Preview: Final Furlong (Nintendo Wii)

Publisher: Namco-Bandai Games
Developer: Namco-Bandai Games
Genre: Sports-Horse Racing Simulation
Release Date: TBA

Letâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s be honest. When was the last time you heard of a game dedicated to horse racing? Sure, horses and riding have become entwined with franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, but horses rarely take center stage in the gaming world. Truthfully I never really wondered why horse racing hasnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t gained a bigger following in the video game community until I actually became a track fan myself, attending numerous events on the east coast of the United States. There really isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t anything like it. Seeing them break around the track, so close to one another, knowing that one small miscue could mean disasterâ┚¬Â¦itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s a rush. I canâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t even imagine how terrifying and amazing it must be from the jockeyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s prospective. Now; however, Namco is going to try and give us that very experience in their new horse simulation title for the Wii:Final Furlong.

The goal of Namco here is to appeal to more then the very niche audience horse racing games tend to have. Not an easy task when you consider (or at least I did) the average gamer today who spends their days and nights either saving Hyrule again or stomping the competition on a title like Gears of War. However; Namco does have one or two aces up their sleeves. The first being the very system this game is being created for: the Wii. From reports of the demo, the Wii and its â┚¬Å”Wii-moteâ┚¬Â technology will make horse racing come alive for you. First off both the Wii-mote and the nunchuck will serve as the reigns of your horse during actual game play. This will literally put you in the drivers, â┚¬Ëœerm I mean jockeyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s, seat. In order to control the speed of your horse you will have to move both controllers up and down. The faster you move them the faster the horse will go. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s not that simple though. First impressions from the demo tell that the player will have to master a timing method to really get a feel for the game. Some nuances included in Final Furlong are that moving only one controller up or down will make your horse drift in that direction and that by holding the Wii-moteâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s trigger you can nudge your horse along by whipping it ala just as a jockey would in real life.

As you race around the track several things are important to keep track of. One is a stamina meter which will let you know just how your horse is holding up. Any horse racing fan knows that some horses blow themselves up way to early, while others conserve their energy until as late as the final turn to snatch victory away from the leaders. So certainly strategy will play a big part in winning races based on how hard you run your thoroughbred throughout the various stages of the race. There will also be a meter to keep you informed of how fast youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re going. This should help you out in gauging how fast youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll need to pace yourself early, and then how fast youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll need to go when the excitement heats up in the latter stages of the race. Also on the screen will be a traditional map to let you know how close the other racers are to you at any given time.

Perhaps one of the best on screen presences is a tiny green arrow. This little beauty is probably going to be a big help for those who will pick up this game from the casual fans perspective. This green arrow will show you the optimal way around the track to give you a better chance at claiming victory. Sounds easy, but reports are not so sure. Be prepared for a very wild experience since following a green arrow isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t that easy when youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re right in the middle of a pack of horses speeding along at a blistering pace. If youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve ever watched a horse race you know how exciting it is to just watch them when their all bunched together, so I imagine actually racing in those conditions would be nerve racking and might tend to distract the gamer from following whatever route the game maps out.

Visually donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t expect the worldâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s best graphics from Final Furlong; however, you can expect graphics that will provide a solid experience that should compliment Final Furlongâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s game play experience. Namco is looking to cut down on the clutter and only focus on the main points of the racing which means the horses and tracks will take center stage. With so many tracks around the country it will be very interesting to see if the track designs mimic some of the more famous here and also around the world. The sounds of Final Furlong should be adequate for the game, but honestly it looks like Namco is putting their stress on the actual game play. Final Furlong has the potential to truly make the unique controls of the Wii standout in a way no other system could have ever done for this kind of game in this genre, and if Namco is successful they could have a hit on their hands.