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Aside from having particularly large members of the animal kingdom as their stars, sumo wrestling and horse racing don’t have a whole lot in common. But the sport of kings and the sport of heavy, scantily clad men are teaming up in a cross-promotion that’s bizarre even by the standards of Japanese marketing, with Japan Sumo Derby, a free-to-play browser game filled with sumo wrestlers riding famous Japanese race horses.

The introductory video for Japan Sumo Derby looks like a gag project by a student animation team, with simple yet clean polygonal models of Japan’s largest athletes riding its equestrian ones.

Japan Sumo Derby is an official joint project from the Japan Sumo Association and Japan Racing Association, however. It’s also completely free to play, and you can get started right here.

The first thing you’re presented with is an option for full audio or mute gameplay, chosen by clicking on one of the two icons at the top of the screen. Next up is the title screen. Click on the option circled in red to begin play.

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As you go through the menus, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the icon labeled susumu, meaning “advance” and written as 進む. When in doubt, click on it to go to the next screen.

▼ It’s on the bottom left here.

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Before you head to the track, you’ll need to create a sumo wrestler.

▼ Click on 1 to use a photo of yourself (uploaded from your PC or taken then and there with your webcam), or 2 for the stock face.

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Next come options for hairstyles, including afros and ponytails (your horse will always sport a traditional sumo topknot, however). you can also pick the color of your mawashi (loincloth), color of your horse, and add accessories such as sunglasses and cat ears.

▼ Click on 完了 (kanryo/finished) when you’re done.

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The race is preceded by a practice section of a special technique you’ll need to use to win, such as clicking an icon in rhythm or furiously spinning the mouse’s scroll wheel. After that, you’re prompted to choose a difficulty level (only one is available to start, but more can be unlocked by winning races) and rival for the race, which is always a team of a famous real-life sumo wrestler and race horse. Then it’s time to start the race by clicking on レース開始 (resu kaishi/start race), the yellow icon in the bottom right screenshot.

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The scene then switches to “Tokyo Sumo Horse Track,” which is exactly one-half thoroughbred race course and one-half sumo ring, with a sumo referee presiding over the proceedings and wrestlers purifying the track by tossing salt, just as they do before the start of a sumo match (although it seems like it’d be bad for the grass).

▼ You can also click on スキップ/skip to jump to the start of the race.

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While the race has the large number of entries typical of Japanese horse racing, in reality it’s always just a contest between you and your rival. Periodically, you’ll be given prompts to use the techniques you practiced with, and the better your performance, the faster your horse will run.

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▼ Other riders will show off different parts of the sumo training regimen, such as doing the splits (most sumo wrestlers are actually quite flexible) or napping to help pack on pounds.

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Just before the finish, you’ll have to unleash your super technique by clicking on the yellow icon marked 連打 (“repeatedly click”) as fast as possible.

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Most races come down to the wire, but should you pull ahead, you’ll be presented with options to boast about your victory on Facebook or Twitter (marked 1 and 2 in the image below), or to head back to the stable and get ready for the next race (3).

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Currently, there are four races available. The Komusubi Sekiwake, Ozeki, and Yokozuna Derbies are named after increasingly prestigious sumo wrestler ranks.

▼ The reason Level 4 is called the Robo Derby is pretty obvious, given your rival for it.

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▼ Winning the Yokozuna Derby also rewards you with this downloadable image.

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The game remembers your progress, even after you’ve closed your browser, and at least one update is being planned for later this week with a new race. Honestly, for a quirky freebie, Japan Sumo Derby is surprisingly polished in its presentation, and it’s now got us wondering if we’ll ever see a sequel with horses fighting each other using sumo techniques.

Related: Japan Sumo Derby website
Source: Japan Sumo Derby
Images: Japan Sumo Derby (edited by RocketNews24)
[ Read in Japanese ]