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Imagine: Champion Rider is the latest game from Ubisoft aimed at younger gamers on the DS. Like Imagine: Teacher DS and Imagine: Baby Club DS it provides an experience that is not only novel but well implemented. Ubisoft are benefiting from their foresight of investing in this more casual younger market of DS games.
Mini games come in a variety of shapes and sizes. What unites the genre is the speed with which players can pickup the games and the relatively short time required to complete a level or two.
The quality of the overall game experience is something unique to the Imagine games, and in particular to Imagine: Champion Rider. Everything, from the over world map to the story telling video sections, to the riding and competing itself is depicted in impressively sharp 3D graphics. Moving around the map and navigating menus is clear and concise. The movements and controls of the horse riding itself is lifelike and believable. The bottom line here is that a casual audience hasn't meant causal game development. This is top notch work.
The game proper has a strong story that tasks that player with building a stable of competitive horses to ride, befriending foals and stay dogs. To get the player started down this road are some well paced tutorials that introduce the game basics. Controls are focused on the use of the stylus, although players who struggle with this can fall back to the button alternatives - nice to see as alterative controls like these can make all the difference to younger players.
Players will be attracted to the strong sense of character the game manages to endow on each animal. Choosing your first horse and taking him out for a ride is an easy and exciting experience. Not only does the stylus control make riding easy enough for my five year old, but you soon realise the horse has a lot of sense of its own. You can point him in the right direction and set him going and he will largely pick the best path through the world. Touches like this (previously seen in hard core games like Shadow of the Colossus PS2) really make the game feel like it has been developed by an experienced team.
Most players will want to take an hour or so to get up to speed with the game. Subsequent plays can then be as short or as long as time allows. A half hour session is easily enough to complete a few challenges and progress the story. Most players should take around 10-15 hours of play before completing the game.
Even very young players should be able to control the riding and jumping. Provided someone is on hand to read the story text, there is no reason that even preschoolers can't join in the fun.
Intermediate players may be surprised at being drawn in by a game that is largely aimed at kids. But the quality of the play mechanic and the surrounding game should provide a compelling experience.
The packaging and branding are likely to be a bridge too far for experts. The simple lack of standard gaming tropes makes this an experience only the most open minded of hard core gamers (or those with kids) will enjoy.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: