GBAtemp Recommends: Pocket Card Jockey

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Solitaire is one of those games that's reached near total ubiquity. It's achieved this status not only because of its simplicity, but being a standard inclusion on Windows PCs has greatly expanded its reach. I know many people who would never touch a video game, yet have happily whiled away countless hours playing Solitaire on their computers. That's not to mention, of course, it's popularity just as a card game. It's an addictive time waster that's proven the test of time, surviving this long because it finds the perfect balance between skill and luck, letting us feel in control but also playing into our fascination with games of chance. But in a world with so many other distractions, where you can easily carry a 70-hour RPG around in your pocket, it’s getting harder and harder to justify investing in these time wasters.

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That’s the genius of Pocket Card Jockey. It uses Solitaire as the backbone of its gameplay and wraps it in a setting that provides the much needed progression and context. It even uses a meta game that relies just as much on a combination of skill and luck: horse racing. You play as an untalented jockey who, after a fatal accident, is supernaturally gifted a second chance at life, and the ability to race horses by playing Solitaire. It’s a cute intro that acknowledges the absurdity of the premise, then quickly brushes aside pretty much all other story elements for the rest of the game so it doesn’t interrupt the Solitaire.

There are a few different progression systems smuggled in here that cleverly layer on top of each other to always keep you invested. Here’s the basic loop: you pick out a young horse, and enter into Growth Mode. For the first two years of its life, your horse will level up after every race. Here, it’s obviously easy to get caught up in trying to raise the best horse possible. After every race, you’ll also be paid a certain amount depending on your performance. You can spend this money on either performance-enhancing items or, more enticingly, random puzzle pieces. There are nine puzzles to be completed, and while there are major benefits to completing them, I was invested in racing my horse well enough to buy all of them even when I just thought it was a silly collectible. Each time you buy a spin on the puzzle piece machine, you’ll get between one and three random pieces for any one of the puzzles, even one you’ve already completed, so the only real way to get them is to pump coins into the machine.

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Once your horse reaches maturity, it no longer improves after races, but there’s some fun that comes with that as well. You will accrue special cards during your races (if you can clear the specially marked cards off the tableau) that can help during the homestretch, but your horse will improve even more dramatically if you restrain yourself and hold on to those cards. Mature Mode means you can let loose and try everything to win, so you’re no longer trying to balance your desire for growth versus your desire to win. In terms of progression, you’ll still be winning prize money and working on those puzzle pieces, but there’s an even more important aspect to winning. Races are divided into three categories: G3, G2 and G1. G1 races are for the cream of the crop, so they’re the ones you want to put everything into. Any time you win a G1 race, in Growth or Mature Mode, you’ll be awarded a little trophy, which goes into a trophy case, surrounded by other mocking, empty holes that let you know the one race you won means nothing. There’s even a note under the trophy case that blares “GOTTA COLLECT ‘EM ALL.” Of course, if a mature horse loses three races, it’s retired, so you’ve got to perform well long enough with your mature horse to make it to those upper echelon races.

When your horse retires, it gets sent to the farm, which is the last stage of this progression cycle. A mature male and female horse can be sent to the breeding area, helpfully decorated with hearts, in case you didn’t realize what it was for. Parents with high stats will bear stronger children, who will one day be even stronger parents, meaning the entire circle of life for generations of these horses becomes about min maxing their stats so you can complete your trophy and puzzle collections. This is the most important part of the overall progression system, as when you finish with a horse is usually the best time to escape your burgeoning Solitaire addiction, but it’s also so enticing to see how good your new horse is, who its owner is, stuff like that.

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Pocket Card Jockey
manipulates its audience so elegantly that if it charged for microtransactions, it’d be evil. But manipulation doesn’t inherently have to be bad. In a benign environment like this, it’s hard not to respect the cleverness of the design. There are other elements that make it engaging - there’s some strategy involved in the actual race regarding horse positioning, the music and art are lovely - but it really all comes down to Solitaire, and the way its inherent addictiveness is built upon through the silly progression of this jockey’s career.




I hope you enjoyed this edition of GBAtemp Recommends. If you'd like to see more, leave your feedback in the thread below or check out our previous articles.

 

zeello

The reason we can't have nice things.
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Coincidentally I downloaded the demo about a day before this went up. But after trying the demo, I don't think this game is for me. It seems incredibly basic. It also looks like something I would have downloaded on my phone/tablet out of boredom.
 
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