G1 Jockey 3

PS2

Review by Greg Wilcox

Koei

Sim/Racing

Graphics: 8

Sound: 7

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 8


Itís been quite a good year for fans of horse racing, especially with the exploits on New Yorkís own Funny Cide, and the recent motion picture based on the life of Seabiscuit.  Despite the popularity of the sport (and dozens of horse racing games of all sorts in Japan), very few game companies here have been willing to take a shot at bringing this sort of game to a home audience. Way back in 1996, Koei released a US port of Winning Post 2, a super horse breeding/racing sim for the Sega Saturn. The game was produced in limited quantities and is quite tough to come by (Iím still looking for one).  Fortunately, Koei is getting its feet wet again on the PS2 with the release of G1 Jockey 3, a solid simulation that brings the thrill of charging for the winning post home for the entire family. On one hand, itís got ďniche gameĒ written all over it, but jump in for a race or two, and youíll be surprised at the amount of depth and challenge to be found here.

Tecmoís Gallop Racer 2003 is G1ís only competition, and while that game is a bit easier to pick up and play, G1 scores high marks for its tougher and sometimes unforgiving emphasis on technique. The main game is a jockey sim that has you attempting to rise in the ranks from promising rookie to well-respected pro rider. You choose a name, sex, and stable to ride for, and youíll need to ride well enough in order to make new connections that allow you access to better horses. Just like in real life, you wonít get along with everyone you meet even if youíre on friendly terms with some of his or her associates.  The better you perform, the more trust you develop, and itís a bit tricky to maintain certain relationships if you donít pay attention to the smallest details. You can request rides for different stables, but donít be surprised if youíre quizzed by the trainer on things like the color of the horse's gear or some other attribute.

There are some minor RPG elements here as well, but donít expect any spells, angst-filled heroes, or spiky, funny colored hairstyles.  As you play through the game, youíll earn Riding Points (RP), which can be used for scheduling rides and workouts, or learning new skills, among other things. Workouts are crucial here not only for the horse youíll be riding that week; it also helps you nail down the finer points of G1ís control. With over 4000 different horses to choose from, thereís near-endless gameplay here, but success depends not only on the horse you choose to control, but how you control that horse. From changing the lead leg, using the whip properly, monitoring stamina and motivation, and even adjusting the bit, itís all here, explained perfectly in a well-done tutorial.

The first time you start up the game, hit the tutorial and do a few training races to get the hang of the controls and learn how to read the assorted onscreen gauges. Youíll learn about handling the 4 types of racehorses (Front Runner, Drop-In, Drop-Out, & Hold-Up), along with their strengths and weaknesses. This is probably the only game where a quote like ďBe sure to experience the magnificence of the Drop-Out!Ē or an encouragement that ends ďthatís the beauty of the Hold-Up StyleĒ can be seen as a positive thing. 

Timing is key to getting off to a solid start with two of the four horse types. Youíll need to hit the Triangle button just as the gate opens or else youíll be left in the dust, which Front-Runners and Drop-Ins dislike.  No matter which horse you pick, youíll probably finish way out of the money until you become one with your PS2 controller.The game has a steep difficulty curve even on the Easy setting, but youíll want to try each mode to see what suits you best. Normal and Hard add falls and Stewardís Inquiries, so you canít just bump horses out of the way or ride carelessly. G1ís greatness comes from the priority it places on learning new gaming skills in order to become good at playing it, which is something not too many games do these days. In other words, this isnít a game youíll master after the first day and put on a shelf.  Another nice touch is that youíll get tips from other jockeys as you gain respect in the game, so youíre always tweaking your style of play, race after race. The game uses every button on the PS2 controller, and with practice, youíll eventually be able to turn off the displays and race with a clean screen, which is a nice touch.

Win or lose, youíll look great either way. G1 Jockey 3ís visuals are excellent, each of the horses is perfectly animated and all look solid and strong. There are 10 courses with 35 track variations, including some great steeplechase courses, which add a new element to learn with the near-perfect controls. Add in the different seasons, weather variations, and track conditions, and you have one game that youíll never get tired of playing.  Thereís some nice two-player split screen action to be had, but this is a game that would also make a wild online experience in a future installment.  You can also save replays of your best races and play them back to check your technique (or just show off the game to friends). As far as sound, G1 goes for the tame end of the scale with somewhat generic sounding mostly rock/jazz tunes, but it actually works in the gameís favor. I canít imagine listening to some licensed music blasting away while Iím trying to concentrate on winning.  The sound design is well done, although the various crowds in the game could be a bit louder.

Too bad thereís no show jumping, dressage, or harness racing, but thatís probably too much of a good thing for the majority of sequel-fed US gamers to appreciate. While it helps if youíre a fan of the sport to love G1 Jockey 3, newcomers with patience and those looking for something really different will be swept up in the uniqueness of this title. Itís a winner all the way from start to finish- go grab one while you can.

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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:24 PM