Previews// Champion Jockey

Posted 18 Aug 2011 16:09 by
It?s somewhat fitting that I visited the highly regal and established Royal Windsor Racecourse to playtest Koei?s latest horse racing game, Champion Jockey. It?s a shame I didn?t bring my top hat and monacle. Luckily some of the clientele was able to fill in for me. Thanks for the solid, toffs.

Champion Jockey may not sound like a familiar name to the seasoned horse racing sim fan, but don?t be fooled by the name - it is in fact a spiritual successor to the G1 Jockey series, which has had a cult following over here but stands to be much more popular in Japan. That was, until the last breakthrough G1 title on the Wii captured a mainstream audience.

Riding on the back of that success is quite a trip for the game?s director, Yasumasa Koshikari. After all, this is a man who has spent nearly his entire career working solely on horse racing games. But why? Simply put, ?I am a huge fan. I think what makes me a different kind of fan though is that I?m not just focused on the racing itself,? Koshikari explains. ?I really respect the roles of the other team members, such as the trainer and the breeder.?

That difference has allowed the G1 Jockey series to cover a broad range of simulation options beyond the mad dash on the racecourse. That will continue in Champion Jockey, with the relationship between the jockey, trainer and breeder critical to your success. With this new iteration, Koshikari wants to break down the barriers to entry that a traditional horse racing simulation may present.

Which is why the game is heading for the Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles with full motion control support. Racing is controlled by holding your harms out as if mimicking a jockey, and pulling back on the reins to move left and right. You can drive forward by pushing both hands together, and motion to whip your horse to get that little bit of extra power at the end.

I was only able to experience the racing side of the game, with flat races acting like a straightforward dash to a finish line and steeplechase matches requiring timely leaps over hurdles. The feel of the game using a PlayStation Move controller was satisfying enough, but graphically it?s not something that will set your world on fire. Presentation was a slight concern too - bumping into other horses would simply ?jerk? you back into position and there didn?t seem to be any animation for falling off the horse, opting for a fade-to-black transition instead.

Hopefully the realism is picked up more on the simulation and statistics side of play, which sounds like it could be the case given that the game does not rely solely on the art of racing. Koshikari tells me that in Japan, the Koei series is quite popular within the horse racing industry - in fact, prominent jockey Yuichi Fukunaga always travelled with a PS2 to play G1 Jockey inbetween events.

That?s one reason why the series has been more successful in the East, the director muses, although he said that motion controls won?t be the only outlet he?ll be targeting to reach a broader audience with Champion Jockey. ?I?ll be looking at Facebook and Twitter, and thinking of opportunities besides the horse racing element to those kinds of players. That?s the next stage,? Koshikari said.

?I can of course make the game more realistic, but there?s a limit to doing that, so instead we?re going to be focusing on making the series a lot easier to play to attract a wider audience.?

Champion Jockey will hit PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii on 2nd September.

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