Game: Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch
Genre: Adventure, Simulation
System: Nintendo Switch (Also available on Steam (Windows) and PS4/5)
Developer | Publisher: Aesir Interactive | Microids
Age Rating: US Everyone | EU 3+
Price: US $39.99 | UK £34.99 | EU € 39,99
Release Date: US November 1st, 2022 | EU November 3rd, 2022
Review code used, with many thanks to Microids.
In Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch you can immerse yourself in ranch life on Cape Emerald. Here you can tame, breed and race horses whilst building a successful ranch and stud farm.
So will this be a thoroughbred amongst games or should it be put out to pasture?
We’re All Going on a Summer Holiday
You’re taking a vacation on Cape Emerald, at the family’s ranch run by your Aunt. From the picture you have, this is the perfect location to relax and enjoy some horse riding around the beautiful peninsula.
The mayor’s son, Gabriel, greets you at the harbour and asks you to select a horse. You can pet the horses, give them a ‘test’ ride and view their stats. But does it matter if the horse is unfit? Will there be lots of beaches to go on? I didn’t understand how their traits would affect my journey.
In hindsight, I spent far too long deciding which horse to pick. It doesn’t really matter, you soon learn how to tame wild horses, and they’re more likely to win races than this one.
Having made my choice, I returned to Gabriel to follow him to the ranch. As you travel, the game explains how to jump and duck. It took several attempts to clear the jumps, especially across the river (but I had chosen a horse with a ‘lazy jumper’ trait). Then, at the top of Cherry Tree Way, you get your first view of Emerald Valley Ranch.
It appears that your Aunt has left the ranch and subsequently, this once prosperous farm, is now in ruins. Your summer holiday has just become a restoration project.
And so your adventure begins.
Mapping the Peninsula
We all know that games like to send us on quests to familiarize us with the landscape, and Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch is no different.
The main quest sends you back to the harbour, then return to the ranch, find the woodsman’s house, go to the race track and so on. The map helpfully marks the active quest location. So if it’s a new place, you know roughly in which direction to travel.
With each new location found, the map slowly reveals itself. Generally, you uncover a chunk as you encounter a new place. Although sometimes I felt the map didn’t show enough, for example, when you travel to the woodsman’s house, the building remains partially covered. It didn’t fully reveal itself until I’d discovered Elderwood.
The map is huge, and even completing all the quests doesn’t reveal it all.
A great feature was the ability to ‘reset to estate’ – an instant travel home. However, it is not without risk. All the buildings vanish, although some reappear after a few seconds. Unfortunately, after one ‘reset to estate’, only the breeding shed reappeared, and I never did recover the rest. I had to rebuild my house and stables.
Gather and Build
I’m one of those gamers who collect every resource, just in case I need it. There didn’t seem to be a limit to my pocket size (phew!) and it was easy to collect the floating resources. My only problem was distinguishing between resources and rabbits (both seemed to glow and levitate) many a time did I trot over to collect some wood, to discover it had hopped away!
There are various construction posts across the ranch (and elsewhere), but you can only see what to build when you select the menu. You are able to replace buildings and decorations, and if you do, you get half of the original materials back.
The construction menu has a problem, whereby you can’t see the resources needed for the chosen building. In addition, the resource icons are small, so it’s really hard to see what they are. I wish there was a separate blueprint menu, listing all the buildings and decorations available with their required resources. I spent a rather long time journeying to the forge to make bricks, only to discover, on my return to the ranch, that I hadn’t made enough.
It took me a while to realise the pink circles I was collecting were ‘fame’ points rather than currency. I had seen the help screen, but I was trying to collect the stable blueprints at the time, so didn’t pay much attention. The more famous you are, the more locations (including locked gates), build spots and items will unlock. There are lots of ways to collect fame without doing anything special. During the main quests, I hardly competed in any races and didn’t sell any horses and I manage to progress Okay.
Race to Stardom
There are various race tracks around Cape Emerald. The main quest called ‘Who Is Lilli?’ requires you to win at Sneaky Ways. There are a couple of shortcuts you can take around the circuit but do make sure you have a good horse. I spent several hours trying to win the race with Quagga, but failed, at least you can abandon the race if you make a bad jump. Austin, tamed on Windswept Fields, was a lot faster and definitely a better jumper. I was first for only a day though, by the following morning, I was in 6th place.
The scoreboard at the start of the course, tells you Lilli/Lili’s time. That’s what you need to beat. However, for this 2 lap race, the best lap time doesn’t make sense.
More Room at the Ranch
As you build stables, fields and pastures, you increase the number of horses you can have on the ranch.
To fill your stables, you can tame wild horses. You need to crouch down and move towards their head. You then get the option to ‘inspect’ (although I struggled to stay crouched if I checked their stats) and ‘tame’. Select ‘tame’, complete the button press mini-game and then the pre-named horse is yours.
Alternatively, you can use a breeding station. This is one of the key features of Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch. By selecting a male and/or female horse (depending on which breeding station you use), you will have a new foal ready for collection the next day. However, it’s not actually a foal, it’s a full-grown horse, ready to ride.
You can also build your own breeding shed, which is a lot more convenient for collecting your ‘foal’. However, the option to ‘rename’ only works on the touchscreen.
Dr Dorothea will run a genetics test on your horse. I found this only worked the first time, as part of the main quest, so I don’t fully understand the benefits. I also had the same breed registry information when I changed horses, so definitely some issues with this mechanism.
Bridge to Achieve
To my absolute delight, when I completed my first build, I got a notification about an achievement. I like achievements, so I frantically searched through the menus trying to find the list of all the awards I could get, but I couldn’t find anything.
Eventually, after completing The Great Estate quest, I got a holiday home blueprint. There, inside my new home, was an Achievement Shelf. My elation was short-lived, I couldn’t see what wondrous task I had fulfilled to achieve such glory, nor could I see what else was available.
A Clean Horse is a Happy Horse
Petting your horse is a little mini-game, where you select a few locations to rub or scratch. The horse will react to each spot and if they are all favourites you get to give the horse a hug.
Brushing and washing your horse will help its performance, although a few failed jumps and it’s dirty again. I struggled to find a washing station, but you get blueprints for one by completing the quest set by Kikki at Crater Lake. Alternatively try paddling in the sea! A grooming area comes with a stable, so it’s useful to build one as soon as you get the plans.
As long as you have a crop patch on the ranch, the horses will be fed overnight. Eventually, Gabriel explains more about feeding snacks to your horse and sets a task to find various nibbles”. You have to collect them whilst the task is active for it to count. I’d already got some peppermints, so I had to have a sleep to collect some more the following day.
When you start the game, you create your character. There isn’t a huge selection, which makes for a quick setup. You don’t get to alter your clothes, which comes later when you build a house and have a wardrobe. You can alter your hair and eyes when you build a larger house with a dressing table.
The game explains which buttons to press, with most of the interaction via the D-pad. Generally, confirmations require holding the button rather than just pressing it.
There is no time as such, but you will have to sleep to progress some of the quests.
I found the music really quiet, even at 100%. To hear even a vague noise, I had to turn the volume up to 3x its normal level.
If you miss a jump, you may reappear in mid-air. Then there is no way to return, other than using the ‘reset to estate’ option, but then, of course, you lose your buildings.
These little ‘quirks’ are everywhere within the game. You can walk through some trees, but not small bushes. When walking your horse backwards, you can end up vertical. You can jump down onto the Crater Lake ruins wall but then can’t get back. You have to dismount to open chests, but you can interact with other things whilst still on horseback. Some chests remain open, others reset with nothing to collect.
During the main quest ‘Lost in Sight’, I found Gabriel stuck in a rock. Swapping horses at the stable, resulted in a black screen. The list goes on.
I appreciated the way the game didn’t do a long tutorial at the start, explaining how to play. However, the informative side quests didn’t necessarily trigger at useful times. I’d already tamed a horse before Gabriel asked me to tame one. I’d got a house with a wardrobe, but had to rebuild it to fulfil Noella’s request. I didn’t find Kikki until halfway through the game, by which time my horse was very crusty and unkempt. The game’s flow is a bit disjointed.
Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch has taken me on an emotional rollercoaster. At times, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing it – galloping around the wide and varied landscape (the scenery is stunning), planning and building my estate. At other times, I’ve plummeted into an abyss of despair, dangling in mid-air with no option but to reset, and losing hours of gameplay as the autosave didn’t work properly.
This is a brilliant game but it needs a lot of improvement to reach its potential.
The publishers said that all versions are going to receive additional development to improve quality and fix some bugs. However, at the time of publishing this review, it’s not clear when that content will be released and what will be fixed. So until then, I can’t give this game any thumbs up.
Final Verdict: I’m Not Sure.