Pony Island is an interesting little puzzle game. You find what seems like an old arcade machine with an AI that is alive in many respects. You’re greeted with a bubbly, happy splash screen. The AI speaks to you. It’s a setup that’s been seen before, in many games. And yet, this time it feels very different.
The game starts out as a runner. You’re controlling a pony with the goal of just getting to the end. After a couple levels, though, Pony Island ramps up the satanism by a lot. And by that, I mean you become the herald for someone trapped in the game, trying to break free. Pony Island transitions into this section of the game very well. I think that for a game jam game like this, it pulls off getting into the meat of the game really well.
So, you’ve met this person via a chat interface inside this arcade machine’s computer. You’ve talked for a while. Another AI introduces itself, with seemingly more evil intentions than the first. Its main goal is to keep you in the game, to keep you playing. The first person says it’s due to errors in the game’s code, and that they’ll help you get to the faulty bits for you to fix them.
As far as puzzles go, the coding is easy enough to figure out. There are certain tiles that will progress the cursor to the next line, to the previous line, move it between columns, or make it repeat from a certain point. The running sections are what’s difficult– turns out it’s kind of hard to focus on jumping, shooting a laser from a pony’s inorganically moving head, and dodge projectiles. Yes, sometimes all at once. This was my only frustration. It made it difficult to progress, and running through the same beginning section of one particular level was boring after the first fifteen attempts.
Pony Island doesn’t stand out in terms of gameplay. It’s very standard, and the puzzles have an interesting spin. I’d go so far as to say that while it is a video game, its main purpose was to be a medium to tell the story. As you play the game, you begin to realize that the AI with evil intentions is, spoilers, Literally Satan™. It’s designed the game to capture lost souls who may decide to play it, you included. It’s spent time reinventing the game and trying to draw in bigger crowds, even as you play. It breaks the fourth wall, but not in that awkward way that some other games would. For me, at least, it drew me in and kept me in. I didn’t even question the part where I killed Jesus.
In summary, Pony Island is a really, really solid game, and probably one of my favorite indie titles to come out this year. While the indie scene was being overshadowed with Undertale stealing the spotlight for many Game of the Year awards, Pony Island managed to hold its own enough to garner some attention for a little while.