Inside Pulse 12

Review: Champion Jockey: G1 Jockey & Gallop Racer (PS3)

Champion Jockey: G1 Jockey & Gallop Racer
Genre: Horse Racing
Developer: TecmoKoei
Publisher: TecmoKoei
Release Date: 11/08/2011

In order to understand what Champion Jockey is, it is important to know about the two video game franchises that preceded it, Tecmo’s Gallop Racer and Koei’s G1 Jockey. Over the last decade, both series’ have seen several releases in America, however, both are extremely niche franchises, and in America we only get some of the titles. The games are more popular and in demand in Japan, where horse racing is a larger pop culture event than it has become in America (aside from the Kentucky Derby).

With the two publishers of the biggest horse racing games having merged in 2009, they’ve released Champion Jockey, which is, in turn, a merger of the company’s horse racing games. I’ve been looking forward to the game, as I’ve managed to play every US release of both series, my wife loves horses and it has always been a way for us to combine our hobbies into something we could both enjoy. Does Champion Jockey manage to be the Super Bowl of horse racing games, or have they found a way to piss of the niche fanbase of both games?

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first.

Graphically, the game looks like a higher resolution Playstation 2 game. These are the same horse models I’ve been staring at the back of for years, and it is really disappointing that with the technology we have on hand that the developers could not create a better looking game. I know they made this game for the Wii as well, and I would not be surprised if the PS3 and Xbox versions are just smoothed out adaptations of the Wii code. The horses look better in Skyrim, a game not designed around horses. The arenas don’t look much better than the older games either, and after playing racing games that have realistic tracks with track deformity, it is sad to see that such technological progress has been ignored.

The presentation is also just as dated. 2D characters on static backgrounds start the story of the career mode. Characters speak in speech bubbles, but there is no voice work, nor announcers for the races. The menus feel like they are designed to be intentionally frustrating for the user. Getting to a menu to just change some basic options means navigating a maze of submenus and hoping you’ll make it back out again.

For just racing a horse, there are more Heads Up Display icons than for flying a fighter jet. There’s Current Place, Distance to Finish Line, Current Time, Lap Time, Revolution Meter, Whip Type selector, Bit Level, Radar for horse characteristic, Motivation Ring, Stamina, Potential, Style, Lead Leg, and Speed gauges all cluttering up the screen. All of these are important to pay attention to as well. It is odd, after spending so much time playing games where the focus was to try to reduce the amount of clutter on the screen, for a horse racing game to fill the screen with so many different meters.

Much like the presentation and the graphics, the control scheme also, at times, feels like it’s from a different era in game design. There are times when you are supposed to hit a button with pretty much no visual or auditory cues, two buttons for different leading legs, and on the default control scheme there are 4 buttons required to make a horse jump with a different button press for landing!

Playing this game was, at times, like taking a time machine back to when game design was much less player friendly, and at times the game seemed like it was aggressively against the player.

However, aside from the negatives mentioned above, the game manages to combine the different styles of G1 Jockey and Gallop Racer effectively into one package. I can probably say without any worry that I might be proved wrong that Champion Jockey is the deepest horse racing simulator available for the current home video game consoles.

The racing will feel familiar to fans of either series. Each horse has individual attributes, such as what type of track they ride the best on, the best distance for them to race at, a million other stats, and what part of the pack they like to race in. Keeping a horse happy while racing is an important part of the races. If you have a front runner than you will want to stay ahead of the other horses, but you might race one that prefers to be in the back. It is important to know the distance, type of race, and the type of runner your horse is before you start.

Once you start, you want to try and press the drive button right as the gate opens. Having a bad start can hurt your odds immediately. They rest of any race is trying to get to the position your horse prefers in a pack as soon as possible (without hitting other horses). Then, once you get into the stretch of the race, to whip the horse repeatedly, cross your fingers of the hand not whipping the horse and hope for the best.

The best thing that Champion Jockey has done is make it so you can play the game like either Gallop Racer or G1 Jockey. Gallop Racer was a series that always sort of catered to more casual horse racing gamers, with simple controls that were easy to get used to. G1 Jockey was always a little bit more of a simulation experience. With the controls you can choose if you want simple race controls, or if you want to deal with things like drive timing and which leg leads.

While speaking of the controls, I’d also like to recommend people playing switch from the Type A default to Type B, as it feels like a closer representation of reigns and is just more comfortable to use. The game also includes Sixaxis and Move control schemes. The Sixaxis controls aren’t accurate enough, but the Move controls work well and respond just fine. It does get tiring on the arms after a bit, and while there’s a Move control option that requires less movement, personally I liked Type B for the controller the most. That doesn’t sound like much does it? It can be intense to try and race your best when you know that you might still get beat by a horse that is better suited for the track than your horse. Plus there are a lot of things that factor into the game, aside from just the racing.

In the Story mode, you play as a new jockey. The game sets you through some tutorials, some of which are completely worthless in helping the player understand what to do, and then you get dumped into the wide world of horse racing. As a jockey you will work with different stables to ride their horses. You start off with a low jockey rank and have to earn riding points in order to move your way up to racing better horses. This is broken up into Weekdays and Race Days. On Weekdays you can negotiate to be in different races, workout a horse to increase stats, train a new horse you have bred, or check out your stables and breed new horses. During Race Days you race. In this method the racing, breeding, training, workout, and negotiating all feed into each other. You negotiate to race. You race to win to get more riding points. You use riding points to get better races. And so on.

It is important to check out the type of race and the horse you will be using in that race to make sure they are compatible. Using a horse that does well on short runs in dirt will get easily beat in a long race on turf. Each horse has a stat screen where you can review what the best type of track and race is for them, as well as what section of the pack they run better in, what they’re attributes are and different abilities.

Some horses have abilities, even multiple ones. Some might get a second wind from always being at the front. The attributes also come into play, some of the traits are positive, like having great power and a fast pace, but there are negative ones that should be paid attention to. All of these are vital things to watch, otherwise if you are playing on any difficulty but the easy one you will end up in last place.

If you do not like the horse options available to you, then you can always breed a horse. It is interesting to see how they handle this from game to game. One of my favorites was in an old Gallop Racer, the two horses breeding would become streams of light and then that one stream of light would explode into a new horse. Another Gallop Racer game showed the foal for training, but during the training it would be with an adult horse.

Here you choose two horses to breed, and then it shows you what the horse would look like with different stats/attributes. Of course, if you do not like it you can quickly back out and re-roll the horse until you get one you like. I don’t know what there is to stop people from creating a stable full of super horses, but it is what it is.

Training these new horses is an extreme pain in the ass though. There are several mini-games used to train the new horse, and all of them require exact timing with no margin for error. Even on easy difficulty I was tempted to punt my PS3 controller through a window after narrowly screwing up the timing on one of them after several tries. It doesn’t help that the descriptions for these many mini-games are often vague.

The story mode is deep, and if you are in the niche that this game appeals to you could easily spend an absurd amount of time just playing that one mode. I had an old roommate get addicted to it and spent literally hundreds of hours just breeding and racing.

There are other modes as well. If you aren’t the type of person who wants to spend a lot of time learning horse stats, breeding, and training and just want to race, well Champion Jockey has modes for you as well. There is a Fun Race Mode that is designed to be for beginners, and you can do a full race or just versus. There is a Practice Challenge with preset horses that you have to try and race facing set conditions. There are Quest Challenges, where you can select a horse and try to complete specific race challenges. Scenario Challenge is the same, only it is for your own bred horses. Replay Race lets you race using your Replay Data if you have any saved. There are also a couple of Free Race modes where you get to choose the horse, tack, conditions and so on. There is also an online mode for 4 player horse racing, but I could not find an open PS3 lobby when I made a couple of attempts to do so.

The game pretty much covers every type of racing you can do with horses, though it would’ve been cool if they had gone a little outside of the standard horse racing and maybe include things like chariot races, or even something crazy like ostrich races (which is done every year at my local racetrack). Sadly, the game is also missing any sort of gambling mode. In some of the older games you could check out the horse’s stats, make a wager, and then watch the race. It was always a fun feature.

There are multiple difficulty levels. The easy mode is incredibly easy, and you can win nearly every race regardless of stats involved. If you do pay attention to the stats you will win by several yards. The normal mode is a great balance, not too hard as long as you are paying attention. The hard mode requires a precision that can be frustrating at times, but if you can master the advanced controls of the game than you should be able to handle a harder difficulty.

I’m still not sure what demographic the game is supposed to appeal to. I fall into the niche they are looking for, but I think it would be hard for the average person to pick up and play this game, not only because of how deep it can be with all the different stats, but also because how the game doesn’t do a good job communicating to the player what you are expected to do. Younger kids would find this game much too difficult, though they might have a good time with the fun modes, especially when playing with the Move controller.

Champion Jockey is a weird game to review. If you are looking for a game that combines Gallop Racer and G1 Jockey into one game, then Champion Jockey manages to do just that in a way that respects the roots of both franchises. However, while it manages to do both series justice, it also ignores both the technical and aesthetic advancements in video games from the last 5 years. Between a cluttered HUD, too many menus, lots of speech bubble dialog, and unhelpful tutorials, the mechanics bring down the game and make it feel like I’m playing a port of an older game than a new one. Still, Champion Jockey is the only option out there if you want to play a horse racing game, and despite being somewhat clunky is still a very deep experience with a lot of different modes to play through.

The Scores

Modes: Great
Graphics: Poor
Audio: Poor
Controls: Good (just experiment with the different types)
Replayability: Great
Balance: Good
Originality: Awful
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Score: Decent Game

Short Attention Span Summary:
Champion Jockey: G1 Jockey & Gallop Racer is a good horse racing game, combining some of the things that I loved about both games into one package. However, the last game I played (of either series) was several years ago, and they haven’t really made many changes to the core game since then, and the overall presentation looks like a game that could have come out in 2008 instead of 2011.