Reviewed: August 31, 2001
Released: August 21, 2001
In the vast world of computer and video games the racing genre is perhaps one of the most popular. There has always been a plethora of titles released each year that include cars, motorcycles, planes, boats, and even futuristic vehicles that exist only in the imagination of the designers. The only two racing genres that seem to be overlooked these days are dog and horse racing, and Gallop Racer 2001 more than fills the need of the later.
Gallop Racer 2001, as you might have guessed, is a horse racing game, or rather a horse racing "simulation". The game has been around for a while in Japan under the name Gallop Racer 5, and original PSX owners may have played the 32-bit version on that system. It seems like all the original concepts are coming from overseas these days, and even though it has undergone a few tweaks, Gallop Racer has arrived on American shores with even a few extras the original didn't have.
The main addition of the US version is a "betting system" that allows you to head to the track and bet on the horses just like your grandparents who moved to Florida or your broke cousin Ernie that hangs out at the track and family members talk about in hushed tones. But don't go signing up for Gambler's Anonymous just quite yet. The ESRB has nixed the concept of betting "dollars", and instead you bet "jockey points" that you can use to buy better and faster horses.
One of the nicest features of Gallop Racer 2001 is the variation in gameplay and the unique modes the make up the entire game. The racing portion of the game can be approached as pure arcade for one or two players to simply jump on a horse and sprint for the finish line. When taken seriously though, the races are the culmination of a dedicated breeding simulator where you carefully plan your strategy for the long haul. If you like to study stats and bet on the horses you can have the game run the races for you while you just sit back, place your bets, and cheer your horse to victory.
The Season Mode of Gallop Racer 2001 is the core of this game. You are guided through the lengthy setup procedure by Navigator Cindy, a virtual tour guide who looks amazing like the girl from the opening movie in Ridge Racer. She walks you through the menus and explains the various screens, as you purchase your first horse and act as fashion consultant for your jockey.
Picking your horse can be quite challenging, as you have to learn and then analyze many attributes for your steed. These all combine to determine the overall performance of your horse during the race. Attributes will fluctuate throughout the season based on how often you race your horse. Race him too many times in a row and he will become exhausted. Keep him in the paddock for a month and he will lose his competitive edge.
There is also a very sophisticated "breeding simulation" that allows you to choose from a selection of "retired" horses and create your own custom offspring. Naturally, the resulting horse will be a blended combination of the attributes from its parents. You will want to pick parents with good winning records and high free-handicap values. After the "magical birthing sequence" you can customize your horse and begin preparing it for a life at the track.
The Practice Mode lets you jump right in and pick a horse or load one of your original horses. There is also a "Watch" mode where the computer will run the race for you leaving you free to study the roster and place your bets. The gambling system is very realistic and features everything that would make Jimmy the Greek proud including; exactas, trifectas, and of course your win-place-show bets.
The menus are many and it will take you some time to learn your way around the complicated interface. But navigating the menus is easy compared to navigating your horse once you make it to a race. I found the controls to be slightly limited and even primitive. The analog stick is disabled so you are left with the D-pad to control your horse. Pushing up will flick the reigns to encourage your horse to go faster while pushing down will pull the reigns and slow your horse. Pushing left or right moves your horse in the corresponding direction but the movement is rather jerky and unnatural. The horse seems to slip sideways, almost like the old game Pole Position, as you steer your way through the pack of horses toward the finish line. The remainder of the buttons are reserved for using the whip, changing the camera view, or toggling the radar...RADAR?
One thing I did notice was that it was impossible to cause my horse or any one else's to stumble, crash, or fall down. Not that I'm cruel or anything, but I just wanted to see what would happen or what a bunch of falling horses would look like. But no matter how hard I crashed into my neighbor the only result was a harsh yell from the jockey as our horses bounced apart. Apparently injuries, either random or on purpose, are simply not a part of this game.
The visuals in Gallop Racer 2001 range from amazing to rather bland. I will state for the record that I have never seen a more realistic looking horse in any game. Composed of 40,000 polygons and some of the most realistic textures you have ever seen, these horses look better than real-life horses with their manes and tails whipping in the wind as they trot across the field with their heads proudly held high.
The tracks look authentic; at least the Miami track, which is the only one, I have ever been to. There isn't much to them. They are either turf or dirt with a rail on the inside and trees and grandstands on the outside. During the race you won't have time to admire the scenery, but during the replays you will easily notice the small and repeating dirt and grass textures that create an almost annoying stripe-like pattern on the track.
The weather effects are excellent and include snow, rain, and of course mud. Dry dirt tracks naturally cause the horses to kick up clouds of dust as they circle the track. Track conditions will definitely affect the way your horse performs and handles on the course.
I found the camera options adequate but I sorely missed a "jockey cam" that had me looking out over the bobbing head of my horse. Instead you get three cameras; an overhead view of the entire pack and then two chase views I like to call the "butt cams". I'm no stranger to staring at bouncing butts - after all, I've logged a few hundred hours with Lara Croft. But in a game that bills itself as a horse racing simulation, I was hoping for a view from the "drivers seat" so to speak. You do have the ability to pan the view left or right to "look over your shoulder" before making your move.
There's not a lot I can say about the sound. There just isn't that much. Even though Cindy moves her lips you still must read her directions. The sound effects are limited to the thundering of hooves and a few track effects like the opening of the starting gates and a few very brief alerts from the announcer.
This leads me to my biggest complaint of the entire game. There is no commentary! Anyone who has ever been to a horse race or seen one on TV knows that 95% of the excitement of a horse race is generated by the high-energy commentary of the announcer. You know the type. They usually have that singsong voice and say things like "...and here comes Bo Jangles up on the inside...he's making his move...he's nudging past Glue Stick...they're neck and neck on the homestretch...Bo Jangles takes the lead...WHOA...wait a minute...Black Knight has just come up on the outside and is making his move...he's coming up on the outside...he's in third...second...he's nose to nose with Bo Jangles...only a few yards to go...and it's Bo Jangles by a nose!" Dynamic commentary has been done before in other sports titles, but it has never been as "missed" as it is in this game.
The music is sparse and appears only in the menu system and during the pre and post race screens. It is excellent quality and reminds me of those hotel lounge bands that do the instrumental easy listening and jazz pieces.
If you like this game well enough to buy it in the first place then you will undoubtedly be playing it for many months to come. The very nature of the game requires lots of active game play as you must purchase and race horses to achieve excellent records then breeds those horses to get your own custom horses for future seasons.
The practice and watch modes provide quick arcade entertainment when you don't have time to tackle the larger season mode, and the gambling component offers another enjoyable diversion when you would rather watch a game than play one.
Gallop Racer 2001 features an excellent two-player vs. mode. You can either choose your own horses or have the computer randomly pick them for you. You even have the option to load your original horses that you have been raising and test them out in the safety of a non-season environment.
Gallop Racer 2001 is one of those games that fills a very small niche market and is going to have a limited appeal. Fans of the track and fans of video games are seldom in the same group and Tecmo suspects this. They are releasing this game on a very limited scale, which means you may have a hard time finding it in stores. A few of the major software outlets are getting a few copies here and there, but stores like Best Buy and Circuit City will just give you puzzled looks if you ask for this game by name.
Since supplies are limited, if you want to play this game you had better go get your copy immediately, otherwise you may find yourself on Ebay in a month or so paying a lot more for it than you should. Savvy consumers may already be snatching up copies with the sole purpose of reselling them later for a profit.
I found the entire game quite refreshing and unique. The grace and beauty of the horses is something that cannot be experience in screenshots. You have to see these animals in motion. With the upcoming PS2 release of Kodiak Studios' chariot racing game, Circus Maximus, I can only hope that Tecmo lends them their horse models. I can't imagine anyone doing a better-looking horse racing game than this.