This weekend millions of people around the world will watch The Grand National horse race at Aintree. In the UK even people who have no interest in horse racing will place bets and tune in to watch this famous race. This got me thinking about video games that let you ride horses and how great it is to gallop around on your trusty pixelated steed. It’s one of my favourite things to do in a video game and there’ve been some brilliant modern games which featured horse riding such as Battlefield 1 and Zelda Breath of the Wild. Riding horses seems to have been a lot less popular in retro games though, possibly due to the technological limitations of the hardware. Nevertheless, there were some classic retro games that featured our equine friends and these are some of my favourites. This is my top 10 retro video games featuring horses.
(Atari 2600, Intellivision)
Image source: AtariAge
Stampede is one of the earliest examples of a video game featuring a horse. The game sees you chasing stampeding cattle which you need to capture with your lasso. The different coloured cattle travel at different speeds and need to be captured before they leave the screen. This is one of the first video games I ever laid eyes on whilst at a neighbours house – I watched them play this game and Pitfall on an Atari. These games look incredibly basic by today’s standards but at the time, seeing them in action made me want an Atari so badly (I did eventually get my Atari 2600). Both games were developed by Activision which was the first independent third-party developer set up by a group of ex-Atari developers (before they existed games were developed by the company that owned the console). Activision went on to develop famous games such as Guitar Hero, Call of Duty and Destiny.
(Arcade, Mega Drive)
Image source: Mobygames
Phelios, from Namco, is a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up first released in arcades in 1988. The game features the mythical flying horse Pegasus which you ride as you attempt to rescue the princess Artemis and defeat a range of mythological beasts. After each level, you see an image of a scantily clad Artemis being imprisoned – according to Wikipedia the game never released in US arcades because of this but honestly, it’s tame by today’s standards! The game has good music, nice graphics and interesting scaling/rotational effects and if you like unusual shoot-em-ups which don’t feature planes and spaceships it’s worth a look. It was also released on the Sega Mega Drive in 1990 and it’s a fairly decent port but lacks the scaling and rotating sprites found in the superior arcade version. I feel like there should have been more retro games featuring the flying horse Pegasus – there was a side-scrolling Amiga shoot-em-up (called Pegasus) but it wasn’t as good as Phelios.
8. Stakes Winner
Image source: International Arcade Museum
Stakes Winner is a fun little arcade horse racing game with colourful cartoony graphics. You choose a horse then take part in horse races which get increasingly difficult. It’s a bit like track and field meets horse racing in that you have to rapidly bash a button to encourage the horse to go faster but your horse will run out of steam if you go too quick. You can also press a button to use a whip but that drains your horse’s energy even faster. At the same time, you need to concentrate on moving your horse around the course, weaving in and out of the other horses. You can also collect special items on the track such as wings to give you a speed boost. It’s an interesting premise for an arcade game and is fun in short bursts. There was a sequel, Stakes Winner 2, which has more varied tracks but I prefer the graphics of the first game as they are less realistic and a bit more colourful and the horses seem to have more personality.
7. Dynasty Wars
(arcade, ZX Spectrum, C64, PC Engine, Amiga 500, Atari ST)
Image source: Gamefaqs
Dynasty Wars is a very unusual horse-based beat-em-up from Capcom. Released in 1989, the game is based on a Japanese manga series set in medieval China. After choosing one of four characters you and a friend can ride around on horseback taking part in mounted combat and there are literally hundreds of horses in this game. The main character’s horses handle well and the game does a great job of making you feel like you’re taking part in a huge battle with loads of enemies on screen and arrows flying. Although the characters aren’t hugely different in their gameplay they do have slightly different attack and defence strengths and you can level up as you play to get better weapons. Dynasty Wars is a very interesting beat-em-up and it’s worth checking out if you’re looking for something a bit different. The game was ported to various home computers at the time but the arcade version is, of course, the best.
6. Asterix: the arcade game
Image source: Hardcore Gaming 101
As a child, I hated reading. My parents tried everything to encourage me to read and one day they brought home a comic book called Asterix in Britain (a story about some crazy French Gauls resisting Roman rule who visited my home country) and I loved it. I grew up reading Asterix comic books and at the time I never knew there was a brilliant arcade game by Konami which perfectly captured the art, humour and feel of the comics. Konami is well known for their arcade beat-em-ups but this 1992 title tends to go unnoticed. Thankfully, I discovered this beat-em-up gem later in life (thanks to MAME) and it’s great to be able to include it in this Top 10 because it has a fantastic bonus level where you race horse-drawn chariots avoiding obstacles as you race. You also come across the odd Legionnaire on horseback as you romp around the world smashing Roman soldiers. Asterix, the arcade game was never ported to home consoles but there were some inferior platform games. It’s a fantastic game with bags of character and I thoroughly recommend it, along with the comics.
5. Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
Image source: Technobuffalo
Shinobi III is a sequel in Sega’s famous Shinobi series and is considered to be one of the best games available for the Sega Mega Drive. It’s actually the second Mega Drive Shinobi game but there are lots of games in this series and it all gets rather confusing. The game is superior to Revenge of Shinobi and has some beautifully designed levels and enhanced gameplay such as the ability to jump kick. Some people say it’s a bit easy in the first few levels but I’m OK with that. One level, in particular, sees you riding a horse as you jump obstacles and kill ninjas – it is simply superb and I love the music and atmosphere. In another level, you even get to go surfing! The rest of the game sees you running and jumping through forests, factories and caves throwing shurikens, chopping your ninja sword and using ninja magic. For kids who dreamed of being ninjas, 16-bit games didn’t get much better than this!
4. Knights of the Round
Image source: Rollingstone
Knights of the Round is a 1991 Capcom beat-em-up based on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. This is another fantastic beat-em-up which is largely overlooked and it’s bloody brilliant. You choose your knight (Arthur, Lancelot, Percival) then romp around the countryside with up to 3 players, fighting other knights with your trusty broadswords and axes. The game has a lovely fighting mechanic where you can parry an attacker’s sword before hitting them but it requires good timing or you will take a hit. This makes fighting a bit more interesting than your traditional brawler. It’s also possible to level up your fighter as you progress through the levels to increase their defence, attack and agility. What’s also really cool about this game is that throughout the levels you will come across some fantastic war horses that can be mounted and rode into battle! It’s even possible to charge and stomp people with your horse. The background scenery is lovely and reminiscent of medieval Britain or France with lots of castles, villages amid rolling countryside. It has lovely graphics and if you like knights in armour and beat-em-ups this will be right up your street. The game was ported to the SNES in 1994 and it’s certainly one of the better SNES beat-em-ups available.
3. Sunset Riders
(Arcade, SNES, Mega Drive)
Image source: Thewellredmage
Whenever I think of horses and video games then cowboys spring to mind. The best retro cowboy game available is Sunset Riders, released in arcades by Konami in 1991. Sunset Riders is not only the best Western-themed arcade game ever made: it also happens to be one of the finest arcade games ever made. It’s a side-scrolling run-and-gun game for up to four colourful cowboy bounty-hunters. Each level sees you take on a variety of bad guys as you jump up and down from balconies to avoid attacks and hunt down the most wanted criminals in the Wild West. There’s a lot of variety in gameplay due to mini-games and shooting-gallery bosses. The characters handle beautifully and it never gets frustrating. There is a fantastic horse riding level where you ride alongside a train and shoot bad guys who appear on the train and on horseback. It’s hard to believe the game is over 25 years old – it just feels so fresh and is as fun to play now as it was back when it first came out.
2. Warriors of Fate
(Arcade, PlayStation, Saturn)
Image source: Extralives
Warriors of Fate is Capcom’s 1992 sequel to Dynasty Wars and is based on the same Japanese Manga. The game has stunning graphics with larger, beefier sprites and as a result feels a bit more like Final Fight/Knights of the Round with a medieval Chinese theme. The characters have lovely detail and animation which gives them more personality and ensures the game is more engaging than Dynasty Wars. As you play you can pick up weapons and use special moves such as special attacks, charging attacks and grapples. Unlike Dynasty Wars, there is a mix of horse-based on on-foot combat. The horses control beautifully and this is quite simply some of the finest horse-based combat available in an arcade game. It’s also one of the best arcade beat-em-ups available.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time
Image source: Neoseeker
The number one retro game featuring horses is, of course, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The game introduces you to Link’s much-loved horse Epona who has featured in many subsequent Zelda games including Breath of the Wild where she can be unlocked with an Amiibo. The name Epona comes from ancient times – she was the protector of horses. Galloping around Hyrule on Epona is a truly magical feeling, jumping fences and riding off into the unknown. It was experiences like this that blew our minds when we first played N64 games and realised what was possible with 3D gaming. Think about the games on this list: going from riding 16-bit horses in side-scrolling beat-em-ups to being literally able to ride your horse off into the sunset was something we’d only dreamed of and now it was actually possible. Ocarina of Time pushed the N64 to its limits and is deservedly considered to be one of the greatest games of all time. It’s certainly the greatest retro video game featuring horse-riding.
I hope you would agree that these are some fine retro video games featuring horses. If you think I’ve missed a great game please let me know via the comments.