Platform: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Developer: Blitz Games
Review Date: 1/6/04
After playing something as punishing as "Metroid Prime" (2002) for 30+ hours, "Wild Horse Rescue" is a refreshing change of pace and a welcome breath of fresh air. Finally, a game that I can play and finish on my own without the aid of strategy guides, cheat devices, nerves of steel, and superhuman dexterity! Barbie and her friends Christie and Teresa decide to ditch the boys for a weekend and go horseback riding at the Silver Valley Riding School. Unfortunately, the first night they're there, a fierce storm knocks open a gate and all the horses and foals (save for one) escape into the countryside. Being the model citizen that she is, Barbie volunteers to round up all of the missing horses and loot the various treasures that hide along the mountain trails. Along the way, Barbie and her horse must contend with wild animals, rugged terrain, rolling obstacles, and running water.
Since this is a Barbie game, it is completely devoid of danger and violence. Barbie getting knocked off her horse is about as rough as it gets. It is also completely free of testosterone, as all of the characters and horses are female. The lack of any stallions in the game helps eliminate any sexual subtext that certain people might want to associate with young women's fascination with horses. To keep things interesting as well as challenging, the game utilizes a "friendship meter", which indicates the level of trust that Barbie's horse has with her. Patting, grooming, and feeding the horse carrots increases the friendship meter, while running into animals and obstacles depletes it. An empty friendship meter safely sets Barbie back to an earlier place on the trail so she can try again.
Of course, what would any Barbie game be without a bunch of cool outfits to wear? Barbie has a number of mix-and-match casual, Western, and English riding outfits to choose from, and collecting coins along the various trails unlocks more. Barbie can also customize her horse by changing its color, markings, mane, blanket, and saddle.
As far as gameplay and presentation goes, the game is quite competent and fun to play. The levels are large and colorful, with nicely detailed textures and a good variety of terrain. They're beautiful to stroll through, and Barbie often makes comments to that effect. Unfortunately, the camera tends to be a bit fussy, and while you can rotate it manually, there are no controls for tilting it vertically, which obscures some of the beauty of the scenery. For the most part, the sound design and effects are good, although all of the audio sounds clipped or compressed. The music is very soft and soothing, but there isn't a lot of variety and the tracks don't loop well. There are also occasional clipping and collision problems in the 3D engine, but nothing that spoils the enjoyment of the game. If I have one single complaint about the gameplay, it would be that the loading times are too long and disruptive.
The presentation of Barbie herself is done quite well, and she has a very positive and confident attitude. Anndi McAfee does an excellent job voicing Barbie, and is enthusiastically cheerful without being sickeningly sweet. Barbie's character model is large chested and anorexic, with a big head, tiny feet, and a surprisingly bad dye job. Pretty much a spot-on interpretation of the doll. Her animations are very good, and even though she runs like a girl, it looks pretty natural (as opposed to Yuna's dreadful prissy prancing in "Final Fantasy X-2"). But by far the most impressive aspect of the game is the horse animation. Great care was taken to make the movement of the horses and foals look realistic. In addition to the standard walk, trot, and gallop, they flick their ears, swish their tails, shake their heads, and look at things that they pass by. They turn very naturally, and even walking backwards looks good. They even leave hoofprints in the sand and snow. Very well done. Barbie's interaction is also quite good with the way she mounts, sits in the saddle, and handles the reins. Her ponytail even swings appropriately according to the stride of the horse. Overall, "Wild Horse Rescue" is the best looking and best playing Barbie game I've seen to date, and is a fun and relaxing diversion from games that raise your blood pressure and make you shout obscenities at the screen.