A strange indie game appeared on Steam just a few days into the new year. Pony Island is not a game about ponies. Not in the slightest. No, Pony Island is about a demonic arcade machine where instead of inserting coins, you insert your soul in order to play. It’s meant to be an endless game of a pony jumping over obstacles, until you hack the game.
The game doesn’t like that.
Story & Mechanics
You manage to escape from the game itself, but you’re still stuck on the Satantech computer. Then enters h0peles$0ul, supposedly another victim of this machine, trapped here for eternity like you will be if you don’t do something to get yourself free. The only way to escape is to destroy the three core files, but how can you even know if this person is your friend? Along the way you collect tickets and uncover passwords in order to find out who you are and how you got stuck in this video game purgatory.
As you hack the game you unlock new powers, including pony lasers and wings, as well as fixes for the corrupted files in order to solve puzzles and escape from the system. It’s probably a gamer’s worst nightmare to be trapped in an unfair game with a game master who wants to torture you for eternity.
Hacking mostly takes form of replacing symbols in function boxes and is pretty chill. Occasionally, you’ll have to work against another force to make it work, but it resets if it doesn’t work. The rest of the game is moving through Pony Island as it changes and going through the computer system itself. Once the gameplay moves to Adventure Mode, levels will reset when you die instead of there being a certain amount of lives. The creepiness comes mostly from the story and atmosphere as well as from the mystery of what the heck is going on. Core files are named after biblical demons like Azazel, which begs the question if this is meant to literally be a game from hell or purgatory.
Graphics & Audio
Now for the breakdown. First off, I’m giving graphics a full 5 stars. They’re pretty good for an indie and it helps with the horror aspect of the game with text being disturbing just to look at and pictures that make you want to just ‘NOPE’ right out of there. Why shouldn’t they get full marks? The whole setup really does scream ‘ancient computer from hell’ even without the satanic imagery and references.
The music sounds like the devil himself is watching you suffer and during the beginning when you have access to the audio settings, you can increase the sound of Hellfire, which just sounds like crackling flames, but the idea makes me laugh all the same. The music is sinister and it fits perfectly with the game. Sound effects work great and add just add more creepy realism to the game. That’s why music gets a full 5 stars.
Gameplay & Atmosphere
Before I go on to gameplay, I want to make it clear that I’m not a puzzle person, and that this is a puzzle game. I wanted to play this game because of it’s apparent mastery of atmosphere and the interesting premise. That said, as someone who doesn’t like puzzles very much, it wasn’t hard to figure out the basics and as the hacking system was changed, I was able to quickly grasp what was going on and get things working within a few tries since the board just resets if you screw up. However, I find the game to be slightly repetitive, though I suppose it’s meant to be, and that’s why I am knocking one star off. Otherwise, the game is interesting and while it was sometimes frustrating when I would repeatedly die, I felt confident throughout that I could still win even if I wasn’t sure I wanted to win and go further into this game from hell. So, for gameplay, Pony Island scores a 4 out of 5 stars.
Charm here, the atmosphere of the game – which is incredibly important in a horror game – has been done very well. This game doesn’t need any blood or guts to freak me out, just a freaky computer game and not knowing what’s going on. This game wields uncertainty like a master swordsman making you question your actions and allies and making you wonder if you really want to go any further. That’s why I think charm deserves a full 5 stars.
Overall, Pony Island earns a near-5. It’s a great game at a great price. You can’t beat a game this good for only $5 on steam. While it can be a little repetitive, the small changes, atmosphere, and story will get you through the game regardless, assuming you don’t want to just ‘NOPE’ and go elsewhere before you finish. Though not particularly bloody or scary in conventional ways, the sinister atmosphere and creepiness will make sure it ends up in my own nightmares.
Agree or disagree? Think I was too nice? Have a different opinion? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you!