Star Stable is what many would refer to as a "kid's game." More accurately, it could be described as a game for tween girls who love horses, but during my time with the game, I found that most of the players I met and talked to and most of those I saw on the official Facebook page seemed to be between the ages of 17 and 40. The players I chatted with in game and during my livestream of the game were over 19 (some well over), so it would be most accurate to describe the game as a linear world of adventure for horse-lovers to explore. While on horseback. With other players on horseback. There, perfect.
There is the slightly glaring issue of every character's being gender-locked as a female rider, but I have no issue with it. The MMO stems from single-player games about a young girl and her horse, as I understand it, so playing as a girl fits perfectly. No "sexism" banners need be waved; for every one example of a game like Star Stable I can show you 100 examples of games that force women to play as men or represent them as scantily clad weaklings.
So how much fun is it to ride around on virtual horses all day? Pretty darn fun.
It's important to note that I was able to run Star Stable on my Atom-based netbook. It didn't work amazingly, but it's nice to see such a pretty game remain accessible on older or weaker machines. The game runs in fullscreen mode only, but alt-tabbing was not an issue. You roll a character from a decent selection of character models, though I would have liked to see some darker skin choices; it looks as if the choices go from "light" to "not-so-light." Your name is picked from a list of pre-picked parts, but this is standard for games that are concerned with the safety of younger players. Once your rider is created, you get to pick out a horse.
I shouldn't have been surprised, but the selection of horses is wonderful. It's not so much a case of variety, but the overall quality of the horses is great. They are stylized and a bit cartoony, but they feel very horse-ish, muscular, and fast. I've seen my share of video game horses in my life, and these are some of the first that truly balance realism and style in one package. The horse physics and controls are almost perfect. I soon fell in love with speeding up or down by using my mouse wheel and steering simply by pushing the A or D key. There are quite a few head-scratching moments, though, when you run your horse into a hill or into an invisible strip of landscape, but overall, riding the horses in Star Stable represents some of best horse riding I've ever come across. Virtually, of course.
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It would be great to see other MMOs come with horses with as much personality as the ones in Star Stable. Sure, the point of Star Stable is to introduce you to some cool equine friends, but the design is proof positive that it's not only AAA, big-budget games that offer the best design or ideas. My horse came with a killer name, as well: Thunderborn. How cool is that? I was able to pick it out from a list of random words, but I think it's the greatest horse name ever.
The world of Star Stable is actually quite pretty. As I mentioned earlier, the game doesn't require that you have a robust gaming machine, so the beauty of the game world is that much more impressive. I happened upon it right as a Winter's patch went in, so I was able to enjoy riding through falling snow. I even grabbed a holiday outfit for a small price. All of the designs, fonts, and artwork blend well in game. I've seen many low-system games that look like games that will run on a cheaper system, but Star Stable is not one of them. This game is closer to Free Realms' graphics: homey and warm.
The primary goal in Star Stable is to participate in a very linear series of quests that bring players along a story about greedy corporate types who want to tear down the stables. The player's job is to stop the corporation and to grow in experience, unlocking chapters as she goes along. I found the quests to be charming and easy to follow, but they are bit too linear for my tastes. I talked to one older player who began to play the game after she couldn't afford to keep real horses anymore, and she mentioned that her group is waiting for new content and chapters in the store to be released. I'm always more of a sandbox fan at heart, but even I know that wishing for more "endgame" content is not a problem unique to Star Stable. Most MMO gamers know what I am talking about. Once a player unlocks an area or chapter, though, exploration, racing, and socializing are really enough to keep busy. I found myself enjoying exploration more than anything, and I have hardly unlocked most of the world. I've been informed that the game receives weekly updates, but I've yet to run out of things to do.
There is a free version of the game to play with, but for a small fee players can unlock the Star Rider membership, which unlocks all of game's content and doles out a weekly Star Coin allowance. I used my Star Coins to buy some basic horse feed, decorations, and clothing for my avatar. One of the first things I do with many freemium games is unlock any subscription option, just to see whether there is a difference in gameplay. At my level, I was unable to notice a change, but as the story normally goes, high-level players really appreciate the access.
I hate to refer to a game like Star Stable as a "kid's game" simply because that automatically turns away many players. The truth is that the only real difference between a game made for adults and one made with children is challenge level and possible adult material, but the experience of child-friendly title and the excitement and feelings of discovery that a player from any age bracket can feel are pretty much universal. Some games do a better job of making you have fun than others, and the targeted age group is usually not the determining factor.
Star Stable is exciting at times but is usually a relaxing trip into a pleasant world -- for any gender -- and the horses are done exceedingly well. Any parent would probably have quite a bit of fun alongside his or her child while playing, but my older readers should give it a try too. The horses feel great and much more than a pet, and interacting with the story is often surprising and fun.
Next week I am diving into another "kid's game," this time the very popular Habbo Hotel. So far I love the graphics and all-in-one design, but watch me check it out live on Monday, the 10th of December, at 5:00 p.m. EST right here on our livestream channel!
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!