G1 Jockey 4

by Wencke Schuncken
author awarded score: 55/100

G1 Jockey 4 Review
Publisher: Koei
Developer: Koei
Format Reviewed: PS2
Reviewed by: Wencke Schuncken

If you never had the chance or didn’t dare to ride a horse, here’s your chance. A virtual chance as KOEI has developed a horse racing simulation game. Not only are you going to a jockey but also need to manage the stable. Saddle up, partner!

Although it is the fourth edition of the G1 series, it’s never been a huge success. Should marketing be blamed or isn’t it an appealing genre to the European gaming market? Even I as a game fanatic and a reviewer never heard of it before but when given me the chance to review it, I grabbed my chance caused by curiosity or maybe by good flashbacks, thinking of playing with Barbie or Playmobile horses. Who knows …

As a non- experienced “horse riding” gamer it was a perfect pick to start with the tutorial mode. The assortment of on-screen meters is overwhelming at first sight. Glad to learn in a decent tempo to understand the purpose of each individual meter as they aren’t labelled but do show coloured bars which in- or decrease in length or even chance colours. They’re showing everything from horse stamina to power to motivation and even which leg the horse is leading with. The tutorial mode is a practical mode and each single meter can be tested after the theoretical part. One of the first things you’ll learn is the start out of the iron starting box and later on you’ll learn to lead the horse in the best possible way, control the stamina and speed. It may sound easy but it was very hard and multiple times I had to retry, over and over again. Not being able to start properly is not exactly the best start and bad for my motivation to even finish a race. While I’m not that motivated, how should I motivate my horse who doesn’t understand my controlling and timing?

I ended the tutorial mode after two hours of practice and went for the Story Mode, hoping for a more pleasurable racing adventure instead of the boring and non motivating tutorial mode. "The real deal" so to speak. In the Story Mode you’ll take the role of a horse fan that always went as a youngster to the horse races and loving the idea of receiving flowers on top of the podium. To make that dream come true the character you’re controlling went to a “jockey school”. Graduation takes place with three other rivals, which are all very arrogant and annoying. You’ll need to pick a trainer and get the first preference on their horses at race meetings. If the stable doesn’t contain the horse you’re looking for, attend other race meetings to seek for that perfect horse. Not an easy part as there are countless horses with their own unique racing style. There’s a ranking system in place which rewards you with points if you’re doing well in races. The more points earned, the more (better) horses become available to train and race with. In between races lots of statistics and other reports are presented but the most important part of the game is to focus on the horse reactions, the meters and how to motivate your horse to race as fast as possible.

Most racing games don’t require a lot of controlling. Acceleration, brake and steering are the most important handlings. In G1-4 it is a little bit different due the tactical part of planning your race. Also there are two ways to control the game; either by analogue stick and buttons or buttons only. In the tutorial mode these two ways of controlling are mentioned and can be tested to experience what’s most convenient for you. Besides the speeding and slowing down of the horse you’ll need to control the whip, control the camera to check the competition sidewise and change the leading horses leg. See, it’s a little bit different!

There's hardly anything to complain about the graphical elements. The camera is in third person view and preferable can be switched to watch sidewise. The racing itself has been designed quite well although after a while you get a bit tired of watching those jockeys and horses from behind. Of course your main focus is on the multiple meters but also have to watch for the other horses and curves in the course, when a leading leg change is required. The animations in between races and trainings are more 2D / layered style where you interact with stable owners, trainers, and jockeys. These characters aren't moving their lips while speaking but their words can be read on screen. Also the scoreboards and other reports are clearly visualised and not difficult to analyse.

When judging the sound, my conclusion is that it’s rather dull and boring. The animations in between the races are accompanied by some easy tunes. Somebody called it elevator music and I totally agree on that. But you would expect that the thrilling and adrenaline pushing music is coming out of the speakers while the race is on. Unfortunately that’s not the case. During the race you’ll hear the iron box opening, the horses stomping on the course and the public sheering if you little very well. What’s missing? Don’t they have any speakers and live commentary during on the court? That’s quite a disappointment and one of the biggest reasons why the sound is simply dull.

In the beginning of the game it's obvious that female characters stand strong besides the male characters. You can choose from multiple male and female characters: your virtual jockey, trainers and stable owners. As stated earlier some of the characters can be very annoying and arrogant. But it’s not only the girls who behave bitchy, oh no! During the races itself you hardly notice who’s a female or male jockey and actually the whole gender choice doesn’t matter. Equality in performing in my opinion. During my early school years only girls we’re interested in horses but in big races, the jockeys are men. So if you wonder if it is a specific gender appealing game, I would answer it with a no. It’s for all gamers that love horses and being around them, whether in real or virtually.

G1 Jockey 4 is one of those games that won’t make it into the “must have PS2 top ten games list” but as it is part four it seems that enough gamers appreciate the horse racing simulation genre. They’re either curious about its gameplay (just like I was) or simply adore anything that has to do with horses / races. The game looks good and the physical dynamics of racing horses is well rendered although I miss some adrenaline encouragements such as live commentary during the races. Also in the beginning of the game it seems quite difficult to win races and it can be stated that the learning curve is quite high but doesn’t it contribute to a longer gaming value? To keep on playing till you get into the deserved winning mood after all? Hang in there till you finally understand how to handle the horse at its best and win races, cause that’s the only fulfilling you’ll get from this game!