Horse racing is one of the biggest sports in the world, attracting millions of avid punters every year. But, despite numerous attempts by Tecmo Koei to try and stimulate the same market in the world of video games, it's never taken off as a solid concept - well, not until the advent of motion controls. G1 Jockey came into its own on the Nintendo Wii and it's prompted a much bigger response this time around. We've got a renamed franchise and a full-on release with support for every console's motion peripherals. And to be fair to the developers, they've made a decent go of things.
The core of Champion Jockey is the career mode. Here, you'll create a jockey and go through typical seasons in an attempt to win the prized "Champion Jockey" award. It's not all plain sailing though.
You will start off as an apprentice, and will be given pretty standard horses to race with. Each week, you will be given some offers for horses where all you have to do is accept, but you will also be able to spend Rider Points to put your name down for other horses. The catch here, is that it quite often depends on your relationships, so if your relationship is poor, with the horses' stable, they may well give it to someone else and you've then lost your Rider Points.
It's quite an interesting concept, as it means that Champion Jockey isn't just about performing in the race. Various things you do will affect your relationship status with the different personnel in the game, including jockeys, and this will affect the horses you're able to ride.
The best way to improve your relationship is to just win races, or exceed expectations. It gives the owners improved confidence in your ability to perform, so they will naturally pick you above another jockey.
It's a decent mode, although it can start to feel a bit stale after a little while. And when you get to the end of the season and you see that some of the jockeys have done hundreds of races, it shows you the size of the task you'll need to undertake in order to win that coveted Champion Jockey award. The ability to breed your own horses is a nice touch, but the training of the horses can be a bit arduous sometimes. It's better to just use horses that are part of stables in general.
When you start your career, you will also be given a brief tutorial about how the game works, and boy do you need it.
The controls, in theory, are very simple. And this applies to both controller-based play and motion-based play. You increase your speed by riding the horse in time with its rhythm and you decrease your speed by pulling back on the reins. It's not that responsive though and it works more on a "stages" principle. You have a speed-dial, of sorts, but it shows your consistent speed. If you push the horse a bit, the horse will then stay at that speed unless you command it to slow down. None of it is instant though.This can be a bit troublesome because stamina is a very important aspect of the game. So if you want to make adjustments and you have to hold the reins for a few seconds before you see any kind of results, it can be a bit frustrating. You'd expect there to be a smooth decline as you want to slow down, but it seems very digital - acceleration and deceleration happens in very clear stages.
Some things are also handled quite poorly, such as collisions. It's probably quite accurate to real horse racing, but it can be a real pain when you get boxed in, the horse in front slows down and you end up falling off your horse because you ran into it. Which leads to another point - no other jockeys ever fall off their horses.
One thing Champion Jockey does do though, is simulate the feeling of a jockey to a tee. There's the weird option to restart races if you're doing poorly - so if you want, you can always try and "rig" results. However, repeating races does sometimes show how much of a difference tactics play on the outcome. Your start, your positioning, your pace throughout the mid section and when you time your race for the finish - it all makes a huge difference. Sometimes you will end a race thinking you had a perfect strategy, only to end up coming last by a mile. Whereas in others, everything will go exactly according to your plan.
In this sense, the game achieves a great deal, as no jockey wins all the time. And even the Champion Jockey won't have a great win ratio.
When you factor in the different types of horses, it gets even more crucial. There are four different positions in a race, and horses prefer different ones, and this affects their potential. They will also have lots of different stats, such as their preferred running distance and abilities which denote how they deal with certain situations. It can get quite complicated.
From the perspective of presentation, Champion Jockey is a bit of a disappointment. The horses themselves, the main focal point of the game, could have looked a lot better - from the perspective of animations and graphics. It works and it's competent, but that's about it. It's a shame, but hopefully they can make things a bit better for the next iteration.
The career mode has some legs on it, and achieving all of the goals will take some real time and commitment. But aside from that, Champion Jockey doesn't have much else to offer. You have the option to do independent races locally, or online, but it's only going to be fun in short spurts. Part of the appeal in those instances will be getting a few mates around and laughing at how silly some of the motions are when using the peripherals.
Champion Jockey is definitely a fun horse racing simulation, but it does feel a bit bare in some respects. The career mode certainly has some legs, but aside from the odd piece of relationship management and racing horses that aren't the favourite, it does get a bit boring. And when that's out of the equation, there's only a few other modes to keep you interested. It's a bit of a shame, but hopefully things like the game mechanics can be tightened up for the next iteration.
|Tactics play a massive part in the experience.|
|The ability to forge relationships with different personnel is nice.|
|There are tons of different horses.|
|Career Mode gets a bit bland.|
|Tactics may confuse some players.|
|Presentation feels a bit lacking.|