A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Pony Island is a downloadable puzzler about a children's video game that has been hacked, seemingly, by Satan himself. There are no religious overtones; Satan is used as a stand-in for a general big bad guy. The story itself unravels in a surprising and unexpected way you wouldn't glean from the screenshots with which the game markets itself, but it makes good on the coy promise that "it is not a game about ponies." Expect a heavy drone in the background to accompany you while you pick at and poke apart what's made this arcade machine go awry. You do that via quick bursts of levels and puzzles that pay homage to and parody general video-game logic and, indeed, spend more time poking around on icons and hacking than you do with ponies. It sounds strange, and that's because it is.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's it about?
PONY ISLAND doesn't have a great big epic narrative but rather a central mystery: Why is this arcade machine seemingly haunted and possessed? Rather than go all over on huge, huge quests to investigate, you plant yourself in front of the console, clicking, poking, and prodding to figure out what's going on. After your first run through Pony Island -- a simplistic platformer -- the machine starts to sputter and act bizarrely. Rising from the glitches are two voices; one seems to want to help you escape the machine's wrath. The other belongs to Satan, who wants to trap you in the game forever. It's all heightened for maximum comedic effect because, obviously, you're not trapped at all: You see your hands extend to pluck tickets from the machine every time you accomplish something particularly difficult. Or are those hands an illusion and you are, in fact, trapped? You'll figure this all out, plus what's going on, by the game's end.
Is it any good?
This is an extremely weird, charming, funny game. It's funny because it plays around with your expectations of what a game can do, and it subverts your expectations and familiarity with what games are supposed to do. It's like a mini-game collection on a clothesline: Together, they all tell a bigger story while zooming around the narrative rather than dishing out short distractions for amusement's sake alone. The least fun mini-games involve a flowing current through a series of basic computer commands represented by arrow icons. The goal with those games are to shuffle the arrows into an order that guides a key icon to a lock icon. This gets harder when you have to pay closer attention to the logic, such as when a certain variable must be above or below a certain number, which in turn can only be manipulated by creating carefully managed loops throughout the greater circuit. If that sounds a little confusing, that's because it is.
Though it's intended to create a more cerebral type of action in the game, it also slows down the stranger and more interesting interactions that take place here. Pony Island shines when you find yourself instant-messaging with the devil and your in-game friend simultaneously, playing ridiculous action levels (you can unlock wings and lasers for the pony), and simply uncovering the many quirks in this self-aware machine. It's weird. It's charming. It's funny. It's Pony Island.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how we personify objects or things but don't really think of them as having personalities or desires all their own. Why is that? Where are those separations?
Why do things such as technology and machines break down and eventually die or become obsolete? If something could be built to last forever, should it? Why, or why not?
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