Roll up, roll up, come and witness the excitement of people throwing curved metal bars at a straight metal bar that's stuck in the ground! It's time to live out your County Fair fantasies with Taito's 1990 arcade game American Horseshoes!
Yes, it's a full arcade version of that one minigame from Red Dead Redemption, and further proof that every country has it's own boring game involving throwing an object at a stationary target. I know that American Horseshoes can't possibly be boring, though, because it's got a lady in her underwear at the start.
That's quite the mane she's got, like a proud lion in a pink bra. If you like the bra lady, I've got bad news for you: once you start the game, she disappears forever to whereever it is characters from the attract mode go. The first thing to do when you've inserted your credits and pressed start is select a character. There are four to choose from, and they're all proud, patriotic American citizens.
There's Lucky Lou, a slab of prime American beef who claims to be a teamster but is clearly Duke Nukem. Hey, he has to do something to pass the time while he waits for Duke Nukem Forever to be released. Next is Diamond Dave, looking a bit like Benny Hill with his salute and his little hat. Then there's Tossin' Tom, which sounds like a nickname schoolchildren might give to their local sex offender. Finally we have Mayhem Mary, whose job is apparently "Police". Perhaps she's gone undercover to try and bust a ring of corrupt horseshoes players who are fixing matches. That'll be the plot of Police Academy XXVII: Operation Horseshoe Hoedown, then. Get me Guttenberg's agent!
I decided to go with Mary, for no other reason than my cursor had stopped on her. Here, you can see the American Horseshoes game screen in all its glory. In a suburban garden somewhere, a group of neon-clad wastrels cheer for Mary as a serial killer sits in the background, appraising the scene with his cold, dead eyes, just waiting for his moment to strike and punish them for their heathen, permissive lifestyles. 18 DEAD IN HORSESHOES PICNIC HORROR! the headlines will scream, but they'll never catch him, not now - he has Jesus on his side, and he's over the border in Mexico before the police are even at the scene.
Ahem. Sorry about that. Where was I? Oh yes, horseshoes. The aim of the game is to throw your horseshoes as close to that stick in the distance as possible. You get one point for getting your shoe in the target zone, two points for a shoe that's leaning against the pin and three points for one that kind of hits the pin, spins around for a bit and then comes to rest fully encircling the pin. This is apparently called a "ringer", presumably because it "rings" a little alarm in your head which makes you wonder why you're writing an article about American Horseshoes. You'll be wanting to get as many ringers as possible, natch.
As you can see, there are a few options when setting up your throw: you can move your pitcher left or right, choose a throwing angle and even add a little curl to your throws. None of this makes a blind bit of difference, mind you, but more about that later. For now, let's just see what happens when you sling your shoe as hard as you can.
*Wah wah waaaaaah* goes the Sad Trombone. It turns out that the serial killer isn't actually a serial killer but the Judge of Horseshoes. It's quite a nice little touch, though, seeing the collateral damage that results from my sporting ineptitude. I'd like to see a patch for Pro Evo that occasionally shows a replay of a spectator getting his teeth knocked out by one of my frequent off-target shots.
Personally, I think the Judge of Horseshoes looks a bit like George Bush Senior. Anyway, you get two throws, your opponent gets two throws, and the totals are added up. That one innings, right there, and then you do eight more innings and it's all over. While you play your innings, you move away from the suburban garden and onto several other thrilling locales, such as...
... A suburban park! The Judge's splay-legged pose has to be a deliberate attempt to put me off, right? It was at this point that I started messing around with the controls. The original arcade cabinet used a trackball to determine how hard your threw your shoe, but I'm not the kind of madman who has a trackball just laying around. Instead I had to use an analog stick, and boy is it finicky. All your throws are pretty much maximum power or more delicate that a butterfly building a house of cards, but again, that's not really a problem, as I will explain in a moment.
What I did discover is that you can set your throwing angle to 90 degrees and throw your heavy iron horseshoe straight up into the air. It flew up high, came straight back down and landed on my noggin, just as expected. What I wasn't expecting was for it to bounce off of my apparently rubber cranium, fly down the court and wrap itself around the pin, giving me a ringer and three points. I must admit, that sequence of events has caused me to really warm to American Horseshoes. I tried using it as a consistent technique, hoping to wow both the judges with my avant-garde technique and my doctors with the durability of my skull, but sadly it proved too unpredictable to replicate.
In a misguided attempt to bring horseshoes to the underprivileged inner-city youth, the next stage is held in a back alley filled with punks. The Judge seems to be blending in okay, at least. I have to question the thinking behind organising a sporting event which involves throwing chunks of metal about in a place with a car behind the target area. Surely it's gonna get...
Well, see, there you go. Hey Judge, don't take that tone with me, it wasn't my idea to host a horseshoes match here! Maybe a horseshoe in the mush will teach you some manners!
Sadly, like that bastard dog from Duck Hunt, the Judge is indestructible.
Now they're playing horseshoes in what looks like a baseball stadium, like some version of Inception that's about dull American sports. Looking at the crowds that have gathered to watch me throw, horseshoes is the whitest sport imaginable. It makes golf look like capoeira and capoeria look like some kind of multi-species Space Olympics. Also, the Judge appears to be squatting down in preparation for... something. Let's move swiftly on, shall we?
Once your nine innings are over, your scores are totalled. Oh look, Mary won! Her reward? Well, you're looking at it. Apart from a perfunctory set of credits, that's your lot. American Horseshoes is over and you're the new champ, with sore arms, a dented skull and a trophy that's probably made out of horseshoes.
But is it any good? Well, no, not really. It's sort of enjoyable, the graphics are nice and bold, and it does at least have a bit of charm to it, what with the messages that come up when you smash some poor guy's car and stuff. However, American Horseshoes' main problem is that it's just too easy, which is something I never thought I'd say about an arcade game. What happens is this: you remember all those extra controls, the ability to put curve on your horseshoes and so on? It's all bollocks. If you were playing some crazy-ass Tron version of horseshoes with a moving target and flying laser barricades and robot gorillas trying to distract you with their mechanical bananas then yeah, sure, you might need those extra controls... but you're not playing Astro-Horseshoes. All you need to be able to do is throw your shoe forwards correctly. If you set your throwing angle low, (about 15 degrees,) line yourself up with the pin and put full power into your throw, as far as I can tell you'll get a ringer every single time.
So American Horseshoes is too broken to be fun, but then again, it's hardly a massive loss, is it? It's only horseshoes. And now to sit back and await a flood of hatemail from the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association. Bring it on!
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