It’s fair to say that Western consoles aren’t exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to horse-racing games – they normally arrive for a critical drubbing and are home before the last horse has crossed the line. They’re a huge hit in Japan, though, and G1 Jockey 4 2008 is the latest game that’s been released over here in the hope that it’ll attract some happy punters.
Boot the game up and your first instinct is, naturally, to get racing – however, skipping the tutorials probably wouldn’t be a good idea. G1 Jockey is a remarkably complex game, and one that will surely reward the three or four – or maybe even a dozen – horse racing fans who will pick this up.
For the rest of us, though, it’s an incredibly difficult title to get to grips with. The several tutorials that should introduce the basic elements of racing and horse management are fraught with poor presentation and confusing explanation – by the end of the first lesson, it’s still not made clear which is the best method for making your steed launch out of the blocks like an Exocet.
The rest of the tutorials carry on in this vein: a confusing explanation, coupled with one of the hundreds of tiny icons that litter the HUD, and the sinking feeling that, well, you won’t be winning a virtual Grand National any time soon – in fact, it takes hours until you’re even racing half-competently, let alone challenging for honours.
Once you’ve finished the tutorial, you can launch into story mode, which tries admirably to ape the classic style of Japanese RPG games but, in the end, just looks a bit silly – especially when you remember that G1 Jockey isn’t about saving the world from a deadly virus, or an evil despot, but that it’s actually about horses.
Graduating from jockey school is easy enough – all you have to do is finish last in four races and, given the vertical learning curve and confused tutorials, you will do – and then it’s time to launch into your racing career, where you start at the bottom of the jockey ladder and work your way up.
This means that you join a stable, pick some horses, and manage your life on a week-by-week basis, arranging your training sessions and other commitments around race meetings. It’s pretty difficult to actually do any racing, however, because G1 Jockey bombards you with menu screens, pointless statistics and confusing menus before you can even get to the starting gate. It’s less of a career and more of a trial of patience and perseverance.
Graphically, G1 Jockey is barely adequate – it’s a remake of a PS2 title, and on the PS3 it certainly shows. While horses and riders are animated reasonably well, race courses are last-generation bare and the graphics have little charm or detail. Everything carries the slightly plastic ‘video-game sheen’ that robs the title of any sense of realism that survived seeing Manga-style jockeys in career mode.
It’s difficult to find aspects of G1 Jockey 2008 that aren’t marred by the poor gameplay elsewhere. It’s admirable that Koei have gone to such exhaustive detail to replicate the horse racing world: your success depends on thousands of factors, and keen horse racing fans will salivate at the thought of manipulating stables, horses and race strategy – along with hundreds of other things – to get results. It’s ultimately very rewarding, with hours of careful tinkering paying off in a winning filly, if you really understand the sport.
For those who aren’t enamoured with the sport of kings, however, G1 Jockey has little to recommend it. Ropey graphics are coupled with ropier gameplay: the pointless tutorials, twee and confusing career mode and learning wall, rather than curve, all go towards a title that won’t hold any attraction but for the keenest of racing fans. John McCririck will love this – but we just can’t recommend it for anyone else.