Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Great Gaymathon Review #74: Pocket Card Jockey (3DS)

Game: Pocket Card Jockey
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
System: 3DS (eShop)
Release date: 2016

You know a game is full-on bonkers when even telling someone it combines solitaire and horse racing doesn't convey how bonkers it is.

I'm sure some of you are wondering, can a title produced by the folks (at Game Freak) who gave the world the decidedly tame Pokémon series really be all that bonkers?

Consider that a proper Pocket Card Jockey playthrough means encountering and experiencing all of the following:

* getting trampled to death by an adorable peg-legged horse
* hyping up your solitaire skills while begging an angel to send you back to earth
* coming up with silly names for steeds of all shapes (one has a fiery mane, one looks like a dragon, one is dressed like a ninja, one seems to be a robot) and colors
* breeding those equines to produce offspring that are faster, more resilient and, hopefully, have a better temperament than their parents
* racing all of the above for a colorful cast of managers (including a spoiled rich kid with a pompadour, an effervescent pop idol and an evil scientist)

Oh, and last bullet point involves quickly clearing a series of golf solitaire tableaus--which also is pretty bonkers, if you ask me.

Of course, none of the wackiness described above means much if the rest of what’s on offer is a bore. Thankfully, it’s not. In fact, Pocket Card Jockey is as addictively and delightfully fun as it is brilliantly weird.

It’s like Tetris in that it’s the kind of game that prompts you tell yourself, “just one more race. OK, maybe two more.” And the next thing you know, you have no idea where the last couple of hours went.

That’s due, in large part, to how adroitly Game Freak's designers were able to turn Pocket Card Jockey's many disparate elements into a bite-sized title that's far more than the sum of its parts.

Actually, it goes beyond that. They also were able to combine this game's many components in such a way that you rarely think of them as separate entities. Rather than thinking of this as a solitaire game or a horse-racing or -breeding game, Pocket Card Jockey is very much its own thing--kind of like how the Famicom Disk System title, Otocky, is its own thing despite blending the shmup and rhythm genres.

All that said, more than a few of this title's elements deserve to be singled out for praise. One is its overall art style, which is about as adorable and appealing as can be. Another is its control scheme, which relies almost entirely on the 3DS' touch screen--and to great effect. Its localized text, which is both darker and wittier than most will expect from a Game Freak-made release, is similarly on-point. Finally, there's its soundtrack, which may be the best to appear in a 3DS game yet.

As for Pocket Card Jockey's negative aspects, I honestly can't think of any at the moment. Some may point to the abundance of text that's offered up here, or the fact that it becomes a tad repetitive over time, but I personally don't consider them to be worthy of complaint.

If you absolutely need me to rip on some portion of Pocket Card Jockey, this will have to do: should you be anything like me, you'll put a lot of time into this digital title. Don't believe me? Consider that I spent about 70 hours with the Japanese version of the game and I've spent nearly as many hours with its North American counterpart.

In other words, you probably won't regret spending just under $7 on it--unless, I guess, you have an extreme distaste for anything that can be described as "bonkers."

See also: my Pocket Card Jockey guide and my previous 'Great Gaymathon' reviews

Friday, July 29, 2016

So, who's gonna grab Gotta Protectors (Protect Me Knight 2) from the NA 3DS eShop ASAP?

I'm not sure how this news avoided pinging my radar until now, but apparently the localized version of Ancient's Protect Me Knight 2--known as Gotta Protectors in this part of the world--hit the North American 3DS eShop yesterday.

In case this is the first you're hearing of the game, it's a portable sequel to the Japanese developer's first Protect Me Knight title, released digitally for the Xbox 360 in 2010.

That game was a total blast--while also being a blast from the past--and this one is even better. Specifically, this on-the-go follow-up offers a slew of playable characters, 100 levels, four difficulty levels, four-player co-op via Download Play (only one person needs to own a copy of the game), a map editor that uses QR codes and more.

Oh, and to top off that pixelated goodness, Protect Me Knight 2--er, Gotta Protectors--features a soundtrack that was concocted by the brilliant Yuzo Koshiro. (If you've played 7th Dragon III Code: VFD, Half-Minute Hero or any of the Etrian Odyssey titles, you've heard what he's capable of in this medium.)

Is all of the above worth a cool $12.99--which is the price tag currently attached to this tiny tower-defense title? Based on my admittedly limited experience with the Japanese version, I'd say yes, especially if you tend to be a fan of the genre.

One last thing: those of you who are happiest when you're defending towers--or princesses, or any other entity that needs protecting--should check out Witch & Hero II as well. It's just $3.99 right now, which is a great price for what I consider a must-have 3DS game. (Read my Witch & Hero II review to learn why I hold it such high esteem. Up for more? Read my review of the first Witch & Hero, too.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Manual Stimulation (Hana Taaka Daka!?, PC Engine)

There's just something about a Taito-made PC Engine instruction manual.

And I'm not just talking about the colorful illustrations that nearly always serve as their covers, like they do in the case of Parasol Stars or the shmup that serves as the focus of this post.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say I usually prefer the interior pages of your typical Taito-produced PC Engine manual to its cover--and that's saying something considering the interiors of most of these booklets are in black and white. (Check out the one that accompanies copies of the company's KiKi KaiKai for more evidence.)

How can a handful of black-and-white spreads be so appealing? The opening salvo in the Hana Taaka Daka!? manual (see below) should go a long way toward answering that burning question.

Still not convinced? Keep reading--and scrolling. Like almost all of Taito's PC Engine instruction manuals (the above-mentioned Parasol Stars and the company's Rainbow Islands CD-ROM2 port are noteworthy exceptions), the one made for Hana Taaka Daka!? is crammed full of glorious, color-free art.

Actually, simply calling what appears throughout this particular pamphlet "art" is kind of selling it short, if you ask me. Just look at the sample pages above and below.

The imagery on offer here is a lot more fun and interesting than the boring, approved-by-committee concoctions that fill most other game manuals--especially modern ones.

Of course, there's more to this mini Hana Taaka Daka!? how-to guide than fabulous, manga-inspired visuals. There's also a bunch of information about the game's story, characters, modes, items and enemies.

Thankfully, cartoonish illustrations accompany all of those explanations.

That's great for comic lovers, of course, but it's also great for folks who don't know a lick of Japanese. How so? The drawings in question do a surprisingly good job of cluing in all readers--even ones who only understand English, for example--as to how Hana Taaka Daka!? operates.

As suggested earlier, this far from the only Taito-designed manual to showcase such art. Want to see a few others? Check out my "Manual Stimulation" posts devoted to the PC Engine ports of Don Doko Don, Mizubaku Daibouken and The New Zealand Story.

Also, you can peruse all of the "Manual Stimulation" posts I've published over the years--and, believe me, I've published a ton of them--by clicking here. And if that thrills you? Why not scroll through all of my "Nice Package!" write-ups which, as you probably can guess from that series' title, feature information about and photos of a particular game's packaging (including its outer box or case, its cartridge or disc and its instruction manual).