Motion sensor horse racing: better than the real thing?
The niche of horseracing games is a divisive subject amongst gamers and reviewers.
The crossover of demographics seems fairly narrow here. Horseracing fanatics just don’t tend to be gamers, it would seem. This should come as little surprise when you look at the real world of horseracing.
Whether you take a glamorous day out to the races, where oversized hats, expensive suits and champagne are the order of the day, or if you pop into your local betting shop and mix it with the punters supping beer and betting on their hot tips, you’ll find yourself worlds away from gaming crowds.
by Paolo Camera
But the history of video games is littered with wonderful consoles, titles, and technological developments that have opened up new worlds of experience to players.
From fishing, to farming, to cooking and cake making, games have long been capable of overcoming the odds and achieving respectable sales despite seeming to lack an appropriate target audience.
Horse racing is no exception to this rule, and the genre actually has a long history in gaming. Much of this history, somewhat unsurprisingly, has been played out in Japan.
As early as 2001, horseracing games were being lapped up by audiences in the Far East, where titles like Gallop Racer were giving gamers the chance to train, breed, and race horses in realistic simulators for the first time.
Gallop Racer creators Tecmo went on to produce five versions of the game, until the rise of motion sensor gaming shifted the possibilities for how much enjoyment could be had playing games about training horses to run faster.
All of a sudden, the popularity of consoles like the Wii, and the introduction of Xbox Kinect and PlayStation Move, put gamers in the action for the first time, and the quality of horseracing titles improved dramatically, spreading the popularity of these games beyond their hotbed in Japan.
One of the first horseracing titles to embrace motion sensor technology was G1 Jockey 4, by Koei, which was released in June 2007 for the Wii, having already had a PlayStation 2 release back in 2005.
Hailed by Eurogamer as a “punishing, vast and deep simulator”, G1 Jockey 4 set the benchmark for others in the genre to reach.
Perhaps the most comprehensive horseracing title arrived in 2011, when the G1 Jockey franchise launched its flagship title, Champion Jockey.
Featuring a detailed career mode, which allows you to ascend the horseracing ranks from rookie to champion, with engrossing storylines and character dialogue, Champion Jockey is remarkably playable and engaging.
Wii and Kinect technology take the actual racing game play to the next level, and while you might feel like you’re performing some kind of Wild West line dancing routine as you grapple with your horse’s reins and whip its hide, the experience is immersive to the point of being addictive.
It’s not often that we see the words “better with Kinect” in conjunction with racing titles, but Champion Jockey is no ordinary racing title.
A changing sector
Motion sensor technology seems to have done for horseracing games what online bookmakers did for horseracing itself. What was once the preserve of a select few has become hugely popular.
Betting sites are frequented by a much broader demographic than would have visited traditional betting shops, and it seems the entire sport of horseracing is benefiting from leaps forward in technology.
Japan, meanwhile, continues to indulge its long-held love for equine titles with bizarre games like Japan World Cup, in which you can race horses with afro hairstyles and oversized bodies, or just race elephants and barrels with human legs.
Perhaps once the world fully gets to grips with quality motion sensor horseracing games, we’ll turn to the Far East for inspiration once more.