Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On is phenomenal right out the gate

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Title: Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Game Freak
Platforms: iOS (reviewed on)
Release Date: January 20, 2023

When Nintendo announced it would be shutting down the 3DS store there was one thought I had first and foremost; “Oh no, we’re going to lose Pocket Card Jockey”. I’m not even playing. It was my primary worry. The game had no physical release and it was such a fun and weird game that I was petrified of not being able to introduce more people to the game.

When I found out that Apple Arcade was working with Game Freak (oh yeah, I forgot to mention this game is by the people who make Pokemon) to rerelease the game with more modern bells and whistles I was so hyped. While the original had a really cute 2D style, this new version switched to a 3D race look which still maintained the cuteness of the original.

If you’re unfamiliar, Pocket Card Jockey is a solitaire game first and foremost. Which, on the surface sounds like it should be one of the thousands of lackluster solitaire games that mostly fit in the “something to do on the toilet” category. But Game Freak went off on this game.

Firstly, it’s an isekai. If you’re not familiar with this genre, it’s a type of story in which the main character dies and then comes back in a more powerful capacity, often in a fantasy setting of some sort. Think of animes like “Re:Zero” or the exhaustingly named “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime”.

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In the case of your character, you get flipped off an angry horse, flung onto an active horse track, and get the life absolutely trampled out of you, killing you and sending you into a blackened void where a deity brings you back…with a catch.

You have to try your hand at horse racing again but since your character is absolutely terrible at it, they tie it towards something your character claims to be good at, namely…solitaire. From there you get to start back out as a horse jockey except now, every aspect of the races revolves around your ability to play solitaire at a decent speed.

As you make more and more cards disappear you build up energy and stamina and in-between rounds position yourself more effectively on the track. All this leads up to a big (hopefully) boost of energy in the final stretch that sees you pull ahead of the others.

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Once you go through the races, your horse (that you get to name whatever you want) gets older until it hits its fourth year when you get to send it to a farm. And unlike the farm your parents sent your old pets to, this is a real farm where they actually get to chill and be happy. And as you place more horses on the farm they will give birth to a foal that combines several aspects of both parents at a slightly boosted stat rate meaning that over time you get stronger and stronger horses.

Over time you ever get to see bizarre horses like rebellious ones with pompadours, ninja horses, and even robot ponies. These are honestly some of the coolest horse designs I’ve seen from Game Freak since Rapidash.

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Another nice thing I love about this game is that it knows its weird fans like me. There’s a part early in the tutorial when you’re asked if you know how to play solitaire and a new option appears underneath the original two choices that is essentially “OH MY GOD I MISSED YOU SO MUCH,” which made me beyond happy to be able to tell the game.

Any doubts I’ve had about paying for Apple Arcade were more than put to rest with this game. Welcome back Pocket Card Jockey. With all the new and old features in this game, it’s an absolute superfecta of a win.

Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On (iOS) Score: 9/10

While I would have loved to see the addition of online elements that allow you to see your friends’ horses or compete against their best scores, this is still a phenomenal time killer of a game. The bizarre isekai story mixed with the adorable graphics and the occasional dark humor makes for so many elements I never thought I’d see in a solitaire or horse racing game, let alone an amalgamation of both.