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Friday, May 5, 2017

GAMES: "My Horse Prince" Is Even Weirder Than Advertised

You and Yuuma, your handsome horse prince.
I've gotten a ridiculous amount of mileage out of My Horse Prince, the surreal dating sim app put out by USAYA Co. And after getting paid for three articles where all I do is talk about the fact that it exists, I figured it was time to step up and thank them for all the material they gave me as a freelancer. Besides which, it's free.

It was time to actually play this beast.

My Horse Prince (Uma no Prince-sama, a play on the anime series title Uta no Prince-sama) advertised itself fairly basically. You are a young woman who meets a horse with the face of a pretty boy. You feed him carrots and talk to him to increase your bond. And a weird love story happens.

The reality of the game is even weirder than that.


Story



You play as Umako (the name given to your character, which you can change at the beginning if you so desire), a successful young businesswoman in need of a break. You head out to a ranch, where you meet its irresponsible owner (a scribbly figured simply referred to as OJISAN) and his prize horse, Yuuma.

Except... Yuuma talks to you. And has a pretty human face.

According to both owner and horse, Yuuma is a perfectly normal horse. OJISAN suspects that your "interesting" perception of him is because of a rare power found only in those born in the Year of the Horse. After you and Yuuma chat for a bit, you learn that the ranch is failing and can only be saved if Yuuma wins a big race coming up... but they can't afford to train him.

And before you know it, you've gotten the worst case of Helium Hand ever and volunteered not only to buy Yuuma, but to help train him.

From there, the two of you train on the ranch, at the beach, and in the mountains, interspersed with strange dreams of everything from domestic life to Yuuma becoming a rock star. In the end, you help Yuuma race against his rival, Ryouma (another pretty-faced horse boy). In the final episodes, there's a falling-out and resolution. Of course.


Gameplay



The game mechanics are actually not particularly inventive. Yuuma has an energy bar. Items appear near him on the screen (carrots, treadmills, microphones, and other things applicable to the level), which you tap to get him to interact with. The interactions fill up a bar at the top of the screen; the higher his energy, the more points you get. When the bar is full, your "bond grows stronger," and you can complete the episode and move on to the next.

Yuuma's energy bar decreases as he performs actions, and can be refilled by talking to him. Anything he asks you has three potential answers rated Excellent (gain 30% energy), Good (gain 15% energy), or Bad (lose 15% energy, but watch a short ad for another game and you'll "rewind time" to try again). There are only a handful of questions per episode, and once you've learned that Yuuma generally likes it when you're silly and values hard work, it's easy to avoid that 1/3 pitfall most of the time. You get three Talks max at a time, refilled over time, and can earn a fourth (plus a bunch of items) by watching a sponsor video.

There are a few microtransactions: $0.99 turns off the banner ads at the bottom of the screen permanently, $1.99 gets you a Golden Horseshoe that doubles your points permanently, and another $0.99 gets you Golden Carrots, which trigger Fever Mode (in which Yuuma can perform actions for a limited amount of time without using up energy.)


Visuals



What sets My Horse Prince apart from USAYA Co.'s other games is that they really go hard with teh dating sim aesthetic. OJISAN is definitely a throwback to their usual art style, but otherwise the art is... gorgeous. Weird, but gorgeous.

As for the animation? It's bananas. Clearly done with Flash puppets or some equivalent, both for cut scenes and gameplay, but that allows for some pretty hilarious stuff. Because having Yuuma's energy maxed out doesn't just mean you get more points for actions... it also means he performs tasks a lot more enthusiastically, flailing around and perhaps ending with a "Ta-da!" pose.


The Final Verdict

This app isn't innovative by way of format or gameplay. It's probably the single most casual game I've ever played, with brain power only ever being exerted to figure out which of three multiple-choice answers will make Yuuma happiest.

But honestly? That's a good thing. This game is so full of weirdness by way of story and art and imagination that innovating programming might get lost in the shuffle. Plus, the simple gameplay gives you ample time to focus on trying to figure out what the hell you're looking at.

That's really how this game kept me going where one with similar gameplay might lose me after two levels. Yeah, you're doing the same simple actions re-skinned and there's very little challenge. But even so, you can't stop. Okay, I'm helping a horse-boy chop up a ridiculous amount of green onions for breakfast. There are other things I could be doing... but let's see where this is going.

And honestly, that's clever. In an era when literally anyone can make a smartphone game, there needs to be some level of inventiveness -- either in tech or in concept. My Horse Prince may be easy standard game development, the concept and story save it.

It doesn't have much by way of replay value -- there's a looping last level that just tosses in elements from all the previous ones -- but the dozen or so levels I got out of it, plus the weirdness I got to share with my friends and the news sites I write for, was certainly worth throwing down for ad deactivation and a Golden Horseshoe.

My Horse Prince is currently available for iPhone and Android.

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