Nukezilla Review: Derby Owners Club: World Edition (Arcade)
Here in this small town in the heart of the U.S., there really isn’t much to do. We have a bowling alley, a pool hall, a theater, and a street lined with bars, but nothing much beyond that. So the first time I went to Seattle, WA, (for my first PAX, coincidentally) some four or so years ago and discovered Gameworks, I instantly wished we had something like that back home. I spent a lot of time there during PAX, and PAXs following, expecially in the evenings after the convention had closed down. In particular, I was drawn to a little horse-racing simulation RPG produced by Sega called Derby Owners Club: World Edition.
And beer. But mostly Derby Owners Club.
Now, when I say “little,” I really mean “ginormous”. This isn’t your ordinary cabinet; it has two 50-inch monitors that display the races, and usually eight satellites with 19-inch monitors situated in front of the two large screens. The satellites are where the players interact with their horses. Altogether, the game takes up a minimum of 288 square feet (about 27 square meters), so don’t even think about trying to fit it into that tiny-ass apartment of yours.
The point of DOC:WE is to breed and race horses. You train and feed your horse before each race, increasing its stats – as long as you don’t fuck it up – and then race against computer and/or other players’ horses for money. Once your horse has raced 20 or more races you can choose to retire the horse and use him or her as a sire or dam, respectively, to breed a new horse and start over. Using a retired horse can give you a better horse the next time around, and so on and so forth until hopefully you have the best horse in the history of ever and are able to crush your enemies like ants beneath your horse’s galloping hooves – just be prepared to shell out some serious cash to get there, as each race costs a significant amount of quarters/credits to participate in.
Before each race, there is a training session that gives you a chance to increase your horse’s stats. There are six stats – Start, Corner, Out of the Box, Competing, Tenacious, and Spurt – which can be altered by completing a session of either single or cooperate training on varying types of turf. There is also a pool training session, in which you are almost guaranteed to drown your horse, and a rest option which doesn’t raise your horse’s stats much but at least you can’t fail.
After you’ve trained/drowned your horse, you get to feed it. Each horse has a different personality (which I’ll mention more in a minute) and different foods it likes and dislikes. Some horses will weep with joy when you feed them anything – like they expected you to let them starve to death or something and are so excited that you saw mercy and allowed them to live one more day – and some will become enraged, kick over the food trough, and try to murder you for daring to feed them a strawberry.
During the race it’s important to pay attention to the type of runner your horse is. Depending on its stats, it may be a Front Runner, Start Dash, Last Spurt, or Stretch Runner. These designations indicate when to use the Hold and Whip buttons during the race. For example, a Front Runner will want a big lead as soon as possible, so you’ll want to start whipping as soon as the gates open in order to get in front of the pack and take off.
Your horse has a Stamina bar that you’ll need to watch during the race as well. Its stamina is inversely proportional to how much you whip it, so the more you whip it (and whip it good), the less effective your whipping becomes. If you whip it too much, your relationship meter (which is exactly what it sounds like) will go down and it’ll get mad at you – possibly kicking you in the face, depending on how its feeling at the moment.
You will also interact with your horse after each race, and the actions you should take will depend on the horse’s personality type. There are five personality types – Imposing, Rough, Honest, Sloppy, and Coward – and each option is better for different personality types. For example, if your horse didn’t do very well in the race and it’s a Coward-type, you may want to pick the “flatter” option. It doesn’t specifically say anywhere in the game what your horse’s personality type is, but you can make an educated guess when you first load your horse into the game by pressing the Hold button and seeing what your horse does while you’re waiting to enter a race. If you don’t pick the right one, though, don’t worry – your horse will give you a good kick to the face so you’ll know next time.
After you’re done racing, you can choose whether to continue to the next race or not. If you don’t continue, the satellite will spit out a card with your horse’s name on it, along with a little bit of other information about it. You can take the card with you and return later, at which point you can feed the card into the machine and it will pull up the horse exactly as you left it.
To be honest, the game is very confusing for a beginner to pick up. There is (usually) some information posted on each satellite for beginners to get a grasp on what the hell they’re doing, but it’s not that helpful outside of the race itself. The text on the posted information and in the game is directly translated from Japanese and therefore is quite confusing/hilarious at times. Because of all this, though, some fans have taken it upon themselves to create guides, manuals, and FAQs detailing the finer points of the game.
I’m not gonna lie about the graphics, either: they’re janky and awkward, to say the least. When you’re watching your horse jump around like a frog, you really start to wonder if the animators have ever even seen a horse. Besides that, the models are all very pointy and angle-y, but it’s hard to expect much more from a game running on something similar to the hardware in a Sega Saturn.
All-in-all, I really like DOC:WE, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. It’s expensive to play, very slow-paced, and quite complicated. It’s really the only game of its kind, though. It’s quirky, it’s got a lot of depth for the serious horse racer, and it has a pretty cool and supportive community. There’s nothing quite like that feeling when you sit down to play and spot someone else with a handful of horse cards in front of them, make eye contact, and give each other a nod of comradery.
Then you realize that the other person is way more pro than you and you secretly hate them for crushing you out of every race with their super-awesome orange panda horses with maxed-out stats. And they’re also an eight-year-old.
Not that that’s ever happened to me. I’m just speaking hypothetically.