Of all the horseracing games in all of the world, it's highly unlikely that most would have envisioned playing one that involves stealing a horse and riding it across swathes of obstacle-laden land doused in nothing but pixels and jolly good entertainment. The likelihood of envisioning this rises dramatically once you've encountered The Horse Thief however, a game that ticks all of the running-game boxes and even throws in a few more boxes while it's at it.
You begin the game by selecting from one of many, many characters that will be riding the stolen horse. It makes no difference which character you choose because they are merely different in terms of aesthetics and not functionally superior or inferior to each other in any way. Once you've selected your character, it's time to start the game. The aim is to guide your character, who is initially on foot, across the land, avoiding various objects along the way. Objects like cactuses get in your way initially, but you'll soon find yourself encountering a horse that you must hop onto; this is where things get a bit more interesting.
After encountering (aka stealing) the horse that's just wandering the desert aimlessly, you begin to encounter many more items and obstacles that you must avoid/jump over at all costs. The only controls you have to remember are the directional controls to facilitate your movement up/down the 2D plane and Spacebar to jump once you're riding horseback. There are also objects that you can collect: giant white pixels add to your score whilst yellow ones replenish your health, which you will find gets diminished quite frequently as a result of bashing into cactuses, running into enemies along the way, and mistiming your jumps across the expanses of water.
The gameplay itself is as simple as they come: simply move up and down, jumping frequently in order to avoid harmful obstacles and enemies. This is the running game genre at its most basic, but that's not to say it isn't entertaining. In spite of the rather rudimentary controls and simple gameplay, you may find yourself playing through the experience a fair few times because simple things like this are more addictive than you would initially think they would be. It can be frustrating at times, but collecting all of the white pixels and avoiding damage can be quite the challenge to try and overcome, and many may find themselves unable to walk away from this task until they have performed it successfully.
Horse theft may seem like an odd idea to base a whole flash game on, but in the case of The Horse Thief, it seems to be just what the vet ordered. While many running games seem mess around with perspective (first-person, third-person, various camera angles etc.), this one keeps it simple and makes things a whole lot more pixelated than many other games of the genre. This gives the game a significant amount of character where other games fail to do so, and the music also makes for a bit of on-the-side entertainment as well. One could argue the music isn't quite as impactful or outrageous as that used in the psychedelic running game Robot Unicorn Attack from Adult Swim, but the music certainly serves its purpose and should be praised for being an original piece rather than a famous track that many people will already know.
It's difficult to say more about a game whose premise, design, and general execution is almost as simple as they come. Watch out for your eyes when you get far enough for the music wave to oscillate on the screen as you run however - the only thing I've found to be more eye catching than this are the visuals in this catch the music game, though these are two distinctly different approaches to gaming in terms of visual design as well as the styles of music used to accompany the gameplay. The Horse Thief is definitely a title for the nostalgic and fans of old-school aesthetics in their games, as well as for people that simply love simple ideas and easy-to-play gameplay.
Bebop Rating: 8.5/10