"Riding Club Championships" Review

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I regret to report that "Riding Club Championships" has shut down their game as of April 8, 2011. ArtPlant, the studio that created the game, announced that they were not making enough money to continue hosting the game. It's not surprising, and in my opinion ArtPlant made some very serious errors in marketing and promoting the game. For one, they originally released it as a fully paid game - in which you had to pay real cash in order to play longer than the two-hour trial. This shut the game off to what would have been their largest audience - young girls - in addition to almost everyone else. Bad move. Second, they made the decision to open the game up for free (good move), yet not create any options to make money, such as introducing items that could be bought for real money or subscriptions (bad move, again). Honestly, I'm surprised that ArtPlant made so many fatally BAD decisions. 
There is one ray of good news. ArtPlant has decided to re-release the game on Facebook. You can find it here:
Riding Club Championships on Facebook


I'm always up for a good horse SIM. I am not a heavy player of games at all - maybe an hour here and there every few weeks. I also don't play many games. For me to pick up a game, it has to be slick and graphically gorgeous. Otherwise, I have no interest.

I came across "Riding Club Championships" about one or two years ago. It looked really fun, with accurate graphics and game play in a completely 3D world with nice looking locations. There was only one catch - the game required the user to pay real money to play. I left it and thought nothing more. 

Imagine my surprise, during a desperate late-night search for some equine entertainment, to discover that Riding Club Championships had been made completely free in October of 2010! HUZZAH! Without much hesitation I created an account and downloaded the game. 

Riding Club Championships Review

    You download the program onto your computer. It is not a browser-based game like Howrse or even Horse Isle. After you download the program, it opens up full-screen and guides you through creating your rider avatar and your horse. 

    For you avatar, you choose between a plain white female with a few bland hair colors (no hair styles besides the default loose bun) or an African-American. You can also choose a frighteningly buff and intimidating male rider. The skin tones are not that great, with the Caucasian tones looking almost pink. The animation and design of the riders is not as good as those of the equines. Hands are large and clownish, and there is no real diversity in faces. Blah.
    Designing your horse is much more fun. There are quite a few coat colors, and you can mix and match your coat and mane/tail colors. You can also overlay a pattern, such as different paint patterns, spots, blazes, and dapples. However, all horses come in the same default base - a light breed with an Arab-ish face. No breeds. You can name your horse anything you like, but you cannot chose the sex, breed, or age of your horse.

    Once you finish your horse, you are taken to a field with some jumps. Riding your newly created horse, you get a quick tutorial of how to control your steed how how to steer. I quite like the controls and the options available. Not only can you can you change gaits (walk, trot, canter, halt), but you can also control the speed of the gait by holding the up or down arrows. You change gaits with the number keys.
    Jumping is a challenge, since you must estimate when to hit the spacebar to jump without an aid. In other games, you have a meter or signal that tells you when to jump, making the game a little easier. The riding system in RCC is well designed, yet challenging enough for even adult game-players.
    After the tutorial, you can choose to “Accept Horse” or back to further customize you equine.
BEWARE - once you have accepted your horse and rider, there is no going back, and that is the horse you are stuck with for the game.

Horse and Rider with tack and clothing purchased from the shop.

     From the main screen, you can choose a variety of options. After sampling most of them, you can get the feel for the game - it is centered on riding and competing, and has less focus on the “pet” and simulation/customization aspects.

    The grooming simulation, the only thing you can do with your horse besides ride him, is one of the best I have ever seen of any online, paid game, or otherwise. You groom with specific grooming tools that serve different functions, and you have to groom the entire animal by swerving 360 degrees around him. That even includes the top of his back, his legs, his rear, and even his stomach. The dirt really comes off and his mane even straightens and gets fluffy when you use the mane comb. It’s fun and easy to groom, and the mouse and camera controls are perfect  and easy on the eyes.
    I really enjoy the fact that your horse gets progressively dirtier the more you ride. The dirtier he is, the more “grumpy” he is, which affects his performance.

    After grooming, you will have to complete a series of practice tests in order to advance to Tier 2 (which allows you to compete), as well as get a better hang of riding and jumping.
    The lessons are instructed and led by a blonde woman with a pleasant English accent. The animation on the lady isn’t that advanced, but as soon as you start riding through the “Paces” test, you’ll be amazed at how nice the riding animation is. Again, RCC takes the cake for some of the best horse animation I have seen in a game.
    You will have three separate lessons to learn and improve your Paces, Maneuvering, and Jumping technique. You will need to complete all of them with only one mistake or less - otherwise you will not receive your “pass” and will have to take it again. However, I felt no anger in having to repeat the lessons - the riding experience is so much fun!
    Some people complain that the instructor is annoying, but I find her quite enjoyable. The dialog is very good, and doesn’t feel forced, fake, or uneducated at all. A few terms could be a little more accurate, but overall she is a great NPC. She’s even wearing a safety vest!
    I have played a few games in which the learning curve for riding controls was so difficult that I stopped playing. While RCC is challenging, it is not so difficult as to discourage users. The camera is smooth and rather thrilling at times, following your horse and rider perfectly. The jumping is spot on, accurate, and fun.

    After passing all the lessons, you will have moved on to Tier 2. Time to start competing! You can first begin by trying out the unlocked courses on your own. Courses are set in all sorts of fun locations, from snowy Norway to sandy Australian beaches to English manor estates. You can choose from maneuvering courses, show jumping, and dressage (which is rather tricky!). You will not have access to cross-country courses until Tier 3.
Show Jumping. The white bulls-eye only indicates whether your horse is capable of clearing the jump.

    Again, while the courses are challenging, I found myself improving with each round. The fact that you can speed up (extend) and slow down (collect) your horse in each gait is immensely helpful and helps add another sense of satisfying realism to the game.
    When you are ready, you can compete against other online users or custom groups of your friends.
I don't think that putting an arena next to a massive Ferris wheel is the best idea...

    Sound effects are pretty good, but there could be more of them. 
    Music is standard and rather dull (has nothing on HorseIsle’s great soundtrack!). Sounds a lot like the canned soft rock used in “The Saddle Club” television show. I generally turn the music off, keep the sounds on, and blast some dramatic classical music.

    This game does not offer a lot of features for those who would like more a “digital pet” or action/adventure experience. You can only groom your horse and ride him. Your avatar cannot walk around the stable or do any ground-work.
    There is little in the way of wardrobe either. The options for riding clothing and horse tack is severely limited. There is only one style of bridle, saddle, wraps, and saddle pads in a few colors and patterns. You will need coinage to purchase the items, which are obtained from winning shows against other players or betting in “King of the Hill” matches.

    I wish that if the game developers could work on one thing, it would be adding more customization features. It would be nice to have a bigger and more diverse amount of clothing and tack, as well as being able to better customize your avatar’s face, skin tone, and hair.

    The nice aspect about this game is that developers are still adding features after the game’s release. I think this game could really go far and attract a lot of members if it was better advertised (and more members blogged and promoted it). It has a LOT of potential, and I hope to see it grow to include more adventuring aspects that didn’t center around competition. It would be fun to have virtual worlds to explore, quests to do, things to collect, and people to talk to.
    Originally, this game cost money to play (they offered a free, two-hour trial). Recently, they released it free to all members. While I applaud this move (smart!), I wonder if the game was “abandoned” by developers and will not be updated any longer. I hope that is not so, since this game really is a diamond among horse sims.

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