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Video Game / Pocket Card Jockey

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Horse-riding solitare action.
Pocket Card Jockey note  is a video game developed by Game Freak of Pokémon fame. It was first released in Japan for the Nintendo 3DS on July 31, 2013, with a short-lived mobile release the following year, and is notably the first (and, so far, only) game to be self-published by Game Freak. It later saw an international release exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS published by Nintendo on May 5, 2016. An Updated Re-release, titled Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On!, released on January 20, 2023 for Apple Arcade and February 21, 2024 for Nintendo Switch.

In this game, you are placed into the shoes of a rookie jockey who, despite their love of the sport, knows squat about riding or training horses. However, they still aspire to win the Derby, the horse race to end all horse races. And so our starry-eyed protagonist approaches a stable owner named Mr. Maekawa, who entrusts the protagonist with a horse... and they almost immediately get bucked off, kicked in the gut, then trampled by a pack of horses. Thankfully, they are revived from near-death by an angel who looks suspiciously like Mr. Maekawa, who in exchange for the second chance at life forces them to promise to win the Derby, or else the player will never win a video game again. (At least in the original. In Ride On!, you're heading straight to Heck and eternal dangnation.) Given that the protagonist's problem with horses would make this task impossible, the angel gives them an extra boon by enabling them to ride a horse by... playing solitaire. It's that kind of game.

Pocket Card Jockey is a surprisingly complex solitaire/horse-racing hybrid game where the player horse's performance is dependent on solitaire games (more precisely, golf solitaire) played between racing segments. Performing well at solitaire results in better racing, while performing poorly results in low Energy and a very mad horse. At the end, your efforts will be converted into Enthusiasm to charge down the Homestretch. Players will grow their horse through races, and once the horse matures, they may continue racing with it or retire it, after which they may breed horses and start again.

Pocket Card Jockey contains examples of:

  • Adam Smith Hates Your Guts: Zigzagged. The Shop is downright evil most of the time; Chirp's potential prices are nothing short of exorbitant for what she's selling, though some of them do give you a major advantage during races. Although prices vary on a day-to-day basis, expect the average price of goods to be around the high $1000s to the low $20,000s. For comparison, the most money the player can win in a race is $10,000, which is obtained by getting first place in a G1 race. If you're lucky, you may get prices that are just a few hundred, but don't expect it to happen often. Alternatively, if you complete a certain puzzle, there's a certain chance to get "50% Off" sales that make the prices much more reasonable.
  • Aerith and Bob: The horse names can range from normal, to weird, to foreign, to just plain bizarre. You can race against horses with fantastic names such as "Gold Ingot", "Cheat Command", "Neural Network", and "Sprinting Titan".
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • If you lose three races in a row with a sponsor's steed, the sponsor will give you a bonus of $20,000 so you can buy items. Whether or not you actually buy items with that money is up to you.
    • The appearance of special cards is skewed in the player's favor if the player is performing poorly. For example, Heart Cards will appear if the horse is running out of stamina too early, and Carrot Cards appear more frequently if the horse is in a bad mood.
    • If you're having trouble raising good horses in Growth Mode to breed later on, the Farm includes a QR Code function. By scanning a QR code of another player's horse, you can import that horse into your game for you to use as a breeding parent. This makes it much easier to breed for good horses. This goes both ways, too: if you have a strong horse you want to let other people use, you can create a QR code of it and let other players scan it to get a copy.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The angel's description of Heck in Ride On!: "Fire, brimstone, eternal dangnation, faucets leak, stuff smells weird..."
  • Artistic License – Biology: Robot horses can apparently breed with biological ones, with the mare being able to give birth to foals of the opposite type. This is, surprisingly, one of the least strange things about this game.
  • Bilingual Bonus: When you achieve Super Unity status, the kanji "人馬一体" appears on-screen, along with its romaji pronunciation "Jinba ittai". "Jinba ittai" is a Japanese idiom referring to the union between horse and rider.
  • Black Bead Eyes: Both of the protagonists, as well as Horse-Off-Course.
  • Blessed with Suck: One of the effects of Super Unity is that it pulls all of the cards on the track towards you. While this is nothing but a good thing in Growth Mode, where all of the cards are beneficial, it becomes actively detrimental in Mature Mode when it starts yanking in dung cards, which are normally best avoided.
  • Boring, but Practical:
    • Quick Draw. This Skill speeds up the card-flipping animation for adding cards to the stack and drawing cards from the draw pile. While the animation shortening is somewhat minimal, it adds up in the long run in the case of Lv. 3 solitare games.
    • Good Tempered reduces the rate at which a horse becomes upset. It's one of the most basic skills, but it's also a really good skill. Normally, you more or less have to Perfect Score a board to keep a horse's mood in the blue; Good Tempered allows it to take an extra hit to the mood gauge, allowing you to keep it in the blue if you don't clear that last card, which happens way more often than getting Perfect Scores. It also helps in preventing Runaways if you have a lot of cards left over.
    • Quick Start reduces the tableau stacks in Start Solitare by one row. If you have a quick eye, this means that you can pull off near-perfect starts with a high-level START! card almost all the time.
    • Farseer allows you to see the top card in your draw pile. This enables you to plan your moves ahead of time, which is an incredible help towards reducing the luck factor involved in getting perfect solitaire hands.
  • Boss in Mook Clothing: The Duckland Stakes, despite being labeled a G2 race, has opponents with speed and stamina levels typically only seen in G1 races.
  • The Cameo: Pikachu appears on the back of the Pikachu Edition 3DS. This is notable because Pikachu's orientation is flipped upside down compared to the actual product so the player can clearly see Pikachu.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Priscilla asks the protagonist to tell her a scary story, the protagonist decides to relay his/her story about the fatal accident at the beginning of the game. When he/she starts describing the angel, Priscilla is put off by the notion of the angel needing glasses and decides to let the topic rest.
  • Character Customization: In Ride On!, you can change the shirt your character wears during horse racing.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The horse's moods. Blue is the best, while Red is the worst.
  • Combos: Matching five or more cards in a row without touching the draw pile initiates a chain, where additional matches add bonus Energy and improve your horse's Mood.
  • Console Cameo: The puzzle "PR Photo" features Truman posing with a Nintendo 3DS, but it's not just any 3DS: the console featured happens to be the limited edition Pikachu-themed 3DS.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Jagger Steel insists that there's some sort of secret that the player and Mr. Maekawa are keeping from him that lead to the protagonist's sudden success, and he'll stop at nothing to find out what it is. He's not wrong, considering the protagonist plays solitaire to ride a horse.
  • Creator Cameo: You may come across an opposing horse named "Obata Debug". This is a reference to Game Freak developer Toshihiro Obata, one of the developers who worked on Pocket Card Jockey.
  • Cute Kitten: There's a special horse that is kitten-themed, with a mask with cat ears and a little kitten accessory hanging off the rear. Priscilla is almost always the sponsor for these horses. If you win a G1 race with this horse, you'll get a special victory photo with Priscilla in a Cat Girl outfit (that still shows her midriff) and a lot of kittens.
  • Death as Comedy: The most notable part of the opening is that you die in amusing fashion. You're revived by an angel with a penchant for horse-racing, but not without jumping through a few hoops.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: The "Charger" characteristics can allow you to gain ludicrous amounts of energy if you're able to position yourself correctly. By maintaining such a position for extended periods of time, you can easily reach 100 Enthusiasm without even needing to be in a Level 3 Comfort Zone for most of the race. If you can pull off Super Unity while taking advantage of this, you can sit back and watch as your lowly E-Class steed absolutely demolishes horses several ranks above itself.
  • Do Well, But Not Perfect: In Ride On!, even reaching certain races in order to complete your trophy case requires you to lose races that, by the time they come up, your horse should have no difficulty winning whatsoever.
  • Dump Stat: In Ride On!, the Stamina stat is virtually worthless not only due to how easy it is to circumvent (you can buy Stamina Carrots from Happy Horses, play perfect solitaire hands to minimize your stamina loss for a leg, and stick to the inside of the track in order to avoid turn losses and mix stamina restoration cards into your tableau), but also the fact that it no longer determines how many whips you get for the homestretch. There is no such way to get around having a low Speed stat, so if you wind up with a horse that chooses to prioritize Stamina over Speed during its growth cycle, you are quite simply and thoroughly screwed.
  • Dynamic Difficulty: The solitaire tables adjust difficulty according to your Comfort Zone Level. Level 3 Comfort Zones give the hardest tables, while not being in a Comfort Zone at all gives the easiest tables. Tableau stacks also adjust size according to how close your horse is to the innermost part of the track. Being far away from the bottom means less cards, while being at the bottom means more cards.
    • This also applies to the game as a whole. Simply put, you are not winning the harder races, like the Royal Derby or King's Gate, with a standard starter horse - even if you go out of your way to level up such a horse as fast as humanly possible and play your absolute best solitaire, once you get to these races the game will go out of its way to thwart you. Suddenly you'll find yourself up against horses whose speed is nearly double your own. You'll start getting terrible solitaire hand after terrible solitaire hand. Your random-activation skills will simply refuse to activate. Rival horses will deliberately start positioning themselves to block you from getting vital boost or experience cards, or to prevent you from taking advantage of your Charger/Unity characteristics if you have them. The only way the game will even let you stand a chance in these races is by spending enough time breeding in order to get a horse that starts its career ready to take these races on in earnest.
  • Early Game Hell: The back half of every Growth Mode cycle is absolutely punishing to new players, since their run-of-the-mill horse is often entered into races against horses that are vastly superior and have much more difficult solitaire boards. It takes a significant amount of time of maturing horses and breeding them in order to acquire a horse statistically sufficient enough to compete in most back-half G1 courses.
  • Easy Amnesia: After Jimmy goes missing, he winds up in California, where an old lady hires him to work at a carrot farm to pay off the cab fare he was supposed to have paid to the cabby who drove him to California. He eventually overcomes his addiction to carrots, but suffers amnesia for some time until he witnesses the Player Character winning a prestigious G1 race on live TV, which triggers his memories.
  • Endgame+: Mature Mode allows you to race with horses that are of four years of age and beyond, meaning that they will no longer grow. Mature Mode introduces two new special card types and excises the Shop, only allowing you to access it if Chirp decides to stop by that day. Losing thrice with one horse will force you to Retire that horse, and any money on-hand when that horse retires is transferred to the next cycle if you use a horse belonging to the same sponsor.
  • Endless Game: Mature Mode keeps going until your horse loses three races. This allows your horse to continue winning races for a better offspring later.
  • Excuse Plot: That paragraph detailing the beginning of the story? That's pretty much the story. The rest is playing a card game on horses.
  • Final Boss: The Royal Derby, the second toughest race in the game and your ultimate goal. The best opposing horse has a speed cap of 150, and the race is gruelingly long with all of your opponents retaining high Energy for most of the race.
  • Final Boss Preview: If you're performing decently well in Mature Mode, you may be given the option to participate in the Royal Derby or King's Gate. This oftentimes rolls around in early midgame, where your horse isn't even remotely strong enough to even think about competing effectively. You can still give it a whirl, and if you're unbelievably lucky, you might squeeze off a victory, but expect to get curbstomped more often than not.
  • First-Episode Resurrection: Your jockey is killed and revived with a mysterious new power in the first ten minutes of the game.
  • Forced Tutorial: The tutorial at the beginning is unskippable, as it's built into the plot. This is particularly notable because Pocket Card Jockey is very tutorial-dense due to having mechanics up the wazoo.
  • Game Over: Notable in that there's really only one way to get one: if you lose three straight races at the very beginning of a Growth Mode cycle, your sponsor will refuse to allow you to ride that horse. You are then forced to select a new horse.
  • Gold Tooth of Wealth: Mr. Blingman has all gold teeth. He's a good sponsor though, and he's more than willing to fork over some cash if your racing is bad.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: In Ride On!, the angel threatens to send your character to Heck and warns them of "eternal dangnation".
  • Gotta Catch 'Em All: Getting all of the Trophies for winning the G1 races. As the selection of G1 races is semi-randomly determined based on your horse's age and running style, winning all of the Trophies can take numerous cycles. Lampshaded by the game, which says "Gotta get 'em all!" in the Museum when you acquire a new Trophy. Ride On! kicks this up a notch by adding G2 and G3 races into the mix, giving you a grand total of 73 trophies to collect to fill out your Museum.
  • Gratuitous Ninja: A masked ninja horse with shuriken accessory is one of the horses you can unlock.
  • Hello, [Insert Name Here]: You can input a name of your choosing, and the dialogue fits it accordingly. If you decide upon a custom name for your horse, the game will use that too.
  • Hidden Depths: Despite the game's Excuse Plot, the sponsors have fairly elaborate backstories that are revealed as the player wins G1 races.
  • I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin!: Jimmy gets hooked onto carrots, and eventually becomes addicted to them to the point where he starts behaving like a horse.
  • Idle Rich: Richie gets by on his grandfather's wealth while contributing nearly nothing himself. Dialogue after winning several cups for him reveals that he has attempted to break out of this trend before, with little success.
  • Idol Singer: Priscilla, the pop diva. She invests in the horse-racing business as a publicity stunt.
  • Interface Spoiler: It's possible to complete puzzles of sponsors you haven't met yet.
  • It Only Works Once: The items in the Shop are one-time versions of the Skills that horses can learn. Once the item has been purchased, it will take effect during the next race, after which it will vanish.
  • Jack of All Trades: Priscilla's concept of being famous involves dabbling into everything. Being a pop idol, hosting her own cooking show, being a horse owner, researching the paranormal, becoming a history buff who colloquially quotes The Art of War, you name it.
  • Knockback: If two horses collide, they will knock each other forward or backwards in the same direction. The horse with the greater Energy is affected less, but is still affected nonetheless, and it takes some time for a horse to return to its course after it's been hit. If you are under Super Unity, you are Immune to Flinching and knock everyone else back. This does not apply to the Homestretch, where hitting another horse simply stops you from moving in that direction.
  • Last Episode Theme Reprise: The opening riffs of the title screen theme appear in "Challenge to the Vertex", the theme of King's Gate.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Jagger Steel's remark about the protagonist's racing style.
    Jagger: You take it so easy, it's as if I'm watching you play a video game at home.
  • Living Legend: Jagger Steel is hailed as one of the best racers around, and holds the record time for nearly every race track in the game.
  • Luck-Based Mission:
    • Races in general require a certain degree of luck to win, since you can't predict the AI's behavior most of the time and there's no arguing with the solitare tables if you get a bad layout. Solitaire skill factors much more heavily into success, but the luck element is still in play.
    • It's possible, albeit very, very rare, to lose a race to sheer circumstance, even if you do everything right and your opponents don't significantly outclass you. Horse-Off-Course will be just as confused as you will be if this happens.
      Horse-Off-Course: Uh, to be honest I don't have a clue what went wrong in that race...
    • Getting new puzzle pieces for the puzzles. Since they cost $10,000 a pop and you can get duplicates, it's not exactly cheap to try the CC Machine. It's possible to get one or two extra pieces for free, but only if the Random Number God likes you. These can also be duplicates.
    • What race you get is random, and given that you can't back out of any races, you can be thrown into race after race that your horse isn't suited for. This can even happen after the AI tells you outright that your horse isn't suited for, say, long races before throwing you into three consecutive long races, reminding you each time that this isn't what they're meant to be doing. While you can also be given only races your horse is suited for as well, that's less notable due to being expected from your manager.
    • Whether any given horse develops into a superstar or a flat-out dud is completely up to random chance. That horse with low starting stats could end up improving by leaps and bounds with each level-up and become a champion... or it could just stall out and remain awful throughout its entire career, and there's no way for you to tell beforehand or influence it by any means. This becomes especially infuriating when you're trying to put together a decent breeding pair and you keep getting terrible horse after terrible horse. Have fun languishing in Early Game Hell for an eternity!
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: Some of the Skills that horses can learn or bought for one-time use from the Happy Horses Shop can help mitigate some of the luck required to perform well at the solitaire games. For example, the Devil's Hand Skill increases the chance that the top card of the draw pile will link into a card on the board, and the Joker Skill enables the Joker card, which can be linked to any card and links into any other card.
  • Mad Scientist: Professor Ozimof fits most of the qualities, including baldness, eyepatch, weird manner of speech, and attempts to solve all issues via his inventions. It is eventually revealed that he's a foreigner who acclimated to this country by indulging in a lot of fantasy, sci-fi and anime.
  • Meaningful Name: Chirp's text scroll sound sounds like a bird chirping.
  • Microtransactions: In-universe. When Mr. Blingman suggests to the protagonist to spend money frivolously, the protagonist's idea of "spending frivolously" is "buy a bunch of in-app purchases for his/her favorite mobile game". Mr. Blingman finds this disappointing.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: In the final level, King's Gate, your opponent's horse names tend to be things like "New World", "Judgement", or "Apocalypse".
  • Nitro Boost: During the Homestretch, any leftover Stamina Cards from the race will be converted into cards that activate the GO! Button. Hitting the GO! Button will consume a Stamina Card and cause your horse to slightly boost forward, ignoring stamina-induced fatigue for a brief period of time. If you collect a Boost Card, you can also use it to force your horse to gain an instantaneous increase in max speed temporarily. If you collect two Boost Card, the effect becomes even more powerful.
  • Nintendo Hard: If you hold Up on the D-pad while starting Growth Mode or Mature Mode, the game will start in Invisible Comfort Zone Mode. This is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, in that the Comfort Zone display overlay is removed... which makes figuring out where the hell you're supposed to put your horse on the track stupidly difficult. If you thought G1 courses were already frustrating, this can make them absolutely nightmarish.
  • Notice This: Important things are in bright red text. These are usually either the names of the races you're going to be participating in, or horse-racing terminology. The latter in particular is usually accompanied with a definition that appears on the bottom screen.
  • Old Save Bonus: You can transfer forward your save data from the demo to your full version. This allows you to carry over your puzzle pieces, Trophies, and your mature horse, who has slightly better stats and likely more wins than most of your horses will have for the first few cycles.
  • Orchestral Bombing: The final boss theme eschewes any other type of music for King's Gate and dives headfirst into this with an unnecessarily epic orchestra track, "Challenge to the Vertex".
  • Parental Abandonment: When Mr. Blingman's family went bankrupt, they abandoned him at a church where he was raised by nuns.
  • Poison Mushroom: While most special cards have beneficial effects, the dung cards will greatly worsen the horse's mood if they're not cleared.
  • Purely Aesthetic Gender: You can choose to be a boy or a girl in the game. This affects nothing except your portrait and sprites, as well as tiny bits of dialogue. For example, the female protagonist says that her actual dream is to have a husband and kids, while the male protagonist says that his actual dream is to inherit his dad's orange farm.
  • Riches to Rags: Mr. Blingman used to come from an extremely wealthy family that could buy him anything, before their business went bankrupt.
  • The Rival: Win enough Trophies, and Jagger Steel will come by and declare you his personal rival.
  • RPG Elements: Your horse levels up in Growth Mode, gaining Speed and Stamina (and awakening Skills) as it does so. Of course, once it's 4 years old, whatever you've grown into, you're stuck with... but you can breed a better champion after your current one retires.
  • Save Scumming: Defied. Every race starts with a quicksave, and if you close the game or turn off the 3DS for any reason, you instantly lose the race when you reload the game.
  • Second Place Is for Losers: Quite literally; if it's not first place, the game will treat it as a loss and refuse to record your fastest time. However, you still get prize money, and if the requirements are met, you may still move on to a succeeding race anyways because your position was high enough.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Super-Deformed: The horses are depicted in cutesy, chibi style.
  • Super Mode: "Super Unity", activated by achieving a Perfect Score in a Level 3 Comfort Zone. Your horse's icon on the bottom screen gains a Battle Aura, your horse will not lose Stamina, will always gain Energy as if it was in a Level 3 Comfort Zone regardless of position, it will attract cards from a certain distance like a magnet, and any horses that collide with it will be knocked away without affecting your horse.
  • Super Move Portrait Attack: Activating a Boost is indicated by a cut-in of your horse powering up with blue flames.
  • Superboss: King's Gate, the single most difficult race in the game. Opposing horses possess speeds no less than 120 and climb up to 180. It's also somewhat long, and you can be assured your opponents will have insane Energy values almost all the time. It's so tough, Jagger doesn't even hold the record for fastest time. It is the only race you are not required to win to roll the credits. Ride On! adds three more: Top Jockeys, Jack’s Sprint, and Queen’s Palace. They have different requirements for reaching them, but all are just as tough to beat as King’s Gate. Your G1 trophy case just got that more difficult to fill.
  • Timed Mission: Any race that isn't the Debut Race or the Maiden Race has a strict time limit on solitaire games. If the time limit runs out, any remaining cards will be discarded and your horse's mood will worsen. This time limit is affected by numerous factors, including your horse's mood, the Grade of the race, and whether or not Peak Time already occured. START! Solitare also has a time limit on every race; the faster you finish, the better spot you'll end up in before the first game.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Mr. Blingman is pretty chill for a super-rich guy who made it from riches to rags to riches again. He splurges on luxuries because it helps put money back into the system, which helps the economy.
  • Unexpectedly Realistic Gameplay: Horses are like humans: they can't breed forever. Pocket Card Jockey knows this too; if you leave a horse to Breed for too long, it will eventually lose the ability to Breed, preventing it from creating any new Foal for a new cycle.
  • Unwinnable by Design:
    • Find yourself on the innermost part of the track at the end of the Final Turn? There's a high chance that you'll wind up boxed in on all sides with no way to boost out during the Homestretch, resulting in a guaranteed loss regardless of how you performed.
    • It's possible for your horse to be entered into a race where almost everyone else is statistically superior, in which case winning may be literally impossible regardless of how you play due to simply being outclassed. Horse-Off-Course will mention this if you lose these scenarios.
  • Updated Re-release: Ride On!, on top of porting the game to a modern platform, gives the game's graphics a 3D makeover and reworks many of the core mechanics.
  • Variable Mix: As your horse's mood lowers, the soundtrack becomes increasingly muffled. Improving your horse's mood will reverse this.
  • Violation of Common Sense:
    • Forcing a horse to become Runaway may be beneficial if the horse's ability is Front Runner and it has enough Stamina remaining to survive the stretch. The Front Runner style causes the horse to gain Energy as if it was in a Lv. 3 Comfort Zone if the horse is running very far ahead, which is usually not a good idea since you usually have to expend a lot of Unity Power to normally get there. A Runaway horse will automatically charge to the front of the pack by itself without expending Unity Power, allowing you to rack up Energy quickly while staying in first place, at the expense of a whole lot of Stamina. It is possible to win a race with an empty Stamina tank if your horse is far enough ahead and has high enough Enthusiasm.
    • During Growth Mode, if you know for sure that your horse is going to lose the race, it's better to just give up and let the homestretch play out instead of boosting for a higher rank; this preserves Stamina Cards that will grant bonus EXP, so your horse can grow faster.
  • A Winner Is You: Once you earn a trophy for every G1 race except for King's Gate, the credits roll. Horse Off-Course then appears and congratulates you on beating the game while telling you how to activate Invisible Comfort Zone Mode.