, and finally to a gallop. Tapping its neck, like pulling on reigns, will slow the horse back down again. Using the microphone, players can even whistle for their horse when it's out to pasture.




The simulation and action components of in Horse Life work surprisingly well together, striking a perfect balance. For anyone who loves horses, or anyone who likes the idea of horses but is intimidated by the size of the real animal, Horse Life is an excellent game that gallops beyond simple simulation and vaults into the realms of fun. Beyond fun, any DS owner can get lost in the beauty and realism that's been lovingly crafted into the world of Horse Life.

final score 9.0/10

Staff Avatar Paul Starke
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"In Japan this was named a 'trouble bug.' (...Is it really a bug?)"

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