Platforms: Android, iOS, and Nintendo 3DS (reviewed)
Game Freak may be most well known for the Pokémon series, but they’ve also released their fair share of other quirky titles. One of the latest to be added to that list is Pocket Card Jockey, a mash up of horse racing and solitaire. If that sounds a little weird to you that’s because it kind of is, but I’m pleased to say that it works.
Pocket Card Jockey opens on a down on his (or her) luck jockey who has a passion for horse racing but is terribly bad at it. After an incident during a race leaves him near death, he is visited by an angel that gives him a the goal of becoming a better jockey. In order to do this, the angel inquires about what he is actually good at. His answer is solitaire, so the angel allows him to use his solitaire skills to perform better in horse races. Yeah, the story is a bit out there, but it explains the premise and offers up some mildly entertaining dialog. Honestly though, none of that really matters because Pocket Card Jockey is all about the gameplay.
The game revolves mostly around a simplified solitaire game, where you’ll just have to remove cards in either ascending or descending sequential order (so if you pick a six, you can clear a five or a seven). Suits and colors do not matter, which allows for a much quicker gameplay experience compared to a traditional game of solitaire. Each race will consist of anywhere from two and five games of solitaire, depending on the length of the track. The better you do (i.e. the more cards you clear) the better your horse will perform in the race. Clearing more cards will help with your energy and stamina, which will in turn determine how fast your horse runs and how long it can keep up higher speeds. You will also have the ability to move your horse around on the track between games of solitaire to put them in better positions to gain energy and reserve stamina.
The gameplay is simple on the surface and the solitaire is easy to pick up and play, but getting used to when and where to move your horse can take some time to get used to. Even then I found that most of the time your success comes down to luck more than anything. Between the random nature of the cards you’re dealt and making the right choices in moving your horse, there’s so much that’s left to chance that I never really felt like any one strategy worked. I had races where I would do great in solitaire and have tons of energy, but then hemorrhage stamina resulting in a terrible finish. But I also had times where I’d do so bad in solitaire that my horse wouldn’t respond to my commands, yet I’d still win by a large margin. I found this aspect odd in both bad and good ways, as losing is never fun, especially when you felt you either did better than your result indicated or you had no chance from the start thanks to bad luck. On the other hand, the races felt fresh and addictive because I was always ready to jump into the next to try and do better and see if I could improve.
The majority of your time in Pocket Card Jockey will be spent in Growth Mode. Here you’ll pick a horse and be able to level it up through a series of races. Each of your horses will eventually reach maturity and no longer be able to level up though. Once this happens you can use them in Maturity Mode. In this mode you can race them a few more times to increase their prestige or you can immediately retire them. Once a horse either finishes Maturity Mode or just outright retires, they will be sent to the farm where you can breed them to create horses to use in Growth Mode. If you have two prestigious horses with great stats and breed them, you’ll likely create a strong contender. It’s an interesting loop that will keep you coming back if the gameplay hooks you.
Getting a horse from its first race to retirement probably won’t take you much more than an hour or so. The good thing is that you’ll be able to pick new horses to use in Growth Mode to your heart’s content. Whether they are horses that you’ve bred yourself or they are given to you and sponsored by a variety of owners, you’ll always be able to take a new horse on the race circuit. In that regard there’s really no end game, meaning you can play practically forever.
Pocket Card Jockey is a lot of fun if you’re a fan of card games, but due to its heavy dependability on luck, it can be a little frustrating at times. Thankfully, the gameplay loop of growing your horses and breeding to create better contenders for the future, as well as the fast paced nature of the solitaire make Pocket Card Jockey an addictive and fun experience that will continually have you coming back for one more race.