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The Game Boy turned 30 last month – to the shock of those of us realising we are therefore well over 30. Where did the past go? I think it went into a nook at the end of my bookshelf – at least that’s where I found my old DMG-01, the original Game Boy. Like many reading this, I’m sure, I took the occasion to hold it again and remember when a plastic brick felt like the future.

That grey hunk still thumps my heart like beating hoofs. But besides my pure and innocent love, I had an ulterior motive for the reunion: this Game Boy was going to make me filthy rich.

A Gift Horse

It was actually nostalgia that started the whole thing off. One twilight in spring, I strolled haplessly into the basement of a Tokyo department store at closing time. Just the day before it had been full of bicycles and luggage but, for today only, it was a “Retro Bazaar” of time-beaten consumer goods, none less than 20 years old. There were Walkmans, digital clocks, Famicom Disk Drives – the works. The bazaar had sprung from nowhere and, as closing time ticked closer, I knew it would be gone again in moments.

Something jumped out at me: an obscure 1993 Game Boy release, complete in box. But this was no game. On the front was a galloping horse; on the back an astonishing record of accurately predicting horse racing results. In the 1992 season, it had chosen the winner 48.4% of the time and returned winnings of 101%. What trip of fate had brought this to me? It was a relic of a youth I never really lived and a promise of a future I could make my own. I rushed the box to the clerk and buried it in my bag like a snared dream.

Studying the Form

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Tekichuu Rush (something like “Correct Prediction Rush”) was released in 1993 by Japan Clary Business. Some digging around online suggests Clary released no other Game Boy software and its website petered out into the Wayback Machine in the early 2000s. Not exactly a video game company, their flagship product was the “Computator”, which appears to be a budget-priced machine for counting cable TV registration cards.

Tekichuu Rush’s simple proposition is that if you tell it the listed odds for a horse race, it will tell you the winner. Apart from showing off its uncanny accuracy as a race predictor, the box promises “basic controls using few buttons – even the inexperienced can use it!’ – a reminder that, in 1993, a computer with just two main buttons might have bewildered some users.

Basic control scheme aside, the instruction booklet does its best to confuse things. Every possible usage scenario is summarised in a single tortuous flow-chart labelled with tiny Japanese text. Ah, how hard can it be? Instructions are for losers: let’s bet on some horses!

Off to the Races

The nearest racecourse to me is in the Shakespearean county town of Warwick, England. One race day, I opened an online betting account and got cracking. Game Boy on; red light; Nintendo® smudge; ba-ding! And now a scene of horses, charging up the dust, jockeys pointed head-and-shoulders at the finish, cheered on by chirpy chiptune. “Tekichuu Rush. ©1993 Japan Clary Business.” I pushed START.

After trudging through a bog of green data-entry screens I felt like it might have been easier to make my millions doing shiftwork in a 1970s stock exchange

The oracle first demanded to know the location of the race. I couldn’t type it in: I could only cycle options excruciatingly slowly with the A button. This was great news: if Clary had kept their promise of basic controls then they would also keep their promise of unlimited wealth acquired by supernatural means. Surely.

I cycled: Tokyo – Nakayama – Kyoto – Hanshin – Sapporo… I started to worry that Warwick was going to be right at the end! Hakodate – Fukushima – Niigata – Chukyo – Kokura – and Warwick! Wait, no. No Warwick?! I decided it must come under “Regional” and selected that.

I started copying out the odds. After trudging through a bog of green data-entry screens I felt like it might have been easier to make my millions doing shiftwork in a 1970s stock exchange. Finally, indignant at having had to work for it, I greedily snaffled the winning horse number and placed my bet.

All in all, it was a longwinded way to lose £5. How could Tekichuu Rush have got it wrong? The only reason I could think of was that maybe Warwick didn’t count as a regional Japanese racecourse. Time to find a Japanese race.

What are the Odds?

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Kicking off, presumably, a long-running pattern of fantastic luck, the bookmaker happened to be offering betting on a single race in Nakayama that weekend.

After a grind that provided an irreproachable answer to the question “Why isn’t all text entered like this?” I had my predictions. I was given three possible one-two finishes: horse number 3 followed by horse 12; 4 followed by 12; or 7 followed by 12. Horse number 12, then, was clearly not going to win whatever happened, so I ignored that and placed my bets on 3, 4 and 7.

I could now be sure that Tekichuu Rush was essentially a Game Boy Printer that spooled out bank notes in place of stickers

You’re probably expecting that one of them one won – or perhaps that somehow all three of them won. Astonishingly, every bet went down. What had happened? I gazed over the results. In first was some nag named Saturnalia – number 12! The very horse we knew would lose! Next came Velox, Danon Kingly and Admire Mars – horses 7, 4 and 3! Our guaranteed winners!

Like you, I’m sure, I immediately suspected foul play. Tekichuu Rush was 25 years old, after all. Presumably, Big Racing had got its hands on it and twisted its power for underhand mega-corporate enrichment – instead of the good, honest personal enrichment that I deserved.

So in yet another gesture of earnest graft that would ultimately justify my making millions for free, I read the instructions. I’ll confess it now: I should have done that at the beginning. Turns out, the results guaranteed by Clary’s crystal ball were called “rensho”. In the UK, this is a “reverse forecast”, meaning that when Tekichuu Rush said horses 7 and 12, it actually meant those two would finish first and second in either order. Had I staked my £6 correctly, on reverse forecasts, I would now be rolling in £19.

But I felt no disappointment at all, because I could now be sure that Tekichuu Rush was essentially a Game Boy Printer that spooled out bank notes in place of stickers. Next time I turned on the Game Boy, the Nintendo® sound wasn’t ba-ding: it was ka-ching.

Back in the Saddle

However, there were a few more hiccups. It was always my fault, not the game’s, but the next few races also lost me money. I set up in the coffee shop opposite the bookies and studied the finer administrative points of Japanese horse racing. Then I scrunched real paper slips in the betting shop: I lost at Kochi because I entered the wrong number meeting. I lost at Hanshin because it was the fourth race-day when I had said second. And I lost at Fukushima because what I read as the first race of the schedule was actually the twelfth. But every mistake was a lesson: I could now read the Tekichuu tea leaves perfectly.

I felt the megalomaniacal thrill of a mad scientist who had calibrated a precariously functional time machine. But I had become obsessed. Spreadsheets and notepads and discarded slips were in a scatter around me. Ambition untempered will undo us all: what evil might this forbidden technology unleash?

But You Can’t Make It Drink

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It was back to Fukushima for the “Flora Stakes”. My prophet tipped me three reverse forecasts, all based on bookies’ favourite Therepeia in number 10. The racecourse was right; the meeting was right; the day was right; the race number was right. I checked and double-checked the runners and odds. Despite the certainty of my win, I was somehow nervous.

Therepeia rocketed to a dominating start and my hands sweated into my shivering betting slip. They rounded the first and the pack thinned; rounded the second and it thinned some more. Therepeia was on the heels of number 9, Jodie, and shutting out number 17, Leone d’Oro, either of which was a winning combination.

Then, booming heroically down the final straight, Therepeiawas passed by one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve horses! Twelve!

The quiver of expectation; the pride of entitlement; and the humility of the emperor, naked all along

My fists slowly unclenched and floated down from the sky. My eyes glazed and my jaw slackened in untethered bewilderment. How? Why? A punter swung the door and a gust swept my betting slips away and ruffled my piles of notes. With a flick and a flutter, the Tekichuu Rush instruction manual flapped onto the bookie bench. What was that on the very first page? I twisted my brow at the Japanese: “This software is for…” Entertainment? Entertainment. “…entertainment purposes only. Japan Clary Business offers no guarantee of the accuracy of predicted results.”

Suddenly it all made sense: Clary, in their timeless wisdom, had enchanted Tekichuu Rush just so that it would lead me on, so that I would indulge to its edge my sateless longing for a perfect past and a gifted future. And in that unseemly engorgement I would experience the ultimate thrill of the race: the rush of every dream held in hand, then falling away. The quiver of expectation; the pride of entitlement; and the humility of the emperor, naked all along.

So that was the end of Tekichuu Rush. A quarter of a century after a small manufacturer of electro-mechanical clerical time-saving devices decided to venture onto the Game Boy, here its creation was, on the other side of the planet. Clary’s cutting-edge of ‘90s Tokyo was still ticking away in an ancient English county town in the 21st century. More impressive than predicting the future, I realise now, was that this game lived to see it.

I dismissed my losses and counted my blessings. Well, OK, I counted my losses: £23. A reasonable price for a captivating Game Boy game.