Version tested: Wii
The sticker on G1 Jockey's box explains: 'The Wii remote is your whip... the Nunchuck your reigns' and with that the horseracing videogame joke has its best punch line yet.
For most gamers Japan's ongoing servicing of this most niche of sporting genres is something to giggled at and then politely ignored. After all, who'd want to role-play being a little man riding about on a horse? Or, at least, who'd want to role-play being a little man riding about on a horse without a princess to rescue or a Master Sword to wield. Now, with the Wii's control system once again removing the layers of abstraction, the image of grown men bouncing up and down bow-legged in the front room, the Wii remote in one hand whipping away at their bums, Nunchuck clutched tightly in the other, indifference is turned to wonder and ridicule.
But if you're expecting Koei's latest horse racing game, a souped-up conversion of the PS2's G1 Jockey 4, to be all whips and giggles then you're in for a rude awakening. This is about as far from Wii Play's cow racing as you can get. Best described as the Gran Turismo of the jockey genre, the G1 Jockey games are punishing, vast and deep simulators, which, thanks to the Wii's control scheme, have just received their equivalent of a force feedback steering wheel.
Despite the game's best efforts to ease you in to the experience by casting you as a young jockey in training at a jockey academy (do these things actually exist?) the game will be, for the first hour of play, near un-winnable. That's because, if you never played a G1 Jockey title before, you will approach it like any other racing game: stamping pedal to the metal, screeching around corners, powering as fast as possible towards the finishing line. But to fail to take into consideration a horse's stamina and racing style or pay no heed to the timing of your sprints and you'll inevitably cross the finish line last. Horses are living, breathing vehicles with personalities and eccentricities and understanding and exploiting these is the key to success in G1 Jockey.
So, the myriad dials and icons at the bottom of the screen are, unlike in your average racing game, actually important. The dial on the left displays your horse's stamina, which depletes over the course of a course. The harder you drive your horse the faster the gauge empties and, when it's exhausted, your horse will slow to a lumbering, inescapable canter. The gauge in the centre is your speedometer which also displays a green pulsing blob which indicates your horse's 'Motivation'
Motivation relates to where your horse ideally likes to run in the pack. For a horse who likes to lead, staying out in front will ensure his motivation remains high. However, if your horse likes to hang back and you're out in front, its Motivation will be low. Your horse's Motivation fills or empties the final gauge, displayed to the right of the HUD, 'Potential'. This all-important indicator shows how much reserve energy is left in the tank for when your horse's stamina is depleted: your reserves for the final sprint. Most of the time you'll be looking to keep your horse's Motivation high in order to fill the Potential gauge as much as possible so that, on the final corner, when your Stamina is all gone, you've a good 200 metres worth of sprint left to draw upon. While this all takes a little getting used to it's logical and learning how best to ride different tempered horses soon becomes second, if repetitive, nature.