APP OF THE DAY: Starters Orders 4 review (iPad)
Horses, we love them more than dog food companies here at Pocket-lint Towers. There's nothing like putting a pony on a horse and coming away with a monkey.
We also love our sports management games; Football Manager 2011, Cricket Captain 2010, Ladies Beach Volleyball 7: Thong Co-ordinator* - they all have us glued to our PCs and iPads. In more ways than one, sometimes.
So, imagine our delight when we learned that there's a new app (or two) that combines our two desires. And with the Epsom Derby coming up this weekend to whip us into a frenzy (much like the runners), it couldn't be better timed...
Starters Orders 4
While hitting the iPad (and iPad 2) for the very first time, the Starters Orders franchise has been around on PC for some time. And the current generation of the computer-centric classic, Starters Orders 4, has grown quite a network of fans for independent publisher and developer Strategic Designs Limited, who offers the game to buy online exclusively.
It's an extremely in-depth horse racing management and deserves to mentioned in the same breath as Football Manager and Cricket Captain; two PC titles that have also made a successful transition to Apple's devices.
Unlike those, however, the iPad version of SO4 has been split into two titles in order to suit the tablet device, and due to certain restrictions (of which we'll explain later), it is not available for the iPhone. There is a stripped down game using the same engine, Horse Racing World, but that only allows you to bet on races, rather than train horses too.
The iPad versions, however, are much deeper. Each focuses on one of the two types of racing season, flat and jump, and are priced at £6.49 on the App Store. They're combined on the PC game, but that doesn't mean that you're being swizzled as the computer version requires far more time, effort and attention than you're more than likely going to spend on an iPad.
Instead, it's almost worth considering that the flat edition is for beginners, while the slightly more complex jumps edition is for experienced players. And in that, at least there's a ready made sequel ready for you off the bat.
The games themselves have similar user interfaces and gameplay style. You are the owner of a stable of horses and must build up your resources (money) by winning races and/or betting on the outcome. You can bet on races that you don't have horses entered into, but it's far more fun when there's more at stake than just cash. You really will find yourself screaming at your pixelated nag as you get closer to the finishing line.
You can train horses between races (or switch that mode off, so that they're always fit and ready for you), and decide which races and events - all of which are based on genuine race calenders in the real world - you want to enter. The better the horse, the better the results.
Form, going and distance are all important, and your choice of jockey can be vital. And, thankfully, there's a swathe of statistics that the game constantly updates to help you out.
But, for us, the most important feature that can mean the difference between winning and losing is the instructions you can give a jockey to follow during a race. Before each event there's a drop-down box of options you can choose from, and each may suit or even hinder a specific horse. When you find a winning combination, it's worth jotting it down somewhere as you can use it again to good effect.
And, if your horses are still losing all the time, you can always buy new ones auctioned at the end of claiming or selling races.
Starters Orders 4, flat or jump, is not without its faults. To begin with, the 2D graphics aren't spectacular, although they certainly do the job enough to get you in a froth during a race. And the input mechanism is fiddly at best. There's some tiny text you have to click on, and can sometimes find yourself touching the wrong line or word - which is, no doubt, why an iPhone version isn't feasible.
However, both editions are superb, in-depth management simulations, the like of which rare on the casual gaming-heavy App Store. We're certainly getting fed up of catapulting avian agitators, joining up three whatevers in a row, or feeding sweets to beasties. Give us a stat-based sim anytime.
And preferably one (or two) with horses in it.
* Sadly, the Ladies Beach Volleyball franchise is just a product of our warped and fragile minds. Although there is a rumour that British Olympic Women's Masseur Assistant is in development.