About a month ago, I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a post from Piggy March that made me stop in my tracks:
“How cool is this?! Very excited to be a part of the new Equestriad World Tour game with Vanir Kamira. An honour to be featured alongside some of the great horse and rider combinations in our sport.” the post said.
Equestriad World Tour, eh? Ignoring the fact that Vanir Kamira’s forelock was exploding out of her ear net and Virtual Piggy seemed to have made a questionable choice in what looks like polo wraps, I immediately dropped what I was doing and went to the app store.
Lo and behold, there it was: a game I could play on my phone that harked back to Equestriad 2001 and Mary King’s Riding Star — the PC games I obsessively played as a kid while I was still begging my parents for riding lessons. Label it as a “kid’s game” if you must, but even as a bona fide adult I’ve been getting a real kick out of playing Equestriad World Tour and I’m here to tell you that if you need some lighthearted eventing fun in your life, then you’ll get a real kick out of it too.
Gameplay is primarily centered around competing in events, though after competitions you’ll need to spend a little time in the stables with your horse grooming them or feeding them treats to raise their condition. Before you get started, the omnipresent voice of Nicole Brown will guide you through the controls you’ll use for riding and how to care for your horse. Nicole — as well as other familiar names/ voices including Spencer Sturmey, Lucinda Green and Mary King — feature heavily in their narration throughout competitions. It’s one of the many fun real-world touches to the game.
While the controls for the game are pretty simple in theory (press button to jump, move on-screen joystick left/ right to turn and forward/ back to speed up and slow down) it’s a bit more nuanced than it seems at face value and will take from practice to get the hang of. You’re going to get a refusal at every other cross country jump. Don’t be surprised, but don’t let it discourage you either! If you stick with it I promise you will improve. You’ll get a good overview of the controls from Virtual Nicole, so I’m not going to go into detail about how exactly to play, but after a month or so of very important “product research” I have some tips to share with you.
Dressage is mainly scored on how accurately you hit the floating “movement” markers, but the extra element that will keep you from getting a 10/10 on a movement is how straight you are on the track. It reminds me of one of those kiddie car-driving rides you’ll find at amusements parks. The cars are on a track so they can’t go off course, but you can center yourself in the track by steering the car and keep yourself from jolting from side to side as you round corners. The same is true for the dressage test: You won’t be able to stray too far off the track and you can’t ride out the arena — just like you can’t crash your kiddie car — so don’t worry about getting eliminated, but keeping yourself in the center of the track will give you a smoother ride and a better score.
Keeping yourself in the center of the track is important in the jumping phases too, but I can’t tell if it factors into the score like it does in the dressage. If you’re not reasonably centered when you hit the button to jump, you run the risk of picking up a refusal and you’ll get the same rearing reaction as if you took off too early or too late.
My top tip for cross country is not to ride it like you’d ride a real course. In order to preserve your horse’s stamina (that purple bar at the top of the screen) but also catch the time you’ll need to make some sudden changes of paces while you navigate the course. Don’t worry about those things that have been drilled into your head like keeping a good rhythm, balancing before the jump, and accelerating after the jump. None of those matter here and it seems like slowing down before fence makes it harder to clear. There seems to be more leeway in the timing required to hit the ‘jump’ button when you’re going faster.
Conversely, my top tip for show jumping is DO ride it like a real show jumping course. You’ll still have to manage your horse’s stamina for sure, but with the tight turns of the final phase you won’t be tempted to run flat out all the time anyway. Those tight turns are tough to make too, so “look your turn” ahead of time (where have you heard that before?) or, as it’s translates to this video game, start turning before you think you need too.
What mainly keeps you keyed into the game is working towards unlocking all of the available competitions in the “Grand Prix” series. You’ll start off with just one available and when you achieve a high enough placing the next competition in the series will unlock. As you progress, you’ll recognize the names of many of the competitions — Bromont, Jardy, and Pratoni to name a few — alongside a few made up locations like the “New York Championship”. These competitions aren’t exactly replicas of the real events, but the scenery changes depending on the country the competition is in and the show grounds look a bit different for each setting. You’ll see some different types of cross country fence, but they’re all generally the same and there isn’t a lot of terrain to navigate.
However, that all changes once you unlock the Championship Series events or, if you’re in a hurry, buy an instant access pass. I usually detest in-app purchases, but I made an exception for this and I must say I was not disappointed.
The crowning jewels of this game are the Championship Series events where you can ride at virtual versions of our beloved real-life five-stars. Badminton and Kentucky are the events currently available (more will be added in the future, I hear!) and they are simply delightful. Both courses were modeled after the real life tracks, taking terrain and landmarks into consideration and you’ll be jumping little virtual versions of the actual fences and recognizing the familiar twists and turns as you go.
The Shogun Sport Hollow, the Savills Staircase, and the Vicarage Vee are all there at Badminton. At Kentucky, you’ll start off over the traditional Red, White, and Bluegrass first fence, tackle the Normandy Bank, and of COURSE you get to drop into the Head of the Lake. You’ll be left grinning by the level of detail with which these miniature courses were created. You’ll be absolutely aghast at how difficult they are and how many refusals you racked up (they are five-stars after all!) but you’ll still be grinning nonetheless!
Placings for the competitions are linked to a global leaderboard so you’re actually competing against other players all around the globe! While this is pretty neat, it’s also one of the main sources of complaints currently since the game does not distinguish between, for example, a level 2 player or a level 22 player, pitting them all equally against each other on the leaderboard. Whether you’ll be able place well enough to advance and unlock the next competition is not just decided by how well you play, but how well everyone else plays and who’s playing at that moment. That said, the creators of the game are already working on making changes based on this feedback to adjust the scoring system so that it only compares your score with the scores of other players at your same level. This update is expected to go live later this month.
Once a day there is also a new “Live Event” (sometimes it’s all three phases, sometimes it’s just one) that pits your best score in a 24-hour period against the global leaderboard and gives you the chance to earn golden horseshoes. I haven’t had much success in the live events so far though, but this competition mode makes more sense to be a contest amongst players across levels and, hey, not everything can be easy! You can also play each phase of each competition that you have unlocked separately as an “Exhibition” round if you need a little more practice in any one phase.
In addition to hearing the voices of some real life eventing personalities and riding some “real” courses, you’ll also see the likenesses of present-day celebrity riders and horses that you can compete against and, eventually, play as when you eventually unlock them. Ever wanted to be Oliver Townend? Now, somewhat terrifyingly, you can be:
Ever wanted to ride against Ingrid Klimke and Super Bobby? Now, also somewhat terrifyingly, you can. I can guarantee you though that your results in this game are going to be much, much better than if you were going to face off against them in real life:
Some of the avatar riders look, eh, kind of like their real-world counterparts if you squint, while some others look hysterically like themselves:
There are lots of different items in the game to unlock, including the riders and their horses, who come as a package deal. Other items include stable supplies — which you’ll need to stock up on in order to properly care for your horse –tack for your horse, and riding clothes for your own avatar.
The items can be unlocked by purchasing them with the game’s currency of … wait for it … horseshoes (if only, right?) and there are two types of horseshoes: regular ones, which can be used to purchase more common items, and golden horseshoes which can purchase specialty items. Regular horse shoes are earned by completing competitions and golden horseshoes are earned mainly by leveling up. You can also buy both kinds of horseshoes with your actual, real-word, hard-earned money via an in-app purchase if it behooves you, but you can certainly still very much enjoy the game without doing so.
One of the most recent updates to the game is the addition of different jackets, breeches, and helmet covers that you can deck your avatar out in now, as well as even more colorful tack items for your horse. Everyone knows we eventers like to wear our colors loud and proud, so this was a very exciting addition to the game, as evidenced by the interesting assortment of outfits you’ll see your fellow competitors decked out in alarmingly colorful clothing.
If there were one thing that I would change about the game, it would be to add an extra incentive for a top placing in the Grand Prix series competitions. As it currently stands, you get the same number of “reputation points” (i.e. experience points which you accrue to level up) and the same number of horseshoes no matter if you come in 1st or 21st. You’ll need to continue competing some of the same competitions over and over again to earn enough reputation points to unlock the next series of competitions and the fact that that takes quite a while is another common complaint of the game as it is.
But for all it’s funny little faults (Calling an eventing series a Grand Prix? Starting your dressage test from inside the arena? Jumping in a dressage saddle? That’s a big no from me — and anyone who actually jumps a horse) it’s a very fun, thoughtfully created game and the creators, GoGallop Studios, have done a really commendable job. The development team is still very clearly making updates and improvements to it, so it will be neat to continue to see how it develops in the coming months. I have a New England winter without indoor arena access ahead fo me, so I’ll be racking up a lot more play time going forward.
For the *ahem* older player, the nostalgia that Equestriad World Tour invokes is legitimate and it’s well worth the free download to relive your glory days of making (virtual) hoof prints at some of the biggest (virtual) competitions. For younger players unfamiliar with popping the old Equestriad 2001 CD-ROMs into their eMachine and may be currently begging their parents for riding lessons, I imagine this new iteration of the game will invoke the same wistful thoughts of someday galloping those tracks in real life. For the pony mad kid who inhales every book and game that has to do with horses, perhaps this could be their first introduction to three-day eventing and help get a new generation interested in and hooked on our sport.
Have you been enjoying playing Equestriad World Tour too? Tell us about it!