My other car is named Sea Biscuit.
Racing games come a dime a dozen these days. You've got your fancy pants racers, your kart racers and even your illegal activity racers. But what about animal racing? I mean, haven't you ever longed for a good camel or ostrich racing title? How about sheep racing? Okay, maybe that's a little off the beaten path for Playstation 2 aficionados, so I guess horse racing will do.
Following up the marginally successful PSX Gallop Racer, Gallop Racer 2001 takes horse racing to the next level, completely decked out for a next-gen system. Although it will certainly not appeal to everyone, Gallop Racer 2001 will make track addicts happy with its good graphics and intricate gameplay.
There are a few ways to play the game. Practice mode leads the pack with the ability to hone your horse racing skills without the pressure of building up your own stable. It's also the only place in the game where you can actually bet, something that anyone who managed to find a copy of the first Gallop Racer will be thrilled about. Finally, you can play the ponies and win tons of virtual cash.
Unfortunately, this gambling mode is completely separated from the main Racing mode, so you won't be able to use any of the gambling earnings toward improving your stables. With that in mind, I'd rather go out on a nice sunny afternoon to the track. The chance at winning loads virtual cash just isn't as exciting as winning actual cash...though it's way easier to deal with losing it.
A Versus mode is also included for some friendly competition. I'm just glad they race an entire field of horses, since it seems a lot of multiplayer racing games have turned to the one-on-one formula.
Most of your time will be spent in Season mode, where you'll build up a stable of up to six of the fastest horses in town. When you start out, only a few "low end" horses will be available for your purchase. All you need to do is improve your riding, run your horses in the right races and you'll be earning the big points (apparently we still can't have actual money) before you know it.
In Season mode, you'll also be able to breed your own horses to create the ultimate steed. Just put the perfect couple together, throw on a little Isaac Hayes, close the curtains for a little equine love and voila, instant winner.
I must admit that the gameplay is a pleasant surprise. The game can be as simple (pick a horse and run) or complex (can you say 'equestrian husbandry?') as you want. The pace of the game flows quickly and it seems like you're constantly learning new strategies as old horses retire and new ones are introduced.
The actual racing is pretty straightforward, since all you need to do is coax your horse around the oval. Push Up to go, Down to slow, and Square/Circle to whip it good! It may sound easy, but there's a lot to keep in mind. Knowing your horse is everything, since each has its individual attributes. Some like to stay near the rear while some perform best out in front. Some horses are great sprinters and others are endurance monsters. Some run better on dirt and others run better on turf. Run your horse according to its strengths and pay attention to that stamina bar for the best chance at victory.
Win or lose, you'll have plenty of well-rendered ponies to stare at. There really isn't much to look at in the game besides the horses, so it's a good thing the graphics are done right. With models composed of over 40,000 polygons each, Gallop Racer 2001's horses are really impressive.
After the race is done, you'll be able to play it all back in a cool cinematic replay. The bad thing, though, is that you can't really control it. Most racing game replays allow you to choose which racer is the subject of the replay, but this one doesn't. There's also a slow motion "down to the wire" replay that will come up when the occasion warrants it, but again you won't be able to see it more than once. So enjoy those wins by a nose - you'll only see them once.
The sound is generally inoffensive and there is some very plain background music going on for the majority of the game. But the one thing that's missing in the audio experience is the mono-toned announcer that always freaks out in the home stretch. A strange omission.
Even though Gallop Racer 2001 has some pretty cool features, it definitely won't appeal to everyone. Running around an oval time and again gets very repetitive. It's obvious that the game is geared toward the equestrian enthusiast, what with stats and breeding abilities and overall depth, but it won't convert the casual observer. The racing is strategic and toned down rather than an adrenaline rush, and this hurts game's crossover appeal.
If the game intrigues you, but you're not a big horse racing fan, a rental might be in order. Hardcore track junkies, though, will find this a safe bet.