As the Nintendo 3DS digital storefront meets an untimely end, it's been heartening to see some of the games I feared would be lost to time popping up in unexpected places. Pocket Card Jockey, one of the many small experiments by the team behind Pokémon, was a game as successful as it was ridiculous about racing horses by playing solitaire — the better at solitaire you are, the better your horse will perform. It's a nonsensical premise, and the game knows it.
The opening moments (this is real!!) find your protagonist dying in a horse-related accident, followed by an angelic resurrection on the condition that you're to win a derby race in your lifetime or be sent to Hell. To make things fair, the angel blesses you with the ability to ride horses as well as you can play solitaire.
Each race involves playing quick rounds of the card game to build up points which can be spent directing your horse around the track based on where they're most comfortable — inside or outside the pack of your competitors. There's a lot more to think about on a race-by-race basis than I can succinctly write out here, and time spent outside the track can present players with a possibly overwhelming web of decisions as you begin to buy and breed horses, all of which I think is the game's greatest fault. While the core loop of playing solitaire and racing is a dream, managing the happiness, stats, and abilities of horses while also worrying about placement on a moment-to-moment basis can feel like elements that distract for players seeking a breezy time.
Despite my grievances with the learning curve, I absolutely adored the game, and would go as far as saying it's one of the best titles ever released on the 3DS. The truth of my gripes with the visual and mechanic clutter is that after a while, I began engaging with and loving everything the game has to offer. The genius of Pocket Card Jockey lies in the understanding that solitaire by itself has always been a perfect game to take on the go, and layering any kind of progression atop it only supercharges the desire to keep returning in free moments. As the 3DS storefront faces impending closure, I'm thrilled to know the game — like its jockey protagonist — will get a second chance at life via today's release on Apple Arcade.
Director Masao Taya spoke to Giovanni Colantonio about the release over at Digital Trends:
“With Apple Arcade, which requires absolutely no in-app purchase beyond the subscription service fees, there was no need to forcefully remodel the game into an F2P style, so we figured that we’d do our best to make the fans happy,” Taya says.
“When it was made public that the game would be added to the Apple Arcade lineup, there was quite a big reaction in Japan, with Pocket Card Jockey trending on Twitter,” Taya says. “I was really surprised when the number of new unread items on my Twitter app showed up as 999. It impressed on me the number of players who’d been waiting for this.”
I was curious how the game, which uses the top screen of the 3DS for horse racing and the bottom for solitaire and movement, would translate to the single screen of an iPhone, and have been pleasantly surprised so far. While the number of on-screen elements can be a bit difficult to parse at first, I found myself settling right back into old habits as soon as I'd made it through the tutorial.
The dream, after Ride On! was initially announced, was that taking a game famous for its quick-burst gameplay and making it available on an even more convenient piece of hardware would possibly help it surpass the original. I am absolutely an outlier in that I usually have my 3DS on me when I'm out and about, always ready to chip away at a project in Animal Crossing or meander through Hyrule when on a long subway ride. More often than not, though, I would dip into Pocket Card Jockey to knock out a race or two when given the opportunity.
Having the stickiest and most bizarre game of the Nintendo 3DS' library available on my phone means one less device in my pockets, and that's a plus in my book.