I love insanity in video games. When things go totally off the rails, there’s a strange kind of joy in watching the madness occur. Can the creative minds driving the madness manage to control this rampaging beast to its eventual conclusion? Can the creative minds distil this insanity into something that is coherent? Yet, not so insane that it turns into a fever dream and becomes intolerable? Well, Pony Island is insane. It’s madness in the form of a video game.
Where madness has been touched upon in video games before, thanks to the games of Suda51, Pony Island is a game within a game that is genuinely insane. Pony Island is an arcade game where you play as a pony that has to jump over obstacles. Fairly quickly, something inherently wrong raises its head within the game, and before you know it you have to hack the mainframe and remove malicious demonic elements from the game. The pure insanity of a bugged out game is at once confronting, yet oddly hilarious.
Visually, Pony Island is a joy to look at. It quite comfortably displays a retro aesthetic that doesn’t look cheap or forced. The screen of the machine is presented in all its ugly glory, featuring all the aspects of a game machine that you would expect. The smeared thumb print, the slight crack in the glass, the dark edges – all this adds to the immersion and enjoyment of the game and helps build the madness.
Thrown on top of the great visuals is some really great music. I’m glad that when I purchased this I opted for the bundle version that includes the soundtrack, because it’s definitely one I’ll be listening to often. Paired with this great soundtrack are some dark and gloomy sound effects, such as ominous groaning and creaking from within the game itself. These effects all add up to create a great experience.
In fact, the visual style of Pony Island plus the dark audio tones all add up to create an oddly creepy experience. To make things clear, Pony Island isn’t a horror game, however, just like that moment in a kids film where something unexpectedly ‘dark’ appears (like the cartoon shoe’s death in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), there are moments like that scattered throughout the game. These work well to create an uneasiness within this haunted game, and also help change up the tone quite a bit; one minute I would be laughing, the next I’d have a shiver down my spine.
It’s then unfortunate that greater innovation wasn’t invested in the ‘game’ elements of Pony Island. The idea of a mad, possessed game is great and one that’s steeped in urban legends, so to see that the game elements add up to simple puzzles and very basic platforming is a little disappointing. Fortunately there are moments that do break down the fourth wall, but I wish that this occurred a little more, which is an odd complaint, given how short the game is. It’s akin to a bank robbery; Pony Island gets in, it does what it needs to do, and then leaves with a bang. This is not to say it’s over too soon, in fact, quite the opposite – I felt it lasted just the right amount of time.
Overall, Pony Island flips its mood on a dime, which is something that makes for an overall enjoyable experience that constantly keeps you on edge with its madness and insane humour. I probably would have liked if it pushed things even further and made itself just a little more unique, but overall I had a great time playing this and look forward to listening to the music again and again.
It’s worthwhile noting as well that hidden among all this possessed code in Pony Island is a mildly working version of Catan – something I found quite amusing. I would say more – but to mention more about it would spoil some of the joy from exploring the game.