by Jed Pressgrove
In its simplest form, Pony Island is an endless-runner game in which you control a pony that must jump hurdles and shoot enemies. But within minutes it’s obvious that designer Daniel Mullins only intends to mess with you, doling out hackneyed meta tricks like the game “crashing” and an omniscient presence telling you what you should do. While some of these jokes might be fun at first (the options screen that goes awry is the most inspired part), Mullins wears out every idea, much like Davey Wreden did in The Stanley Parable, with the apparent goal of impressing easily amused hip gamers.
Like The Stanley Parable, Pony Island encourages the nonsensical, anti-intellectual stance that you can’t talk about the game without spoiling it. Thus, discussing Pony Island can be as big of a joke as the game itself, resulting in everything from Zoe Quinn’s hideous “Top 10 Games of 2014” entry to Angus Morrison’s hesitant interpretation to Jim Sterling’s admittance that Pony Island partly exists to “show off how clever the developer is.”
To my knowledge, no critic has answered this question yet: how clever is it to offer a hacking exercise for numbskulls? Pony Island presents coding puzzles where the only object is to make sure you position arrow icons so that the next part of the game can be unlocked. Other sections reinforce a sense of utter pointlessness, such as when you must chase around a window with a mouse cursor or engage in inane instant-messenger conversations with paranoid characters. Since Pony Island is a game within a game that does not want to be played, the real solution is to stop praising indie sadists like Mullins whose work is just as vapid as the popular, conventional video games they sneer at.