Champion Jockey: G1 Jockey & Gallop Racer PlayStation 3
Published by Tecmo Koei Europe
Developed by Tecmo Koei Games
As far as we're concerned here in Europe there have been only two worthwhile horse racing game series for many years now (the highly rated Winning Post series being a Japan exclusive as far as I am aware). Koei developed the G1 Jockey series and Tecmo the Gallop Racer series (a series I admit I haven't personally experienced). With the two illustrious companies becoming one (and henceforth known as Tecmo Koei) it was always a possibility that both series could be rolled into one and that's exactly what has happened. Champion Jockey: G1 Jockey & Gallop Racer is the resulting combination of the once separate series and the combination is certainly an enjoyable one.
Having been a fan of the G1 Jockey series for a few years (ever since I reviewed G1 Jockey 4 for the PlayStation 2) I was eager to see how the incorporation of the Gallop Racer series had affected it. Initially I found that Champion Jockey felt very similar to the G1 Jockey 4 2008 that appeared on the PlayStation 3. The more I played the game however, the more I noticed refinements here and there that made the overall experience richer and more satisfying. Of course there's also the addition of motion controls and online racing here should you want them.
There are various modes in Champion Jockey but the one you're going to spend most of your time with is the game's Story mode. If you've played a G1 Jockey game you'll get a strong sense of déjà-vu here. You'll start off as a rookie jockey who, along with three other jockeys, is coming to the end of their time at jockey school. Through the final stages of completing your time at jockey school you'll go through a series of tutorials (that can be skipped if you want) that help you get to grips with all of the game's nuances. With jockey school completed, you'll head off to ride for the stables you've chosen to affiliate yourself with.
In some respects you could argue that Champion Jockey is an RPG. You'll establish relationships with both jockeys, trainers, journalists and stable owners during the course of the game and it can be interesting to see how it all develops during your virtual jockey career. You'll also be developing your skills as a jockey during the course of your career as you compete in a variety of classes and take part in steeplechase and flat races. Then there's the horses that all have their own attributes and form which will fluctuate over time. During the month of April you can choose a dam and sire from your affiliated stables and breed them to create a new horse that you will be able to train and develop until they are old enough to compete. In short there's a lot of depth here but a lot of what's here will be familiar to those who played previous G1 Jockey titles.
Familiar it maybe but there are some new concepts that help to freshen up the experience considerably. You still have to keep an eye on your horse’s stamina and motivation during the course of a race and it's important to stay in their preferred position during the race to help harness their potential. However, you now have a Revolution Gauge to keep your eye on. Should you ride a perfect race you'll fill your Revolution Gauge and the horse's speed and potential will increase. Making the most of a horse's abilities will also help to give you a boost. If your horse likes to be a 'Home Turn Leader' for instance and happens to be leading on the final turn he/she will receive a boost to their potential. You'll also notice that in the game's Story mode you now have the option to auto ride any race. The estimated performance of your jockey will depend on your current form and ability so it's not good to auto ride any of the races too early in your career. I should also mention that there are now night races and dirt racecourses too, which will please horse racing connoisseurs.
Aside from the Story mode there is also a Fun Race mode, Race mode and Online mode in addition to a separate tutorial mode where you can brush up on the various aspects of horse riding, should you need to. Fun Race mode allows either one or two players to engage in a race on a course of their choice. Race mode offers scenario challenges (that you'll participate in with a horse that you've bred in the Story mode), quest challenges (which you'll participate in with one of the chosen horses), practice challenges (where you'll hone your riding skills) and other single and two-player race modes. The Online mode allows you to participate in both unranked and ranked races. Whilst it's great that online racing has been included it's a shame that there's only support for four players at the most. I suppose the ideal would have been to have a full line up of human races and to take part in whole race seasons.
I said in my review of G1 Jockey 4 that I felt it was the horse racing equivalent of Gran Turismo, a view I still hold, and the same can be said of Champion Jockey. There's a lot of depth to the racing model but thankfully you can make the experience as complex or as simplistic as you want. At its most simplistic level Champion Jockey is a game that anyone can pick up and play enabling virtually all of the controls to be handled automatically. If you want depth you can however choose to change the horse's bit level during the course of a race (analogous to manual gears in a car racing game), change the horse's leading leg, do without the start timing gauge, whether you can fall off or be disqualified, switch the whip manually, control the drive, cope with failed drives and much more. Of course you may want some of the complexity and the custom ride style settings allowing to control as little or as much as you want and even receive text, in-race advice messages to enable you to improve your skills. In short there's a myriad of options here to create a difficulty level to suit everyone.
Tecmo Koei have made sure you're not short of ways to play Champion Jockey. As well as being able to use the Dualshock (or Sixaxis) controller and you can choose from a variety of control schemes for this method of control, you can also choose to play the game with the PlayStation Move. You can either opt to play with two PlayStation Move controllers or one PlayStation Move controller and the navigation controller. Playing with two Move controllers essentially enables you to feel like you're holding a virtual pair of reins whilst using a navigation controller feels like a good compromise between standard and motion controls. Whilst support for the PlayStation Move has been included however, you certainly don't need one. In fact I preferred to play the game with the standard controller and found the controls to be just as good as they were in previous G1 Jockey titles.
Champion Jockey manages to capture the essence of horse racing very nicely and the thrill of battling it out on the home straight is one that never gets old. As addictive and enjoyable as the game is however there is one aspect of the game that is going to disappoint. The racecourse, jockey and horse names are fictional. There is an editor here and you can edit both the horse and jockey names and I daresay that enthusiasts will have no problem in determining the real horses that the fictional ones are based upon but in some respects it would have been great for all of the genuine names to have been included, although I can appreciate it would probably have been prohibitively expensive to do so.
Visually there are a lot of similarities between Champion Jockey and the previous G1 Jockey games. The only disappointment I have with the look of the game comes from the amount of recycled material that has been included in the game. A lot of character portraits for the rival jockeys and stable owners have been reused from previous G1 Jockey titles. That said, the general look of the game is significantly better than previous G1 Jockey titles. The game menus are much better than they were in G1 Jockey 4 2008 for the PS3. The racecourses look sharper and the animations seem more realistic than in the aforementioned G1 Jockey game for the PS3. I felt that, at times, in the previous G1 Jockey games the horses sometimes looked as though they were travelling in set grooves but that's not the case here and the horse’s movements look more natural. Actually the muscular definition of the horses is very impressive. There are no performance issues here with the frame rate remaining smooth throughout and the load times are decent, although they are significantly improved if you choose to install the game.
The G1 Jockey series didn't pose any problems for deaf gamers and the same can be said of Champion Jockey. All of the dialogue in the game is text only and you need to press the X button to move the dialogue forward meaning that you'll get to read all of the dialogue at your own pace. All tutorial information is shown in text too so there are no problems in getting to grips with the game. The game manual has been well written and does a good job at explaining how the game progresses as well as giving you detailed information for most of the game screens including a guide to all of the icons that can appear during the course of race. The game also makes good use of force feedback to add a worthwhile tactile element to the race experience.
Champion Jockey: G1 Jockey & Gallop Racer represents a new beginning for both the G1 Jockey and Gallop Racer series and it's certainly an impressive one. I really like how you can make the experience as complex or as simple as you want and that there are plenty of options when it comes to control methods and control schemes. Those who have played previous G1 Jockey titles might find the experience a little too familiar in places but there's just enough new elements here to make it feel like a new experience. In short I've been really impressed with Champion Jockey and would now find it difficult to return to previous G1 Jockey titles and given how much I've enjoyed those that really is saying a lot. If you've enjoyed any of the previous G1 Jockey titles you really owe it to yourself to add this to your software collection.