Pony Island Review - The Devil's Game

Author: Benjamin Schäfer
Date: 2016-01-21 15:13:00
Pony Island surprises us, dupes us and doesn't let us go until the end. What started out as a game jam game for the Ludum Dare 31 turned out to be an experimental gem in our test.

Ponies and hoes

A special feature of Pony Island is that we play someone in Pony Island who plays Pony Island on a slot machine. And this Pony Island in Pony Island is incredibly lame. We jump over hill and dale with our horse until we reach the end of a stage - a flagpole - and then we start all over again. In between, the game rewarded us with leveling up for our masterpiece and donated a laser beam with which we can defend ourselves against demons. Sounds dull, but it has a principle. Repetitive sadness is wanted.

Because the hell prince himself has discovered Pony Island. With his programming skills, he changed the once loving and colorful program to his liking to catch souls. Ours, of course. But even with the first loading bar, we notice that Satan cannot be the world's best programmer. Pony Island gets stuck, slips in many places and enables us to enter the source code of the slot machine game via small portals.

There we diligently manipulate the devil with given building blocks to get ahead. Don't worry, the source code doesn't shine at us in clean C ++, Python or assembler, but in a mixture of mathematical operations, plain text and special characters. However, like the rest of the game, only in English.

Is this still part of the game?

In addition to chopping, bouncing and a dark retro look, Pony Island also comes up with absurdly brilliant moments that often break through the fourth wall, meaning that they appeal to us as players. To give a concrete example here would take away the appeal of the corresponding moment. Maybe just that much: Pony Island made us write a message to an old college friend after five years of radio silence.

The crazy piece of software confronts all levels with surprises and mysterious events that don't really fit into the context and go beyond the actual framework of the game. This is how Pony Island plays with our perception in a wonderful way. Not as elaborate as Anti-Chamber with our spatial imagination, but at least so that we have to look twice to find out whether this or that error message was part of Pony Island or not.

Hope for the hopeless

Playing a game in the game, riding ponies and tricking the devil in programming: Pony Island also embeds its game mechanics in a story. Before we try to stand up to the Beelzebub, a "hopeless soul" speaks to us and asks for our help. We're supposed to delete three core files to break Lucifer's power. Each of these files is guarded by one of his servants.

In order to get past the boss opponents, we deny modified versions of hacking and pony riding. These versions require us to combine all the skills we have learned. Pony Island follows a "learning by doing" approach and lets us fail until we find the trick. The reset points are fair, only in one or two places did we find our failure annoying. With hacker deposits, too, we quickly find out how the code bunny is running and solve the problems with a little thought.

Only one puzzle in the last third of the game was only possible by trying it out wildly and even then we were not sure what the solution was. This is bearable, however, because otherwise Pony Island convinced us across the board with its crazy, brilliant ideas and a coherent, devil-obsessed game world.