2016 is off and running and of course I’m playing a game about ponies, the devil, and messaging systems. I really feel like this is going to be the year of the in-game instant messenger. It’s about time. This may be the only one, however, which has the IM chats be between you and demons.
Now, I am not a fan of satanic ritual or the act of trapping human souls in an eternal cycle of playing a terrible video game. Well, not anymore at least. That was something reserved for my college years. But, ‘Pony Island’ is a fantastic simulator of lost human souls and a terribly tragic unfinished video game so… let’s talk about how I feel. Because that’s important to me and I was pleasantly surprised by ‘Pony Island’.
‘Pony Island’ pulls no punches when it comes to weirdness. It is actually quite relentless in its theme and message. At least I thought there might be a message. In the end, I don’t think there was. For awhile I was positive they were mocking shitty video games with a focus on repetition and grinding. I think they were making fun of that, but that’s not the purpose of the video game by any stretch of the imagination.
‘Pony Island’ is all about toying with expectations. Each twist and turn is unexpected and it does some really cool things with game narrative. For example, the first time you boot into ‘Pony Island’ the game menu is broken, so you have to go into the options and use the “fix start menu” option. It’s not a brilliant moment but at least it gives you a hint as to where the direction of the game is heading.
Most of the gameplay centers around puzzles and playing different versions of ‘Pony Island’. The game within the game is quite boring, which is intentional. It’s a free running platformer where a pony jumps over gates. Eventually you get the ability to float and shoot lasers but it’s pretty atrocious throughout. The purpose of this is obvious. This is hell. They are getting their point across well because I hated every minute of playing the game within a game. I wouldn’t say it detracted from my overall experience, but it’s worth noting that about half of this game just isn’t very enjoyable. This is a work of art more than it is a video game. It’s bad at certain elements on purpose and that should be noted for those who want to enjoy themselves. Making a game like ‘Pony Island’ comes at a significant cost to the enjoyment of the game. I have come to terms with the gameplay of ‘Pony Island’, but many won’t and I can’t blame them.
There are also a significant amount of puzzles in ‘Pony Island’. I thought these were significantly better than the platformer elements. The hacking puzzles are pretty awesome and intelligent although never too difficult. This is likely purposeful to keep the game moving along. ‘Pony Island’ is only about two hours long, so it’s likely a one sitting game for most people, but I had to break it up between two different sit downs because at some point I was just sick of playing the segments. It just got old very quickly. Luckily, however, ‘Pony Island’ later redeemed itself.
There are some really brilliant moments in ‘Pony Island’. It takes much of what you expect out of a video game and messes with your perception of these tropes, as these types of games often do. It makes you wonder in which other ways games can take the medium and that is really saying something, as many of the tricks have been explored. ‘Pony Island’ is most definitely paving its own sadistic terrible way.
I don’t think ‘Pony Island’ is the new ‘Undertale’ as many people seem to believe. It was occasionally frustrating and it says plenty that I had to put it down out of boredom at some point. That doesn’t take away from some moments of brilliance, but it by no means makes ‘Pony Island’ a great game. I’m glad to see the experimental nature of indie games is coming back and I hope this continues throughout 2016. As for ‘Pony Island’, I’ll probably end up forgetting it at some point, lost as a memory as an okay little thing, a sign of promise, but also something that choked a bit on its premise. A game that couldn’t quite balance its conviction and remain enjoyable throughout its completion.