Horse racing is a popular sport, so having a game all about it isn’t too much of a surprise. What is a surprise, however, is what GameFreak has done to spice the sport up. The studio is best known for its work on the Pokemon video-games—and this project is definitely quite the change.
Pocket Card Jockey has you playing the role of a young horse trainer (hmmm, trainer?) who aspires to be a championship racer. The problem is that the young trainer doesn’t really have that much experience in horse races, but, they do happen to be good at solitaire. So, in bizarre turn of events, you wind up with the task of moving up the ranks of horse racing by using your solitaire skills. How does this weird combination hold up?
Pocket Card Jockey is definitely one of the strangest games that I have ever played, but it is also (surprisingly) one of the most fun. I really didn’t know what to expect, especially considering the fact that I’m not too big of a fan of card games in general. Even so, I chose to review it because it looked interesting—and it genuinely is.
While solitaire and horse racing having absolutely nothing in common, somehow GameFreak managed to make it work. Your goal is to play a few rounds of solitaire in each race, and your performance in each card game has a massive effect on how your horse performs in the race. Thus, your primary objective is pretty much to do the best that you can with each and every round of cards.
The solitaire aspect is pretty straightforward (if you know how to play) but the game explains it simply in the very beginning. Not too long after your first few races you will get used to the many different mechanics that are involved. There are special cards that act as power-ups, special matches, and items that can be purchased in the in-game shop (which uses in-game money, don’t worry). In addition to these mechanics, there are also the features of the actual horse racing. As mentioned already, your horse’s performance is primarily affected by how well you do with each solitaire game. As a result, you should always be striving to clear each game with a perfect score. Having a good match of solitaire will boost your horse’s mood, thus equating to more energy. This allows your horse to run faster and keep up its stamina, which will ultimately lead you to victory. Performing poorly in a card game can lead to your horse getting annoyed and possibly even out of control, which can lead to ultimately losing the race.
Your horse’s performance in each race is greatly affected by how well you play each game of solitaire. Keep your mistakes to a minimal.
If you win each race (or come within the top three), then you’ll be awarded with experience points. As your horse gains EXP, it will then level up, thus leading to it learning new skills and getting a small increase in stats. Horses also happen to have an aging factor here, too. You will find yourself racing a variety of different horses as you progress through the game, and they all start off fairly young. Between the ages of 1-3 years, your horse will be growing. This is when you can gain experience points. After its third year, the horse then enters the ‘mature’ stage and thus, can’t be trained any further. Once a horse enters the mature stage, you can go ahead and pick a whole new young horse—you can even give each horse its name.
GameFreak definitely put a surprising amount of detail in a title that’s relatively simplistic. While it’s not a full-on horse racing simulator (how could it be?), it does a good job at using a lot of real-world factors to make the experience feel just a tad bit realistic. I found this to be a pretty nice touch, seeing that the game is already such a weird concept. While learning all the different factors does take a little bit of time, once you understand the rules of the game it becomes sort of addicting. The only real issue that I had with it is that there’s no way to pause or even restart a race. Once you begin, you’re forced to go through the entire race unless you put the system in sleep mode in order to pause. If you make a mistake and want to restart the race, then you’re going to have to restart the entire game—as in, exiting and launching it again. While this only takes a matter of seconds, it’s still quite strange that you there isn’t a standard pause/retry option.
Beyond the gameplay Pocket Card Jockey continues to hold up nicely. The game is bright and colorful, which fits due to its cartoony artstyle. The entire game looks something along the lines of a anime/manga style, albeit in a more ‘chibi’ form. Characters are very expressive, despite the fact they look like paper cut-outs in cutscenes, which are presented in typical frame-by-frame text dialogue scenes. Interestingly enough, the game doesn’t make any use of the 3D feature, but this makes sense due to the fact that the game is pretty much entirely in a 2D-style. My favorite part about the game’s presentation is its music. While there are only a few tracks in the entire game (and seemingly only two during races), they’re incredibly catchy and upbeat. They fit the theme wonderfully and really inspire you to play quickly (which is exactly what the game wants you to do).
The horse racing has a lot of realistic touches that bring out the game’s surprising attention to detail.
Overall, Pocket Card Jockey is a surprisingly fun title that is definitely worth picking up if you’re a fan of either solitaire or horse races. Even if you’re a fan of neither, the addictive nature of the game is quite similar to that of other titles like Candy Crush or Color Switch, for example. While it’s definitely a departure from GameFreak’s regular style, the development team still managed to do a good job at putting the game together. With a price tag of only a measly $7, Pocket Card Jockey is an excellent eShop title to have on the go!