After taking a break for a year in the US, Tecmo returns to the track with Gallop Racer 2006. You might think that, given the extra development time, Tecmo would take care to really refine the presentation, create a more visceral gameplay experience, or just generally attempt to make the whole package more approachable to anyone who hasn't spent years steeped in horse-racing culture; but unfortunately, you'd be mistaken. In fact, Gallop Racer 2006 mostly just rearranges the core components of past games and even loses some of the more cohesive career aspects of Gallop Racer 2004. Still, what's there will undoubtedly appeal to the enthusiasts that have kept the series going for all these years.
Despite the inclusion of a theme park, there's nothing too festive about Gallop Racer 2006.
There is, as always, an almost boggling amount of depth and nuance to the actual horses in Gallop Racer. Each horse is host to more than a dozen different stats and abilities that define not just how fast they can run and for how long, but also more subtle aspects such as how quickly they can reach their top speed, their ability to change speed on the fly, how responsive they are to the jockey's commands, where they prefer to stand in the pack, and how well they perform at a large-scale event. All of this information is readily available, albeit in a presentation thick with abbreviations and cryptic symbols and graphs. It can take a good deal of time, but once you're able to divine the significance of each stat, it's easy to determine how to ride your horse and which events you stand a good chance of winning.
Following suit, the horse racing is also fairly technical. There are several different meters to keep an eye on, including your horse's current speed, stamina, and mental condition; the speed being demanded by the jockey; and a slot-machine-style "revolution" meter that, if the conditions are right and you're lucky, can unlock otherwise inaccessible power and speed in your horse. The game emphasizes harmony between horse and jockey right out of the gate by challenging you to stop the swinging horse and jockey speed meters as close together as possible before the starting gates open.
Once you're out on the track, it becomes a matter of managing your horse's stamina, pack position, and mental condition, all of which are interconnected to a degree--ride your horse too hard, and it'll run out of steam before it gets to the finish line. You'll mostly be nudging your horse around with the reins, though once you get down to the back stretch, it can be beneficial to break out the whip to get a little extra spirit out of the horse, though you can also just show the whip to the horse and often get the results you're looking for without the physical duress on the animal. There are a few different control schemes you can choose from, including a hands-off setup, where you choose from a handful of desired behavioral guidelines and basically let the race play out as it does. But even when you're getting your hands dirty out there, the experience is ultimately too abstracted and technical to be very viscerally exciting, and even though there's a variety of race lengths and track surfaces, as well as a huge array of unique North American, Japanese, and European tracks to race on, it doesn't take too long for the races to all start feeling the same.
Forgoing Gallop Racer 2004's colorful career mode, this year's model features a "theme park" where you can choose from three different modes. Once you've determined your jockey's name, gender, and jersey design, you're given a handful of cash and thrown out into the world. The gallop-stallion mode is where you'll choose from different mares and studs to breed, creating your own unique foal. Of course, the attributes of the horses you choose to breed will be passed on to your new horse, and there are so many variables to factor in when making your choices, not least of which are the breeding fees, that it's easy to be overwhelmed by everything that's presented. The game simply doesn't give you as much guidance here as it ought to.