Ubisoft, the France-based (as far as its headquarters goes) video game developer and publisher, is taking another shot at Facebook with a new game called Horse Gaga. This follows up on their first effort back in 2009, a game called TickTock.
No, despite the title, and follow-up coverage regarding the company’s trademark for the name, it has nothing to do with Lady Gaga, the singer. The game is actually centered around the caring for and raising of competition-level horses. Unfortunately, this concept immediately comes with a stigma along the lines of “not another animal husbandry app,” but Ubisoft does a pretty decent job of differentiating itself by combining the familiar elements from the pet caring sect with those of the role-playing genre. That said, it has been noted to us that the concept is based on a Facebook Connected French title called Equideow. Of course, not being fluent in French makes it difficult to see just how much was used from the orginal rendition, but they do seem strickingly similar.
Regardless, moving back to Horse Gaga: As far as the husbandry element goes, your horse has a set of five attributes: Nutrition, Happiness, Energy, Cleanliness, and Proficiency. Each of the five have a set of actions associated with it that will increase those attributes by X amount of “Care Points.” The idea is to increase Proficiency to its maximum allotment, but in order to do so, Care Points for the other four are consumed. To that end, a certain number of points for the others must be available in order to train Proficiency, thus it becomes a see-saw effect of training versus caring.
For each action performed, the user’s energy pool is depleted (the same way it is in most other Facebook RPGs), thus limiting what one can do in a single sitting. Additionally, some actions, such as feeding, also consume your in-game currency, Horse Coins. Luckily, any fiscal loses are recovered by the next element of the game: Competitions.
The whole point of training your horse and caring for it – beyond just loving horses – is to enter it into horse races. The game isn’t just about virtual frolicking in green pastures. As players gain experience (earned through every action) and level up, more types of competition will become available, but the basic is simple racing. This is most comparable to a quest or mission in Mafia Wars. Each one takes X amount of time to complete, ranging from 30 minutes to 24 hours.
As you’d expect, longer races earn both more experience and more income. Obviously, as some are a day or more long, the player does not control what happens and the results are completely automated. That said, you can influence the results to some degree in two ways.
The first and foremost means is train your horse to its maximum level of proficiency. Beyond this, you can publish your races to your Facebook feed and get your friends to click on the link to “cheer for you.” The more they cheer, the more likely it is that your horse will win and take the first prize. Curiously, each of these races are also run against other random Horse Gaga players as well, so make sure your steed is well trained as it will be going up against other well-bred horses.
This is where things get even more interesting. Yes, you can actually breed horses. Using coins or the virtual currency Horse Cash, you can buy extra horse boxes in order to stable more animals. Once you’ve done so, you pay coin to breed your mare with a stallion of your choosing. Doing so will not only give you different colors and styles, but also, should you train your mares to maximum proficiency, you can apparently increase the maximum your newborn will have. The long-term goal here is to breed the perfect racing horse.
Beyond these mechanics, Horse Gaga has a number of smaller elements to it, too, such as buying items to expedite processes (like breeding time) using virtual currency, as well as buying decorative horse equipment and horses using in-game currency and the former. Other miscellaneous features include visiting your friends’ stables, various achievements, and tasks (quests) to help guide you on what to do next. All very nice to have, but nothing truly extravagant.
As far as game play is concerned, Ubisoft has done a very nice job. Frankly, at its core, Horse Gaga is much more interesting than others of its ilk. However, for a developer as big as Ubisoft, the presentation itself is rather underwhelming. Yes, the stills and user interface look crisp and clean, but overall it feels rather bland. Other than drifting clouds in the background, everything is static and devoid of life. Even though they are clones of clones, other animal caring apps had animals that at least felt like more than a paper cutout. With Gaga, you’re pretty much staring at the same static picture of your horse the entire time, and just clicking buttons that pop up with simple animations.
Luckily, superfluous presentation elements are always easy to fix when compared to the central mechanic of a game. At its core, Horse Gaga is pretty strong – its surface just needs a little grooming. That said, it certainly isn’t a game that is going to appeal to everyone. It is very slow paced and not much to do at any given time. However, if you are a fan of the animal caring titles, RPGs, and horses, this is one you might find most interesting.
Thanks for the tip, Steve Franco, Esq.