Purple Ponies Shooting Lasers in Hell
I broke the options menu. No, wait, I was going to tell this story chronologically: I boot Pony Island, enter the start menu, and watch purple ponies prancing across a sunny meadow. I hit New Game… and see another main menu. This main menu is different from the first: It lacks the pretty colours and is framed by an arcade machine. I take a look at the options menu and click on Fix Start Menu so that I can enter the first level. The Back button falls to the floor of the screen. Amused and slightly embarrassed, I try to return to a main menu. No can do.
I hope YOU approve this review of Pony Island. Excuse me. What I wanted to say is that I eventually fixed the options menu and started playing through the first level. I click the left mouse button to have my pony hop over a fence while it is galloping across… a bleak desert littered with dead trees. The purple pony has lost its colour, and I can right-click to shoot lasers at mechanical butterflies. In the banal action sequence that follows, I shoot and hop until I reach the finishing line. Hurray! I am showered with undeserved praise.
There is no level two. The only way to continue playing Pony Island is to quit “Pony Island,” the arcade version of the game that Pony Island is about. I escape “Pony Island” through cracks in the code and find myself in a desktop environment. I double-click a chat icon and start a conversation with what appears to be the developer of “Pony Island.” I struggle to determine whether they are disappointed in me or the quality of their game: “The feedback loop for completing mundane jumping tasks wasn’t engaging enough for you. It was so TERRIBLE that you had to escape. You just had to.” It’s not like I had a choice, right?
Pony Island is a puzzle game that requires timing and precision whenever you hop over fences and shoot lasers at mechanical butterflies, but the indie title is at its best when it sets up expectations and then deliberately thwarts them. I was both taken aback and amused by the game’s unconventional behaviour when I broke the options menu or was forced to quit playing “Pony Island” in order to continue playing Pony Island. Characters know more than they should and address me as a player of the game, breaking the fourth wall. Passages that are physically challenging pale in comparison to and occasionally distract from interactions that challenge the player emotionally. More often than not, interrupting a disturbing, hilarious, or thought-provoking passage of play to hop over a few fences is a nuisance rather than a welcome change of pace.
The game’s unsettling response to player input is complemented by creepy audiovisuals that feed off of contrast. Pony Island is all purple and sunny yellow whereas “Pony Island” is covered in black and bloody red. Beneath the clean and colourful surface of Pony Island lies a dark, devil-infested world riddled with broken code and self-doubt. This contrast creates tension that is eventually resolved as the player is asked to uninstall Pony Island to ensure that the bloody mess that is “Pony Island” cannot continue to trouble its developer or pester its trapped players.
Publisher: Daniel Mullins Games
Developer: Daniel Mullins Games
Platforms: Linux, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Mac operating systems
Release Date: 04 January 2016
Genres: Indie, Suspense, Puzzle
Pictures: Featured image: Pony Nature Horse. Uploaded by Grafikacesky:
Fig. 1, 2, 4: Screenshots of Pony Island (Daniel Mullins Games 2016), taken by Uriel Nyffenegger
Fig. 3: Promotional pictures of Pony Island (Daniel Mullins Games 2016), https://store.steampowered.com/app/405640/Pony_Island/
Passionate about games, literature, and philosophy, Uriel delights in feeling complex emotions and thinking big thoughts. Overwhelmed by emotions and thoughts, he plays basketball until he turns into metal Mario and needs a nap.
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