If you’re looking for your latest dose of madness in the form of indie gaming, than you need look no further then Pony Island, the latest piece of viral gaming to be developed by a single man and take off like wildfire. Already the game is being compared to Undertale but is that really a valid comparison, or just the hype machine of Youtubers, Twitchers, and Tweeters actively trying to build a new phenomenon that will be to the benefit of all involved?
Well, that’s a bit of a loaded question, and the answer invariably falls between the recesses of “yes” or “no”, halting in the neighborhood of “maybe” and “that depends on your opinion”. Though Pony Island is clever and quite a lot of fun, it’s difficult to imagine it having near the impact that Undertale did, especially with Undertale being a bit of phenomenon even still. In fact, Undertale was actually awarded GameFAQs’ best game of all time as voted by fans, beating out the usual suspects like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Final Fantasy VII for the coveted prize. So that should give you some idea as to why not just any game is going to give it a run for its money, and certainly not so soon as this.
Still, Pony Island is worth your while even if it might never reach such lofty heights as a game-changer like Undertale. Focusing on an arcade cabinet that has been infected by the devil, you take on the dual role of a man in what appears to be a haunted arcade, and, of course, the titular Pony! The game starts off as a simple version of basic platforming with you simply jumping over gates by clicking the mouse to continue before morphing into something more sinister, as old Satan himself pops up to corrupt your game.
From here you’re prompted into a back and forth swap from genre to genre as you’re forced to challenge levels, advance along an adventure map (a la Super Mario Bros 3), battle demons and corrupted files, and exploit a hacking mechanic in order to break the game and allow yourself to earn advantages, cheat, and make your way to the finish.
The genre swaps can be a bit daunting and jarring as they occur but that’s part of the fun, and even if Pony Island does occasionally frustrate, it does so deliberately. Each time you crack the code and figure out how to advance, you can’t help but be filled with a sense of accomplishment and relief. It’s sort of like beating a computer at chess in that regard, as outsmarting a machine of such evil intellect is always endlessly satisfying in a way that only Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese could possibly conceive of.
Also, even if the game is a tad short (certainly not such a bad thing in this era of one overstuffed triple AAA title after another) it’s filled with easily enough insane humor, meta storytelling,and general wackiness to justify its minimal pricetag of just over $5.00. Besides, if the game had been any longer, it might have risked overstaying its welcome, as some of the mechanics do grow a bit thin, particularly if you’re attempting to rip through it in a single sitting.
A quick, breezy, and palate-cleansing little gem, and one with a great 8-bit soundtrack to boot, Pony Island is absolutely worth a look for players who are into the more experimental and genre-defying category of the new age of indie titles. If David Lynch put together an Atari game it would probably look something like this, and that’s no small praise even if it doesn’t always soar. After all, Inland Empire had its issues as well, but we’ve certainly never seen anything like it before or since.