Championship Pony
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-05-03 Nintendo DS Simulation E (Everyone) DSI Games / Coyote

Horse-themed video games have become more and more popular over the last few years, especially with the advent of the Nintendo DS, and the realization by developers that more little girls are finding gaming an acceptable way to spend some time. DSI stands to capitalize on this new group of gamers and horse lovers alike (both male and female) with the release of Championship Pony for the DS.

Your first moments spent with Championship Pony will be in naming your character and customizing your outfit. You can choose either a girl or boy character, and can then change their shirt design, color of pants, type of hat and so on. Once you are satisfied with the look of your character, you'll be introduced to Gerry who will serve as your guide through the game.

Gerry will first help you learn how to put a saddle and other accessories on your horse and will then take you to the training arena to learn the fundamentals of actual gameplay. While riding a horse, movement is controlled by the D-Pad or the stylus by tapping on a blue orb over your characters hands and dragging in the direction you wish the horse to move. You can control the horse's gait either by adding more pressure to the directional buttons or by sliding the stylus further away from the point of origin. This is one of the few times that I actually suggest using the stylus instead of the D-Pad as it gives you a lot more control over not only speed but turning as well.

Once you've mastered movement by making your way through a course of arrows, you'll move onto jumping, which is accomplished either by tapping on the touch screen twice while moving or by hitting the L or R buttons. Jumping is a bit more difficult than basic movement as it relies heavily on timing, and the camera angle (directly behind your character) tends to hinder your depth perception. That is, you won't know how close you are to an obstacle until you?‚…ve practically run into it, forcing you to have to back up and try again.

After you've passed the tutorial, you'll be thrown back to home base, where you can choose one of various options. You can go the stable and take care of your horses, increasing their loyalty to you, by brushing them in areas that they like, or you can shop for new accessories like hair bows for your horses' manes or different colored hoof covers. However, the main portion of gameplay will come from you actually entering events with your horses in worldwide tournaments.

Each tournament is comprised of three events: a cross-country course, a jumping course, and dressage. The cross-country course is one that tests your speed by having you ride through various natural landscapes, jumping over fallen logs and fence posts while making your way through tiny villages. The jumping events take place in various arenas and have you make your way around a square area jumping over poles, bricks, and other obstacles of varying heights.

Finally, dressage is the formal event that tests your reflexes in a simple "Simon Says" type of game. The computer will perform the actual movement for you, allowing you to focus on random symbols that pop up on the top screen. Once a symbol, such as an arrow or star, pops up, you have to tap on one of the nine squares on the touch screen that contains the same shape. Timing is key here, as the shapes will disappear quickly, with the speed of disappearance becoming faster in later events.

At the completion of each event, you will be shown your score along with the scores of your opponents (whose actions you never actually see). If you finish in the top three positions, you will be given either a bronze, silver or gold trophy. Only after receiving a trophy in all three events can you move onto the next championship in a different country. Still, the events remain the same, which means that things get redundant pretty quickly.

As you make your way towards equestrian greatness, you'll earn money which can be used to buy more accessories or to buy faster and more loyal horses from the shopkeeper back at the stables. Additional horses will be sent to roam in the pasture until you are ready for them, so you never have to worry about losing a horse you may have bonded with.

Furthermore, to help keep each tournament from being exactly the same as the one before, the environments you compete in are themed according to the nation you are currently in. That is, you might find yourself in the snow covered mountains for one set, and in the next be in a beautiful meadow filled with wildflowers.

Being that this is a game aimed primarily at little girls, most aspects of the game, including the menus, are decorated in dainty white flowers and other girly touches perfect for the target audience. Likewise, the horses have a very pretty look to them as well, with flowing manes and coats of varying colors, along with sparkling eyes and a look on their face that just screams "pet me".

The graphics as a whole are pretty nicely done for a DS game, with the only major issue being a bit of clipping when running past trees or over bridges. The detail on other natural elements is nice, and adds a bit of realism to the title. Likewise, the soundtrack here is very calm and soothing while riding through villages, but picks up in intensity during more demanding events. All in all though, the music here fits the category of gentle pop and matches well with the upbeat nature of the game.

In the end, if you can look past the difficulty in jumping over obstacles and the redundant nature of the title as a whole, Championship Pony does offer enough player-to-horse interaction to fill the need of young girls who want nothing more than a pony for Christmas or their next birthday. And considering as how most people purchasing this game will either be horse enthusiasts themselves or know someone who is, with multiple horse themed options now available for the DS today, I'd say this is as good of a buy as any you could make.

Special thanks to Alison Kain and DSI Games for providing a copy of this title.