If there was ever a game to represent this most cruel, brilliant, and baffling of years, Pocket Card Jockey is it. Game Freak's most recent non-Pokémon venture makes little sense: You're a horseracing jockey, but really you're a Solitaire player... but really you're an animal husbandry novice. That this strange brew of strategy, quick action and breeding comes together at all is impressive; that the result is a finely-tuned time-melter with undertones both comic and melancholic is darn near miraculous.
I just played a quick round to refresh myself before writing this. (I had buried the 3DS icon in the deepest recesses of my Home Screen folders, so deleterious was its effect on my ability to get anything done but one more race.) I had forgotten how smart and polished the game was: The muffled audio when your horse is mad; the crisp 'zing!' of each successive card played after you reach a certain number in a row; the last mad dash to the finish line that introduces an entire different mechanic. Even with a bit of rust on my spurs, my horse came through at the end, blasting past Yadda Yadda, edging out Hot Snow by a nose, and kicking Straight Coffee off the podium. Angry Horse, predictably, brought up the rear.
Each race is a tiny drama. Each horse is a goofy companion to whom you feel bonded. Each round of cards is a split-second brainteaser that pumps the blood. The game's framing device, a kind-of episodic cartoon where you race people's horses to help solve their problems (after coming back to life after a tragic accident, of course), makes just enough sense and elicits just enough chuckles to not get in the way. But little else matters when that core loop - pick a horse, start a race, play some cards, finish fast, race again - is so perversely efficient.
If you've played it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't? 2017 is a new year. Make amends. Do what is right. Play this game. But be forewarned: The final turn is treacherous and the finish line never arrives. Now that I've unleashed PCJ again into my life I worry for the immediate future. If my wife finds me unconscious, 3DS in hand, the oven smoking, and the cat mewling in emaciated hunger, know this Game Freak: It was all your fault.