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Wildshade: Unicorn Champions

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Racing
Publisher: NACON
Release Date: Nov. 9, 2023


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PS5 Review - 'Wildshade: Unicorn Champions'

by Cody Medellin on March 4, 2024 @ 12:45 a.m. PST

Cross the finishing line riding a unicorn! Wildshade: Unicorn Champions is a racing game in which you are transported to a magical and colorful world. Win all the tournaments to unlock the rarest mounts, breed them to create the champion of your dreams and become the best horse rider.

PS4 and PS5 owners have plenty of kart racers with a variety of vehicles and characters. There have been titles starring characters from Crash Bandicoot and Sonic the Hedgehog. Some of them feature characters from DreamWorks films, Disney and Pixar films, and Nickelodeon's slate of cartoons. There have been fruit-themed kart racers, ones starring bears, and one featuring real-life F1 racers. There's even a kart racer featuring geriatrics racing against Death. However, no kart racer has ever featured unicorns. Wildshade: Unicorn Champions aims to fix that problem, but in doing so, it reveals that perhaps the mythical equines don't need to be in a kart racing game.

The game features no story or premise, but it immediately throws you into a tutorial for the controls and racing mechanics. The game defaults to automatic steering and acceleration, and while you can't control the latter, you can still steer. Like most kart racing games, you can pick up potions on the track to unleash weapons like an ice wall, mines, or a tornado to trip up your competition. You can also drift by enabling a powerslide that sees your horse slide into a turn for a limited time before you let go and pick up some speed. One new thing is the ability to generate power over time to unleash an attack, so you aren't completely dependent on potions. You can, however, pick up orbs to refill magic, and you can jump over logs to give yourself an even bigger magical boost.

There are a few basic modes to work with, but the main one is the Campaign mode. You're presented with a row of races to undertake and some milestones to reach to unlock a horse. All of these things are unlocked via a star system, and completing a race gives you stars depending on your placement in the top five when finishing a race. The good news is that the unlock requirements for each level are low, so if you finish first in most of the races, you'll be able to unlock everything.

Playing just a few races highlights some of the big issues with the game design. The most irksome is the fact that the game uses an extreme form of rubberbanding in each race. It's a bit of a struggle to get to first place, but you can easily lose this position in a few seconds since other racers tend to surge ahead without warning and pile on a ton of attacks at once. It has the effect of making each race feel unfair, especially since you'll witness this in both the tutorial and in the very first race. While the tracks are nice, the shortcuts don't feel like they're worth seeking out, since those alternate paths rarely provide any advantage, whether in the form of extra items or power-ups for the ever-replenishing magic meter. The items feel rather restricting, as you can't aim them forward or backward. The magic replenishment system feels half-baked, since any progress is instantly overwritten once you pick up potions on the field, and they are rather abundant to the point where you need to actively avoid running into them if you want to use a random ability provided by the magic meter.

There's also the issue of the unlocked horses, one of the main reasons one would play the Campaign in the first place. You might have noticed that the review keeps using the word "horse" instead of "unicorn," as the game's title would suggest, and that's because there are both unicorns and regular horses in the game. Also, while you are indeed unlocking horses via this mode, it's cumbersome to see what you have in your roster. Sometimes unlock a new horse type, and other times, you'll unlock a new skin for that horse. It's all buried under different icons with no visible designation for the differences, so the effect is that the whole unlock process feels unfulfilling, especially since there's plenty of space on the screen to display all of the horse variations.

It is also interesting to note that despite Wildshade: Unicorn Champions being described as a family-friendly game, there are several elements that go against that ethos. Almost all of this happens during a race, and they're all reactions to the weapons, which target the horses instead of the riders. Seeing a horse rear up when being hit with lighting is one thing, but most weapons cause your horse some kind of distress. You might see the horse crash to the ground before getting up to try again. You'll also see a horse struggle to get up after being pelted with icicles. All of these actions are accompanied by the whinnying of the horse, and since this is the only time you'll hear something from the horse, the sound becomes associated with something negative. If you're an animal lover, seeing these things happen quickly makes the game feel rather unpleasant.

Tournament mode is the other single-player mode, where you race against others in a four-race cup. There are five leagues to choose from, and while the trophy is always the goal, the real objective is to unlock all of the different saddles, bridles, and blankets for your horses. Race mode is a typical versus mode, where up to four players can pick any one of the 20 different tracks to race. It's all offline, but it performs well enough that there are no real complaints. It's nothing too special.

The last mode in the game is Breeding, and it doesn't exactly work the way you think it might. You can select any two horses and then hold down the button to create a brand-new horse. Since none of the horses have any racing-related stats, breeding is simply used to get a randomized set of cosmetic features on a new horse. This is where things get interesting, as you can discard the new horse with the touch of a button if you don't like the results of the randomization. You can also take the offspring and breed them with their parents or other offspring to create a brand-new horse design pattern. Much like the unlocking of horses in the Campaign mode, the game places all of these breed horses in one category, so selecting your perfect horse is also needlessly difficult to do.

The overall presentation is fine enough. The riders look decent, even though their faces all look the same. The horses look good thanks to their whimsical and wild designs. The animations are good enough, but the powersliding looks strange even when you're performing it correctly. The environments look nice, and the game runs fine no matter how many things are exploding on-screen. The sound is where things falter. The musical selection is small, so it always feels like you're listening to the same tracks over and over again over multiple courses. The effects are perfunctory, while the only voice is the whinnying, which as we've alluded to before, makes the game feel a bit disturbing.

Wildshade: Unicorn Champions is a very messy game. The racing is simple in execution but suffers greatly from a heavy use of rubberbanding, while the tracks don't offer up too much incentive to look for shortcuts. The modes are sparse, and the breeding feature is ultimately boring. The presentation is decent enough in segments, but the visions of horses tumbling while you they whinny destroys any impressions of it being a family-friendly game. This isn't an outright terrible kart racing game, but considering the breadth of titles in the genre across the two platform generations, there's very little reason to choose Wildshade over the spectrum of vastly superior ones.

Score: 4.0/10

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