Back in March, during a Nintendo Direct, Nintendo showed off footage of a new game from Game Freak called Pocket Card Jockey. The company is best known for the Pokemon series of games, but they have branched out some with other releases such as Drill Dozer for the GBA and HarmoKnight on the 3DS. This new game was showing off something completely different, a combination of solitaire and horse racing. It was an unusual combination to say the least, but it looked incredibly intriguing. I was interested in seeing more about the game.
Now that time has come. Yesterday Nintendo released a demo for the game on the 3DS eShop. You can download it now and it has a 15 play limit. You won’t need that though, because after you finish the demo once you have to either delete your save data or transfer it over to the main version of the game, which is a nice feature. After the hour long demo I had grown attached to my horse, Wonky Danger, and didn’t want to lose the upgrades I’d earned for him. We’d won a few races together and I was just starting to really get a feel for how best to treat the horse during races. That save file isn’t going anywhere until the full game launches next month.
I guess I should really explain a little bit about what the game is. Solitaire and horse racing; how do those two things even go together at all? Quite nicely, actually. I was surprised at just how much fun I had playing the game. It reminds me of games like Henry Hatsworth or Monster Tale, both games that have two things going on at once that work together in some way.
In Pocket Card Jockey how well, and how quickly you can play solitaire affects how well your horse does in the races on the top screen. When each race first starts you play a game of “Starting Solitaire”. In this you have just a few seconds to clear out columns from a solitaire game to get to a set of starting cards. Those starting cards each have a number of orbs on them from one to five. The more the better. How well you do on this initial game determines how comfortable your horse is at the start of the race. The more comfortable they are the easier they are to handle and the more they can concentrate on the race.
From there you play a regular game of solitaire to earn energy for your horse. The more cards you have in your stockpile at the end the more points you have to convert to energy in each segment of the race. If you finish with cards left over in the play field your horse begins to get angrier and if they get too angry they become uncontrollable and you have almost no chance to win the race.
After each game of solitaire you’re given a chance to earn more energy for the final stretch of the race. This happens with a field of white squares on the bottom screen. If your horse is in these white squares then you gain energy slowly that can be used. Depending on where your horse likes to run in the back a couple of those areas will overlap and have a brighter white area. If you can move your horse into that area they gain energy very quickly. You have to be careful though, because as you move your horse you could bump into other horses on the track that throw you off course.
When each game of solitaire is completed, and the number of games you have to play is determined by the length of the race you’re running, you move into the home stretch. This is the last part of the race where you and your horse sprint to the finish. The energy you collected throughout the race is used to determine how much enthusiasm for the end of the race your horse has. The more enthusiastic they are the faster they run. Your horse also has a set number of hearts that can be used to give you a little boost of speed. This is shown on the bottom screen surrounded by arrows that allow you to move your horse up and down in the field so that you don’t bump into other horses. If your horse is enthusiastic enough and you have the boosts available you have a very good chance of winning the race. If you didn’t do so well in the solitaire rounds it’s almost impossible to gain enough on the leaders to overtake them.
Your final position in the race determines if you earn any money and just how much. That money earned can be used in between races to buy small upgrades for the next race. These can do things like allow you to see the cards on the draw deck during a game of solitaire, give your horse some extra stamina or allow you to reset a deck and replay moves during the solitaire game. You can also purchase puzzle pieces that, if a full puzzle is completed, will give you a bonus. I never earned enough puzzle pieces to complete a puzzle so I can’t talk about what these bonuses could be.
There are going to be a number of different classes, age groups and races to participate in. This demo gives you about an hour of play and a full years worth of races to compete in. The combination of solitaire and horse racing works surprisingly well and I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having playing the game. I didn’t want to put it down. Wonky Danger and I didn’t win every race we competed in. In fact, in one race we finished 14th out of 16, but our owner said he knew we wouldn’t do very well in that race, but it was good experience for us. Despite that I never felt like races were just completely out of my reach. If you’re a fan of solitaire games and unique takes on that experience give a look to Pocket Card Jockey. I’m very interested in seeing what the full game will have to offer when it launches next month.