Video games blend genres all the time, but few take it to the kind of level of Pocket Card Jockey, the latest and strangest game from Game Freak, the developers of the main Pokémon series, on the Nintendo 3DS. By now, Game Freak has a massive amount of experience in the video game industry, constantly churning out Pokémon games, reinventing and refining the series, but, every now and then, they also release random new intellectual properties. Pocket Card Jockey is Game Freak’s latest experiment, and it’s so much fun to play, effectively defying the strange impression one might get when they realize someone made a game about equestrian races and Solitaire.
Playing miniature, sped-up versions of Solitaire in order to make a horse go faster sounds like a fever dream you might wake up from in a cold sweat. The fact is, it’s reality– it’s Pocket Card Jockey. The biggest surprise, though, is how well it all works.
The game is fairly simple: you are a (pretty awful) jockey, raising (pretty adorable) horses, and playing Solitaire in the heat of a race in order to get them enthusiastic enough to speed past your opponents. Considering Game Freak made the insane Tembo the Badass Elephant, we’re hardly surprised that there’s a game as ludicrous as Pocket Card Jockey. Fortunately, it’s just as excellent as it is bizarre.
Races are quick, exciting, and tactical. There’s a surprising amount of factors to think about when you enter a race; you can’t just start and do whatever you want and expect to win. The game’s tutorials do a great job of easing the learning curve and showing you the ropes, but there’s actually a lot of depth to Pocket Card Jockey’s mechanics that you’ll have to practice.
For instance, in a given race, you will play the miniature Solitaire a set number of times, depending on the distance of the track. During these moments, the more cards you clear, the more points you’ll obtain which you can spend on Energy to build the speed you need for the homestretch.
Just as well, the points can be used for positioning your horse. Each horse has its own comfort zone, where it’ll receive the most amount of energy, so long as it’s in its zone, but other horses can bump you away. In addition to that, you also have buffs littered around the track that you can pick up, if you’re willing to spend the points to reach them. Plus, when turning on the track, of course, being closer to the center gives you the advantage.
Pocket Card Jockey could have easily been a measly time-waster for about five minutes, but its mechanics give players a lot to consider and plan out, thinking several steps ahead to make sure everything goes according to plan. When one vital mistake has the potential to cost you the race, the stakes are raised, and races are that much more tense. And adorable.
Naturally, you and your horses will go through a lot together, so it’s also nice to see there are several modes they’ll be going through in the different stages of their life, eventually letting you breed your own horses to find the one that works optimally with your play style, whether you’d like to focus on speed or stamina or bonuses. Toss all that in with unlockable puzzle pieces and trophies, and you’ve got a gameplay format as addicting and refreshing as you can imagine.
On a different note, the game’s bizarre premise is paralleled by its presentation, which is magnificently precious. The horses are immeasurably cute, and the dialogue is bursting with charisma. Each horse has its own owner that will converse with your jockey, either to praise or chastise, depending on whether you’re winning or losing, and each of them has their own vivid personality to add to the game’s charm.
In Game Freak fashion, Pocket Card Jockey’s soundtrack is wonderful. The high octane jazz is sure to rile up players in the middle of a race. Likewise, there are also a few tracks that might turn heads for being seemingly out of place, but they’re welcome nevertheless. From the game’s mechanics to the audio, you can tell the developers had a blast making this game.
When Pocket Card Jockey was initially announced at one of the latest Nintendo Direct presentations, the video game community was mostly confused at why a game like this was made, but playing it myself, I can see that this is the sort of game that answers everything with, “Why not?” In spite of how unorthodox the game may seem, it all works in an excellent synchronicity that provides a suitable amount of challenge and delight. At a price of $5.99, Pocket Card Jockey is a steal, and certainly worthy of you’re time if you’ve been aching for something with cuteness and complexity. Go ahead, download it, and try not to be entranced by how cute those horses are. I dare you.