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Review: Pony Island

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I wouldn't want to work in advertising. Granted, my crippling cocaine allergy and possession of a soul might prove barriers to such a career path but there's more to it than that. I simply wouldn't know what do when tasked with promoting a product that defies categorization.  Fight Club is one such 'product', a film that doesn't comfortably fit into any of the traditional genres. Pony Island, an initially unassuming game which recently popped up on Steam, is similarly genre-defying.


The game's title screen, which has a brightly coloured pony leaping joyfully around, attempts to lure you into a sense of false security. Indeed, the second result on Google for 'Pony Island' is in fact some kind of My Little Pony style website.  However, the truth is much darker, Pony Island's premise being that you've been ensnared by a possessed arcade cabinet, the titular Pony Island, and must escape its demonic clutches. This entails jumping, blasting and puzzling your way across a range of gloomy Atari 2600 style levels, in a game that blends elements from a range of distinct and usually unrelated genres.


My own dalliance with Pony Island came as a result of word-of-mouth advertisement, having heard the game mentioned on various podcasts and websites. The fact that it had been favourably compared to Undertale, a game I am deeply enamoured with, persuaded me to stump up the game's meagre £3.99 asking price. My initial impressions were favourable and while I'm loathe to give too much away for spoiling the game, I can confirm that Pony Island will confound your expectations and mess with you in a number of ways.


However, my interest in the game started to wane about half an hour in, when I found myself trudging through several samey running – or should that be cantering – sections. I was sorely tempted to exit the game right then and there and take advantage of Steam's refund policy.  Though in the end, I decided to stick with it, largely because of the positive reception the title had received. Fortunately, the game introduced a new mechanic shortly after, which reignited my interest in  the game.  

Despite the oft-made comparisons, Pony Island doesn't clear the bar set by Undertale. I found it lacking the strong characterisation which made me want to replay Toby Fox's much vaunted RPG again and again. There are apparently plot elements which unlocked when you play the game through again, but I didn't find myself sufficiently motivated to do so.  Yet Pony Island is still a very unique and entertaining game in its own right,  one which continued to surprise me with unexpected twists and turns. Dark, different and occasionally thought provoking, it's well worth ponying up the cash for.

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About ChrisHannardone of us since 4:27 PM on 09.03.2015