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Pony Island (PC) artwork

Pony Island (PC) review


"Hail Pony Satan!"


Pony Island is a game about ponies. At least on the surface, or, at least, thatís what it wants you to believe. There are ponies included; thereís certainly no getting away from that fact. Happy little ponies, no less, gallivanting around basic pixel-crafted fields, leaping over the occasional obstacle in their simplistic trot from A to B. Itís just sometimes the game starts falling apart at the seams and the only way to continue is to try and mash disintegrating code together inelegantly. Sometimes, even when everythingís working as it should, the game stops caring about ponies just long enough to try and claim your soul.

Pony Island doesnít so much as break the fourth wall as it does appropriate its destruction into a working design mechanic. Youíre playing as you, playing an ancient arcade cabinet - except youíre not you; youíre possibly someone else. Itís all a bit unclear as you wade through the code of the game, fixing things up by way of C Basic meets Tetris. Itís a game that plays at not wanting to be played; you have to work towards your infrequent bouts of pony. Sometimes this means abusing glitches that take you back into a wall of nonsense code you need to manipulate. Thatís pedestrian; sometimes the game gets annoyed at the progress youíre not supposed to be making and changes things on the fly, making it impossible to advance. Until you find a way to bypass that. Then the game gets angry and labels you a dirty cheater for the duration of your stay.

Pony Island (PC) image


Some of Pony Island is trying to find a way into hidden developer testing options that you shouldnít have access to. Some of it is trying to find hidden tickets that the you that you are playing collects from the machine, his/your little virtual arms waving it about in celebration. These are awarded begrudgingly Ė every sliver of progress you make is against the whims of the machine that does not want you to win. It doesnít want you to live; it would much rather you just insert your soul and stop making such a fuss about ponies.

Itís a bit like sitting down to watch a cheesy all-ages cartoon made on a budget of soapflakes and discovering what you have instead is a kind of interactive Evil Dead 2 that openly hates you and wants you to go away. Suddenly, simple jumps become huge stretches of water and the game offers you a solution, and then drowns it in smug grind. It forces you to either waste an eternity in tedium or continue to abuse glitches and further invoke the ire of the sentient machine. Suddenly, these once open stretches have enemy forces introduced out of nothing but spite and God complexes. Youíve no way to defend yourself unless you break the game in specific ways until you do.

Pony Island (PC) image


Itís clever about it, too. Several times, youíll nod your head in appreciation at being outsmarted by a crafty bit of meta-chicanery. This certainly beats being frustrated by it, as could have been the case with a more ham-fisted approach. Pony Islandís war against you is more subtle than that, using an almost Eternal Darkness-esque approach to throwing you off your game. It will make you click prompts you donít want to by taking control of your mouse, leaving you just enough control to try and unsuccessfully fight it off, or re-bind your keys so you type in messages of support and adulation you donít mean. It quietly finds ways to muddle your expectations and, with a normal run time of between two and three hours, ensures it doesnít linger around to out stay its welcome.

Pony Island came out of nowhere; it snuck beneath the radar only to show up so it can troll you. Itís a game about playing a game that isnít really a game; itís a sentient arcade cabinet Ė that just happens to contain a game featuring the odd pony Ė that wants to drive you mad and swallow your soul. But sometimes itís more; there are hints of grander schemes shifting in the shadows, hidden beneath the code. Pony Island is a game about ponies. But thatís just what it wants you to believe.

4/5

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (January 09, 2016)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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overdrive posted January 13, 2016:

I must say, you might have outdone yourself in the field of finding really weird indie (at least I'm assuming as much) PC titles with this one.
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EmP posted January 13, 2016:

If you ever feel the need to find out just how damn weird it is, I recorded the entire playthrough HERE.

It is weird. It's also brilliant.

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