It's always been tough to crack the horsey set, what with its old-money obstacles, snooty social gatherings, and thousand-dollar mint juleps. That doesn't even factor in the ridiculous cost of owning, feeding, and caring for thoroughbreds. Tecmo's Gallop Racer 2006 seems more than willing to keep you on the outside; if you don't know the deal going in, it'll be darned if it's going to help you out. On the other hand, if raising and racing horses is in your blood – and you've spent time with the Gallop Racer series in the past – then the title offers Japanese RPG-level depth and a serious challenge, ultimately rewarding the dedicated with an unending lineage of uber-horses that would blow Secretariat's doors off.
The first thing that will likely come to mind when playing Gallop Racer 2006 is... what exactly is the goal of the game? At initial glance, it might seem as simple as "Let's win some races!" My goodness, how wrong that would be. Of course, the impenetrable menus, incomprehensible manual and thoroughly clunky setup screens don't help you determine what's happening. By sheer will, you will likely stumble your way to a horse race after about half an hour meandering around the screens (if you haven't already given up by that point).
By then, you will have purchased a horse, registered in some races, and come in dead last without knowing the slightest reason why. All this is because each step of the way is completely befuddling in every aspect. Perhaps it's the Japanese translation, or maybe it's the fact that someone unfamiliar with the series is not built to jump in and go. No matter how you look at it, though, it is inexcusable to make so deep, complex, and flexible of a game come without the slightest bit of a tutorial or guide for newcomers. It's just that hard to know what to do or why you'd do it.
OK, so if we can't say for sure just what the game is, we can tell you for sure what it is not – specifically, a straightforward racing game. What is really seems to be is a combination of many sorts of genres, such as role playing, strategy, gambling, and simulation.
Negotiating the turns
The main hub of activity is the curiously titled "Theme Park", in which there are three main areas to explore - "Horse Titles", "Breeding", and "Field of Legend" (which is not available at the beginning of the game). The combination of Horse Titles and Breeding makes up your career of sorts (not that it's logically set up that way). As it is, the bulk of your time will be spent in the Titles arena, especially when you first begin playing.
This Titles area is where you buy a horse, register for races, make your bets, and ride in competitions. At a high level, this seems simple enough; I suppose it really is if you're not that concerned about all the variables at play in the background. Starting out with 10,000 points, you've got hundreds of horses to choose from, each with varying abilities and within all sorts of different classes (this being a Japanese game, the top class is 'SS', as opposed to 'A' or '1'). When we say varying abilities, boy is that an understatement. Each animal has all sorts of attributes - well over a dozen, including raw abilities as well as growth and performance charts, breeding lineages, preferred racing styles, and more. It's a horse fan's dream, so long as that fan is willing to do patient analysis and endure some trials-and-errors.
Prior to the race, you (presumably as an owner, not as a jockey) have an opportunity to bet on its outcome. We're talking serious betting, too, since you can pick win, place, show, or any combination thereof. I've not spent much time at a track in real life, but fans of The Racing Form will likely have a field day just dreaming up the gambling possibilities. However, just as so many other areas, the actual betting is a confusing medley of unexplained menu selections and less-than-intuitive options.