Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch review for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, PC

Platform: Switch
Also on: PS4, PS5, PC
Publisher: Microids
Developer: Aesir Interactive
Medium: Digital/Disc/Cartridge
Players: 1
Online: No

As strange as it?ll sound, a big part of what attracted me to Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch was its boxart. Between the colour palette and the character on a horse, the game gave me some vaguely Breath of the Wild-esque vibes. Obviously, seeing as Horse Tales is about restoring a family estate to its former glory, we?re not talking about a game that?s even remotely Zelda-ish, but still ? with all its talk of exploring an open-world island and uncovering the island?s secrets, I didn?t think it was too much to ask that the game might offer some fun exploration.

It took about 30 seconds for those hopes to be dashed. My character got off a boat, stepped foot on the island?and the game immediately froze for about a minute. Just stopped working entirely. And when it started working again, everything looked like smudges of colour splashed across the screen for a few long moments, until it finally mostly righted itself.

The good news is that the complete freeze was a one-off event. Horse Tales slowed down considerably at regular intervals, but it never quite stopped working completely after that.

The smudges, however, were a pretty frequent occurrence. No matter what I was doing, no matter what was on screen, out of nowhere, everything on the screen would basically dissolve into blobs of colour. Let me put it this way: Horse Tales? performance was so abysmal, it made Sonic Frontiers on the Switch look like a graphic masterpiece.

That wasn?t the only thing wrong with Horse Tales, either. It also suffers from having a terrible camera that you constantly need to readjust, and that regularly gets stuck behind trees and mountains. It doesn?t move very quickly, either, so if you?re doing something that requires seeing where you?re going ? say, a horserace, which is one of the game?s core activities ? you?ll have to be okay with riding blind for a few seconds while the game catches up to what you?re doing.

The biggest problem with Horse Tales, though, is that the gameplay just isn?t very fun. While there?s some room for exploration, it?s kind of ruined by the constant fetch quests and grinding that make up the bulk of the game. You?ll get sent from one side of the island to the other to find something or someone, and then once you arrive, they?ll send you back to where you started to get an item that you need to bring back. On top of that, there are regular horseraces, which you need to compete in to build your fame and unlock more buildings ? except these are hindered by the lousy camera and buggy graphics, and your margin for error in most of these races is literally zero. The moment you slip up, you?ll have no chance of matching the best time on the leaderboards, and if you can?t do that, you can?t progress the game forward properly.

I know that, as a middle-aged man, I?m clearly not the target audience for a game about rebuilding your family estate and bonding with your horse. At the same time, though, I can?t imagine that the people who would be interested in that would want to put up with it, either. Horse Tales plays poorly and performs even worse, and it?s bound to disappoint anyone who picks it up.

Microids provided us with a Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: D+