Mary Kate & Ashley's Winner Circle
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It's not very often that a game aims to be fun and realistic while instilling a sense of personal involvement and responsibility. Mary-Kate and Ashley: Winners Circle does that within the theme of horseback riding. Players compete in such equestrian events as dressage, jumping, and cross-country, and learn the basics of caring for a horse. The game offers a practice mode, which lets riders master the controls and explore a course before entering events, and an adventure mode with large forest and island levels where players can play minigames or just simply explore.
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MKA Winner's Circle was supposed to be an ashcan game produced to fulfill contractual obligations with the MKA twins that was accidentally released more than decade ago. In this game, MKA are taken seriously as competitive riders who participate in five levels of dressage, racing, jumping, and one other event with the customization that girls supposedly love, like dressing yourself and raising your horse. It was game for about the hour it took to finish it to the ending credits with the real challenge being controlling a horse who maneuvers like tank and jumps like any of us when tazed. I rushed through the game as fast as it would let me and did not even have to place first in every event to progress. Ribbons are awarded for your "accomplishments" but there are almost no consequences to not maintaining your horse or knocking over obstacles - it's a girl game! Isn't self-satisfaction more important than perseverance?
That's the way it was for my horse "Super Glue" and me while it lasted. Despite being a competition with other riders (according to the roster of other competitors when you finish an event) there were no other NPCs to interact with we had the grounds all to ourselves to run and jump to our hearts content - even during the events! That is just as well since you do no have to even place first in every event in order to progress in the competitions. Get together with that "special" someone for the two-player mode and sing Roy Rodgers "Happy Trails" or play a less lame version of the "Lone Ranger" than riding a broom outdoors!
In general, this game is a perfect storm of a bad game - Tantalus Media made it, MKA are featured in it, and Acclaim published it and just one of these conditions is bad enough to repel the average gamer. This game is terrible - no one with a mature mind would play it and say it's a good game. Even spending a penny for a used copy of this game is too much. The only fun to be derived from this is recording a drunk or stoned friend trying to play this and posting the results on youtube. Better yet, try to explain to a girl born after 2000 who MKA are and post those results!
Starting out in the stable, you can customize your own rider and horse, and set out to ride, whether you choose horse trials, three or single day eventing, horseshoe hunting, or a simple trail ride, you can be gaurunteed that you'll have fun. The game focuses around the 3-day-eventing, with progression in levels (you work your way up from beginner's circle to winner's circle) and new course layouts for each level.
A fun aspect of the game is the collection of ribbons you can win while trail riding, which can then be spent like money in the tack shop. While there's no tack in the shop, you can buy clothes for your rider, which (however girly it may seem) is rather fun. You can have a tweed coat for showing your chestnut horse, or a black hunt coat for a white horse. The possibilites are endless.
The trail-riding worlds (island and forest) are both huge, with beautiful scenery and landscapes. Each has several hidden minigames, but you'll probably just find yourself galloping aroung exploring. With the two-player option, you can ride with a friend, which is even more fun. The music that plays in the background for these worlds (also featured in horse trials and horseshoe hunts) is catchy and sugary.
The one thing I didn't like about this game is MK-A's voice overs, like "You're on the wrong trail" or "you missed a checkpoint" during the cross-country course. Can you say ANNOYING? Another thing is that, while caring for your horse, the rider will say stupid things like, when brushing the tail "someone needs to use some conditioner!" or when cleaning out the stall, "it's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it." I mean, is it really neccesary?
However, these are not trivial problems and if you love horses, you should definately purchase this game! It's great for those rainy days that you can't go out to the barn. Saddle up and I'll see you on the trails!