Recently I imported a copy of Namco/Namcot's World Jockey for the PC Engine -- it's a simple but very entertaining horse-racing game, originally released on the Nintendo Famicom under the title Family Jockey. The Jockey franchise has long been popular in Japan, appearing on multiple console generations from the Famicom to the Wii, but Namco has never seen fit to bring it to the states.
I debated whether to label this one as an "Of Import" post, as it's playable enough without speaking the language, but there is quite a bit of Japanese text, enough that I wasn't quite sure what I was doing in most of the menus. This one is obviously the Name Entry screen, but as I am not familiar with the kana alphabet I just picked a character and stuck with it:
Other screens were even more mysterious, listing horse and jockey statistics and what I took to be odds for betting on the races. I never quite figured out what the difference was between the title screen's Horse and Jockey modes; in the real world, the roles are clear indeed, but in the game I suspect the only difference is in the information presented for bettors' decision making. There's also a "Ticket" mode that puts the race itself on autopilot and lets the player focus on betting, or at least that's how I interpreted it.
Fortunately, we can hit START repeatedly to move through the menus and get to the racing action proper. Each race begins with a weather update -- rainy weather makes the track muddy, for example, which some horses prefer. Up to 4 human players can participate using the PC Engine multi-tap -- basically, we tap the I button to spur our horse on and the II button to jump over obstacles, steering the steed with the directional pad. If we don't make the jump successfully, our jockey tumbles head-over-heels through the air for a moment, then regains his mount after a bit of a setback.
The horse also has a stamina gauge -- we can only spur on so much before the poor beast just gets tired. The track isn't particularly well-maintained and is littered with icons -- we can pick up stars to regain stamina and speed icons for a temporary boost. Skulls deplete stamina; mystery icons can affect stamina unpredictably and are best avoided.
The race is cartoonishly presented but has some degree of sophistication in its simulation code. The horses have some mass, and running too closely together slows everyone down, so while it's tempting to stick to the inside track it sometimes makes more sense to run in the open.
Whatever happens along the way, it's what happens at the finish line that counts:
If our horse and jockey placed in the top three, we earn some money and get to continue:
If we place fourth or below, it's game over, with our horse and jockey retiring and anyone who bet on us regretting their foolish decision:
World Jockey is a fun little game -- I probably wouldn't have bought it at full retail price back in the day, but it's not a rare title and at current used import prices it's a fair deal. The graphics are cute and colorful, very much in the style of the Famicom version but with significantly more detail, and the action has more depth and strategy to it than one would expect. Simple and fun wins more than its share of races in my book.
If you're looking for a fun little PC Engine game, especially if you have the multi-tap, you might be able to purchase it at this affiliate link: