After long days of purging the wicked it’s nice to just take a load off, walk down to the local arcade, and play some Pony Island. Let your worries slip away as you hop over gates and annihilate your enemies with deadly lasers. Some say the game isn’t complete but how can a game so perfect be unfinished? Enough talk of doubt. Now, insert your soul to continue and get lots of tickets from the Pony Island machine.
Pony Island was made by Daniel Mullins for the Ludum Dare 48 game jam with the theme being ‘Entire Game on One Screen’. It earned high praise at the game jam and inspired Mullins to try to get it on Steam through Steam Greenlight. Mullins wanted to make a game that defied player’s expectations, a game that almost didn’t want to be played.
The Greenlight campaign was successful and Pony Island was released on January 4th, 2016. It’s competition was Oxenfree (PC, Mac, and XBox One), Darkest Dungeon (PC and Mac), and That Dragon, Cancer (PC, Mac, and Droid).
Play this game blind, people. The less you know, the better. I watched Jesse Cox’s playthrough of it on an idle Saturday before I played it and it kind of ruined the experience for me. It’s a fine playthrough, that’s not the problem, the problem is that it’s a game meant to be experienced firsthand on one’s own. Naturally, this review will have the lightest spoilers possible and intentionally obfuscate anything important. So once you’re done reading this, speak of it to no one, immediately purchase the game, and then finish it in one sitting — the clock is ticking before you get spoiled from somewhere! Well, that’s a little extreme. What I’m really saying is be careful how much you look up about this game.
Pony Island is split between pony platforming sections and puzzle sections. Pony platforming consists of jumping, gliding, and shooting lasers at enemies — don’t fret if you die, it just takes you to the beginning of the stage. It seems simple at first but the mouse controls, left click for jump/glide and right click for lasers, can be a little tricky.
Puzzle sections consist of navigating pseudo-code segments. You can use certain commands blocks to change the course of the cursor through the code. Therefore changing the operations of the block and allowing you to do whatever it is you’re doing. That being said, why are you messing around in the code? Isn’t that, like, cheating or something?
The developer of Pony Island — um, in the game canon, not Mullins himself — is a pretty tragic character. I was genuinely sympathetic to his desires to be loved and appreciated despite his methods and goals.
This game is weird and silly and fantastical. I almost busted a gut laughing.
The game sits firmly in the Goldilocks zone of difficulty, not too hard and not too easy. The puzzles are quite intuitive and the platforming controls tripped me up at first but I eventually got the hang of them. The only thing that I needed outside help on was how to find all the secret hidden tickets.
Speaking of hidden tickets! For all you completionists out there, there are hidden secret tickets. If you’ve got the inclination you can get all 24. I’m certain something good will happen if you find them all.
The bosses in this game were fantastic. There’s a puzzle boss, a platforming boss, and then a boss who’s something different entirely. They present an incredibly fun challenge.
There’s not a lot of gameplay that’s related to the story. It overall feels less like a game and more like a story with gameplay elements attached. The game is fine, I liked the story, but I’m not exactly certain what they’re doing in the same room with each other.
Is there anything more annoying that being shown up by someone? There’s a counterpart character in this game who’s clearly more powerful than you and knows way more about what’s going on. He exhibits bizarre abilities but refuses to explain anything about his abilities or who he is. I guess that’s his character but I wanted to wring some truth or meaning from him.
I would say that Pony Island is well worth someone’s money and time. It’s only $5 on Steam and even though I was spoiled hard I was still able to have fun with it. I feel like it’s got a lot to say about game development and the act of creation. And if you don’t care about that then hey, at least there are cool puzzles.
Next Week: Defend Your Castle