Horse Riding Tales — Cute Horses, Bad Interface and Excessive Microtransactions
I spontaneously tried Horse Riding Tales after someone pointed it out to me as a new Steam release. I quickly realized that the game was a port of a mobile title that has been out on the App Store and Google Play for a while. Since I get instantly excited whenever I see anything that might turn out to be a good horse game on PC, I decided to give it a go nonetheless.
At the time of writing I’ve played the game for about an hour and don’t much intend to return to it.
Visuals, Horses and Polish
Horse Riding Tales absolutely has a number of redeemable qualities, although they are oversold in the Steam store page description. Horse Riding Tales is nicely polished and visually appealing, especially when compared to low-effort games like My Riding Stables (2018).
One thing the game deserves praise for is getting its horse animations right. Although cartoony, the horses in Horse Riding Tales move fluently and realistically, their gaits and footfalls are correctly adapted and their expressions of being happy or afraid look plausible. Which sadly is not the case for many other horse games.
Much of the promised customization is hidden behind premium purchases, but even the free horses look pretty and offer a bit of variety.
The promotional material, logo and loading screen artwork are clearly inspired by Star Stable Online, but I’m willing to forgive that. Particularly since Horse Riding Tales actually made some smart choices about using stylized assets in its environments rather than the slightly strange cartoon/pseudorealism mix found in SSO.
Quests and Story
“Begin your journey from lowly stable hand to dressage super star!” the game’s store description promises, but then of course does not dare to actually keep the player from riding their own horse for more than a minute. Your life as a stable hand is over right after the intro cutscene when you tame your first horse and learn riding instantly.
Obviously I’ve not seen that much of the story yet, but it very much seems like the quests are used to guide you through new mechanics rather than tell any actual narrative. Compared to a game like My Riding Stables however, even using quests for direction is already a vast improvement.
Disappointingly, the riding mechanics for jumping boil down to pressing a button at the right time while your horse follows a fixed path.
Interface, Grinding and Monetization
The PC version of Horse Riding Tales suffers noticeably from being a cheaply made mobile port: the interface has barely been adapted, with over-large buttons betraying its mobile origins. Instead of letting the player press “Esc” to access the menu, you constantly see a large “Settings” button taking up space on your screen. Changing the speed of your movement while riding requires two clicks in a menu rather than direct input.
Many things that could easily be done by keyboard (like opening the settings menu) have to be done by clicking buttons. On the other hand, pressing the letter “P” while typing a name for your horse somehow ends in cancelling the input, which I found out by failing to name my newly tamed buckskin Spirit.
The game has gathering and crafting features, which I generally really like and enjoy (see my review for My Time at Portia), but the process of finding and mining wood, cotton and iron quickly grows very tedious. The mining feels frustratingly slow and you need all three materials in significant quantities in order to progress.
One does not have to wonder long at why the game makes everything tedious, because the answer pops up in your face as soon as you lack any resource: You can just buy gems to progress.
Horse Riding Tales has the kind of monetization scheme that gives the term free-to-play a bad name: You can spend vast amounts of money (a 2600 gem package costs a hefty 90$) not just to unlock rare horses and customization options, but also to bypass the resource gathering entirely.
The problem with such a model is not even that the options are there, but that the gameplay is obviously designed specifically to feel too slow and tedious if you don’t pay.
I deeply appreciate Horse Riding Tales’ horse models and animations and wish they were part of a better game with a less despicable approach to grinding and monetization. That the game is noteworthy for seemingly basic components such as getting its horse movements right and providing proper audiovisual feedback for interactions says more about the sad state of many other horse games rather than the quality of this one.
Horse Riding Tales may be worth playing if you have a whole lot of time to pass or are willing to spend a significant amount of money. Everyone else who wants a cute colorful horse girl MMO on PC is is probably better served with Star Stable Online, despite that game’s own flaws.
Horse Riding Tales is available for free on Steam, Google Play and the Apple Store.