No-one likes being left out in the cold. When it comes to sport, each particular game has its own traditions, sayings and rituals that serve both to unite the fans and alienate those outside of the circle – and that's something that applies to video games as much as it does sport.
The big fear for any games developer working on a title designed to represent a particular sport or hobby must be that the non-schooled will get lost in the protocol, caught up in the jargon or simply dismayed by a lack of motivation. Racing – horses, not cars – is no less wrapped up in its own world than any other sport, and just as likely to bemuse those unfamiliar.
Unless, that is, you make said sport as straightforward as can be, negating any confusion by simply not acknowledging the more complicated elements of the sport in question. That would appear to be Player One's tactic with Grand National Ultimate, which is as simple a recreation of horse racing as anyone could ask for. It's all about jumping fences, and not much else.
But that's not an insult. Player One has designed a package that translates the excitement of the race itself, rather than focusing on the associated jargon that might corrupt its appeal. In essence, the game's play doesn't really focus on the horse or the rigmarole of race day – instead, Grand National Ultimate is a question of timing, placement and concentration.
Consisting of 12 lead up races and the Grand National too, the game requires you to finish in the top three to progress from one meet to the next. Races themselves vary in difficultly, with both distance and the number of jumps along the way increasing as each round passes.
Streaming from left to right, the horse runs of its own accord. Warnings are given when a jump is approaching and you simply hold down and then release the '5' key to make the leap. Simple in description, timing the jumps perfectly is not so easy in practice.
Get it wrong and the horse will clip the jump, losing a life – of which it starts with three – in the process. Even making the jump isn't the end of challenge, as any time spent holding down the '5' key impedes the horse's speed.
The target therefore is for a series of short, sharp but timely jumps, enabling the horse to get a good run-off from each encounter. Though, should you fail, Grand National Ultimate handily offers you another go. And another. And… as many as you like, really. It's an ethic that encourages practice rather than demoralisation and dismay – one that many other games could learn a lesson from.
Practice really does make perfect, and making those jumps becomes the be all and end all of Grand National's gameplay. Make every single one of them, and you'll almost certainly top the line-up. Early on, even tripping over a couple of initial fences can be rectified by a good final run in, though as each race passes that becomes less and less the case.
Pass midway and fences begin to come in quick succession, with you having to move your horse up and down the track to make particular jumps.
This is when gameplay morphs into what can only be described as a frenzy, building gently with the passing of each course to create a game that, despite its simplicity, remains absorbing from the first track to the last. There's no breeding, training, betting or even celebrating, but there's plenty of entertainment in what is a short, sharp tribute to a trip down the horses.