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Horse Master

by Tom McHenry profile

Surreal
2013

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Number of Reviews: 8
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Impeccable construction. Phenomenal debut. , July 12, 2013
by Danielle (The Wild West)
HORSE MASTER is a game executed to perfection.

Let me explain.

FILM CRIT HULK recently wrote an article talking about the current trend towards narrative convolution in summer blockbuster movies. As a champion of classically-told stories, he keeps bringing up the point that a work of entertainment doesn't have to be mysterious or epiphany-inducing to be successful, even enduring. Rather, it should be well-constructed, or, in his words, "functional." He says:

"YOU MAY LAUGH AT THAT WORD 'FUNCTIONAL,' BUT TO HULK IT'S ONE OF THE BEST WORDS IN ALL OF MOVIEDOM. IT MEANS THE FILM WORKS DAMMIT. IT MEANS IT IS ENGINEERED PROPERLY AND DOES EXACTLY WHAT IT SETS OUT TO DO."

I've come to the conclusion that HORSE MASTER is an excellent example of this concept.

I'm having a hard time expressing this, but here goes: Every aspect of HORSE MASTER is constructed with thoughtfulness and quality. These solidly executed bits then all come together to form a deeply satisfying experience.

For example, take the main display menu: in visual novels, the choice menus are there because you need a place to make your choice. They're well-organized and easy to read, and that's about as far as they go.

In HORSE MASTER, the display menu does some HEAVY narrative lifting. Through this little viewport, you get to see the squalor your character is surrounded by. Seeing it, you *get* why you're making the sacrifices and taking the risks that you are. You GET why this character wants this horse to succeed.

That viewport sits atop a menu that exemplifies the low-grade anxiety that builds when you have too many choices and not enough time to pick them all.

These things are then yoked together by terse narration which clearly defines the character's desires and attitudes even as it spouts bizarre, Porpentinesque jargon.

Before I played HORSE MASTER, I thought I was in for a freakpunky Western CYOA, like if Anna Anthropy's CALAMITY ANNIE and Porpentine's CYBERQUEEN had a baby. The game I got had those flavors, yes, but it's a different beast altogether.

HORSE MASTER is not a deep art game. But I don't want it to be: the deliberate choices of its author let me access the humanity at the core of this story--and as a result I had a really wonderful experience.

I salute the author and look forward to more from him!
* * *

(Fellow players, I must know what ending you got. (Spoiler - click to show)Because my ending crushed me. I was *so* close. And whatever went wrong, I have no idea how I could fix it the next time. IS there even a good ending??)

Comments on this review

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Victor Gijsbers, July 30, 2015 - Reply
Got caught shoplifting on the first playthrough, and expected it to be impossible to actually get to the competition. The second time around, I won the competition, to my surprise.
Michael Neal Tenuis, July 12, 2013 - Reply
On my playthrough, I (Spoiler - click to show)became a horsemaster in the end, which involved (MASSIVE SPOILER behind the following tag!) (Spoiler - click to show)killing the horse at the championship (there was no other option). I had arrived at that point by almost always using the +6 stat booster, and during the later stages I did some (Spoiler - click to show)shoplifting and dumpster diving to obtain food, which I entirely gave to the horse. I didn't play a second time, so I can't say whether my decisions really made any difference. What ending did you get?
Danielle, July 12, 2013 - Reply
My ending: (Spoiler - click to show)Glory (my horse) made it to the comp, but when they extracted the nerve bundle, I guess it was asymmetric? And then I ran away.
namekuseijin, February 16, 2014 - Reply
gosh, got a bad ending and still wrote such enthusiastic review? lol


though certainly the good ending is quite bad and sadistic (or "emotional" like fans like to point out)
Christina Nordlander, March 9, 2014 - Reply
Your comment makes no sense. You can like a game even if you didn't get a winning ending.
Christina Nordlander, October 2, 2013 - Reply
I'm another person who got the winning ending. Funnily enough, I had the same experience as you: namely, wondering whether different endings were possible.

It's pretty interesting. If I would hazard a guess for why it is, it would be that the grim ambience of the game seems to put players in a fatalistic state of mind where we see one (Spoiler - click to show)nasty outcome and are inclined not to believe in any others.
Ghalev, July 12, 2013 - Reply
I was (Spoiler - click to show)arrested for shoplifting food and ended up trapped in the prison/rehab system. The horse is still out there somewhere.
Anya Johanna DeNiro, July 12, 2013 - Reply
The first time I won, fwiw (Spoiler - click to show)I didn't use the macro all the time, more like half the time. I even watched some TV. Of course, winning involved killing my horse. . The second time, I (Spoiler - click to show)got caught shoplifting the day before the contest and was thrown into jail indefinitely, with my horse wandering the streets. Did not expect that!
Emily Short, July 12, 2013 - Reply
On my first playthrough, (Spoiler - click to show)my horse's brain turned out to have an asymmetry, so I lost. I won the second time when I (Spoiler - click to show)always gave all stolen food to the horse and also made sure not to electrostim one side of it more than the other during the early stages. I have no idea whether my success was for the reasons I thought, though.
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