From the minute you boot up the game, Pony Island really wants to fu** with you. Just getting passed the game’s cheerfully psychadelic startup menu is a delightfully bizarre puzzle in itself and acts as a sort of hor d’oeuvres to the anarchic madness that awaits you.
Not only does Pony Island want to fu** with you, but it also demands a piece of you: your very soul. Herein lies the foundation of what Pony Island is, a sort of demonic horror puzzle game where you, the player, are trapped inside a dusty arcade cabinet tasked with escaping its evil clutches. The only way to escape, however, is by breaking the game’s code, crashing it and shutting the game down from the inside. It’s a superbly original premise that really delivers a satisfyingly memorable experience; I’m confident in saying that this is a game that will be remembered for a very long time.
To say too much about Pony Island and its wonderful mysteries would really spoil the game. It’s very much one of those special games that should be experienced with the bare minimum amount of background knowledge to get the most out of its astonishing and unforgettable journey. With this in mind, I’ll be painting with broad brushstrokes as to avoid spoilers.
There are many moving parts, both thematically and mechanically, within Pony Island, though its gameplay, for the most part, leans heavily on a retro endless runner style game where the player has to jump fences, shoot down butterflies with lazer-like gusts of wind and make it to the end level flag in one piece. Pony Island also focuses on a handful of hacking mini games, which despite being extremely clever, unfortunately overstay their welcome.
If you are looking at the game purely from a gameplay perspective it all comes across as pretty shallow stuff. However, I get the feeling that this may actually be a part of Pony Island’s underlying message, as incoherent as it is.
You see, that may be one of my only major gripes with the game: it’s message. Is it a condemnation of the shallow, soul crushing shovelware that developers on Steam, and the industry as a whole, squirts out on a regular basis? Is it a celebration of all things meta striving to stand tall amongst the Undertales, Stanley Parables or The Magic Circles of the world? Or is it a bit like the movie Big, but with an evil arcade machine cabinet game thing…?
To be honest, I’m really not entirely sure. Maybe its just me, but by the end of the game Pony Island reminded me of that wise old man in the pub who has had one too many vodkas; clever for sure, but muddled in its messaging – I just wish it had a little more to say. But I can say this for certain; it’s definitely a game I want to learn more about.
Pony Island is a fascinating game that really toys with player expectations and consistently surprises and amazes. A game like this, especially in this day and age, is as rare as finding a dodo’s egg – it’s a genuine treasure. Despite its woolly messaging and slightly repetetive gameplay mechanics Pony Island is a truly unique experience like no other.
Psycho Mantis, eat your heart out.
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