While some of the world's biggest sports are absent from PlayStation Move — we're looking at you, FIFA and Madden NFL — the controller has proved an enticing prospect for developers keen to bring, shall we say, less widely-embraced sports to the masses. After PDC World Championship Darts: Pro Tour and WSC Real 11, Tecmo Koei has taken the cake — or sugar cube — with its first Move title, Champion Jockey (Champion Jockey: G1 Jockey and Gallop Racer to give its full name).
The game puts you in the tiny shoes of a jockey and gives you free rein over a career or, if you prefer, less demanding exhibition races, all playable using PlayStation Move. With two Move controllers in hand — one for the whip and one for the reins — the whole experience is vaguely ludicrous, but that's where its enjoyment lies: while Move's accuracy can make or break other sports, Champion Jockey just lets you get on with whipping a virtual horse.
That's not to say it's a simple case of waggle to win: the nuances of the control system reveal themselves over time, but it's more about learning when to use the skills, rather than how. Should you push your horse through the first furlong or let him catch up at the end? One thing's worth pointing out: you'll get nowhere if you don't spend some serious time learning the controls, either through the manual or the digital tutorial included on the Blu-ray. In truth there's no real reason to pick Move over DualShock 3 controls, other than the inherent joy in pretending to ride a horse, but then that's to be expected.
If you decide to tackle the career mode with Move, you may want to reconsider after a few races: while the short sprints aren't too heavy-going, the longer races will have you sweating as much as any fitness game as you frantically will your digital steed onto victory. There's a huge amount of depth here, with each horse ranked and rated in various statistical areas and each displaying individual characteristics you must learn to succeed: if your horse hates the pack and you try to nestle him in there, you'll struggle to win. There's even an in-depth mode for breeding and training the perfect horse; the equine equivalent of Gran Turismo, perhaps.
Western players might be surprised by the career mode, which ignores the Saints Row-style trappings of the jockey world and instead pitches you in endless dialogue that'll either leave you cold or in fits of laughter. Mass Effect 2 it's not, but it keeps the tone light and the pace lively.
If you want something a little shorter, there's exhibition, local and online multiplayer modes at your disposal, although we struggled to find anyone online willing to take on our speedy steed Hayabusa (yes, some horses' names are Tecmo Koei in-jokes.) Your mileage may vary, but if you want a regular steeplechase face-off, you'll need to rope a friend into picking the game up too.
Graphically there's not too much to get excited about: the horses all animate well and there are some nice graphical touches here and there, but overall there's little to wow you or convince you this game is making the most of the PS3 hardware. The static character portraits during the career mode feel out-dated and the lack of voiceover and commentary is also a disappointment.
There's nothing quite like Champion Jockey on PS3, and Tecmo Koei is to be commended for an in-depth portrayal of the horse racing world: what could have been a cheap throwaway is instead a surprisingly lengthy pursuit. The Move controls are enjoyable without being essential and the career mode would have seemed out-dated five years ago, but if you want something original and don't mind a gamble you could find yourself backing a winner.