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Crystal's Pony Tale (Genesis) artwork

Crystal's Pony Tale (Genesis) review

"Into the midst of all the shooters, macho beat-‘em-ups and blood-spurting fatalities galloped Crystal the pony, and showed everyone that little girls wanted things to play too. The fact that this title is now an obscurity doesn’t say much about the state of girl-games, and it’s truly a shame that girls today are tossed Barbie, Mary Kate & Ashley and Britney Spears games to “enjoy” when there were at one time innovative and intelligent games like this being made for them. "

Into the midst of all the shooters, macho beat-‘em-ups and blood-spurting fatalities galloped Crystal the pony, and showed everyone that little girls wanted things to play too. The fact that this title is now an obscurity doesn’t say much about the state of girl-games, and it’s truly a shame that girls today are tossed Barbie, Mary Kate & Ashley and Britney Spears games to “enjoy” when there were at one time innovative and intelligent games like this being made for them.

Having a game about ponies was a good choice, since many little girls wish they had one. Although I was never one of them, I did buy into the My Little Pony craze of action-figures, and anyone who is familiar with these will pretty much know what to expect with Crystal’s Pony Tale. Like the action figures, Crystal and her “herd” come in many weird colors including pink, purple and green. Crystal herself can be whatever color the gamer wants (provided it’s one of the choices), since there is an option at the title screen to customize her body, tail and mane colors. I personally go for the pink body, purple mane and light green tail. It’s one of the better looking combinations, if you can believe it.

Crystal and her snazzy pony friends are on their way to a party at a castle, but all the ponies except Crystal are captured by an evil wizard and imprisoned. The only way to free them is by collecting the right gem, and fitting it into its corresponding slot, which will release a pony. The gems and ponies aren’t all in one place of course, but scattered throughout the land so that Crystal has quite an adventure on her hands in order to get them all back.

To retrieve the gems and free the ponies, Crystal travels through a mostly non-threatening world filled with flowers, butterflies and cute woodland creatures. In order to travel to the next part of the world, she must pass through a gate and “pay” a fee of five horseshoes for the service. These horseshoes are spread throughout the level and are easy to find and accumulate, so that having enough should never become a problem. In keeping with the concept of the game being for young children, Crystal can never actually die (which offsets the lack of a save feature). If touched by an enemy, she merely drops some of her horseshoes and keeps going. If all her horseshoes are gone she is merely taken back to the beginning of the stage to try it again.

The emphasis is not on combat; the enemies are all rather tame and most of them can just be jumped over or dodged. Instead, the focus of the game is on solving puzzles by manipulating objects (by pressing the “action” buttons, A or B). To solve the puzzles requires Crystal to communicate with the animals and plants around her--one of the coolest features in the game. By pressing the action button near an animal or plant, a thought bubble will pop up from the creature, usually with a picture of something they would like brought to them, or of an object they want Crystal to do something with. To give a small example, there is a rabbit in the game who is thinking about carrots. If Crystal brings him a carrot from the nearby carrot patch, the rabbit will perform an action that will benefit Crystal.

Crappy action platformers are a dime a dozen, but platformers where the emphasis is on interacting with the environment in a Zelda-like fashion is much rarer. Of course for a children’s game it is the perfect way to go, since it doesn’t put the emphasis on combat or reflexes.

That being said, Crystal does pack a mean kick when she needs it. The developers got the pony mechanics down very well when they designed Crystal. She moves very nicely in a trot, and rears up her front legs if she is confused or startled about something. She will often automatically jump over obstacles when walking, although there is also a separate jump button for the larger jumps. The one problem with the controls that I found was that fitting gems into the slots was quite a finicky thing to do. Crystal must be positioned in a very specific place for the gem to work; something that younger kids may have problems with.

The game is very colorful and visually stimulating, despite the fact that parts of look like they could have been drawn in Paintbrush. It is the kind of thing a child would draw, by using every single color in the crayon box and not worrying whether they actually blend well together or not. Still, the level of detail is decent and everything is overflowing with cuteness.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the audio: the neighing and sound of horses’ hooves stands out as being especially good. The music unfortunately sounds rather wooden and unemotional due to the Genesis’ sound capabilities. However, I was greatly impressed by the soundtrack itself, and pleasantly surprised to hear many classical favorites alongside the original tunes; for example Fauré’s Dolly, Brahms’ 4th Symphony, Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King, Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. What was really great was the way in which some of these recognizable melodies were incorporated into the adventure, instead of just being thrown in for no reason. We hear Flight of the Bumblebee as a bumblebee appears on the screen. Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy is famous for its use of an instrument called the celeste, which produces a distinctive bell-like chime. In the area where this music plays, one of the things Crystal has to do is touch a wind-chime whose ringing sounds exactly like the celeste.

As a “big person” playing the game I could easily complain that it’s too short, yet I suspect that the challenge would be adequate for its target audience. With only seven ponies to collect, the game seems to be over far too quickly, yet it’s easy to feel that such a cute and immersive adventure is over before you’d want it to be. Yet, there is still a certain amount of replay value in the fact that there are three levels of difficulty (easy, medium and hard) and the game is so darn cute that it’s worth playing more than once just to see those little animations one more time.

This game is worth hunting down, even in its emulated form, if only for the fact that it’s a quality representative of a struggling genre that needs to be bolstered. Down with Barbie…we have Crystal whose idea of a good time isn’t going to the mall and hanging around with her boyfriend!


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Community review by alecto (January 25, 2003)

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