Pony Island is not a game about ponies. It’s a game about pure evil. It’s a game about desperation and escape. It’s a game about sifting through lines of code to find an advantage against impossible odds. It’s also slightly a game about ponies. But most importantly, it’s the first must play game of 2016.
Pony Island doesn’t really fit well in any genre. It’s closest contemporaries are probably games like The Stanley Parable, Undertale and The Beginner’s Guide. It’s a game that plays with your expectations and isn’t afraid to revel in how smart it is. On the face of it, Pony Island is a simplistic platformer, where you guide a pony over fences to reach a goal. Very quickly though, Pony Island becomes something very different entirely as you dive deep into the programming of the game to try and find a way out. The ultimate goal of Pony Island is to not play Pony Island.
The actual gameplay takes two main paths, although you never quite know what you’re in for as many variations exist if you look deep enough. One moment, you are actually ‘playing’ the game, the next you are clicking through a virtual computer, talking to other lost souls who have been trapped in the cabinet by the games antagonist, Satan.
Yes, that’s right. Lucifer himself designed the game, and you constantly lock horns with him throughout your explorations. He will try to cut off your options, forcing you to rewrite code to enable them again. The rewriting takes the form of a puzzle where you are redirecting a key along lines of text. These puzzles are always just fiendish enough to stump you for a moment, and then prove satisfying when you finally crack them.
Pony Island is a game where you never quite know what is going to happen next, so I’m not going to spoil any of the fantastic moments that happened during my playthrough. Just know that there were multiple instances where I actually laughed out loud, usually after being duped by the game. Pony Island constantly reinvents itself so you can never really feel comfortable with what you’re doing, and more to the point, whether you’re doing it right.
Pony Island is best digested whole, only taking about two hours to complete, and is one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had in gaming. It really is that good.
Pony Island is one hell of a ride from start to finish, taking your expectations and shattering them at every turn. It really is a phenomenal achievement, and one that is right up there with games like The Stanley Parable. It’s very early in the year but this one could end up on a few Game of the Year lists already. Play it. Now.