Fourth wall breaks and related shenanigans are quite common in mainstream media nowadays with the likes of the Deadpool movie reaching wide audiences everywhere. Consequently, it has become so commonplace to shoehorn in self aware humour and 4th wall breaks in every single thing and a ridiculous number of indie games are in some capacity about hacking the game itself and changing the save files and what not. But a couple of years ago, specifically, Undertale in 2015 and Pony Island in 2016, were games that I think really brought this meta aspect of games to the attention of a large audience. Personally, I thought Undertale was better. But it seems unfair to compare the two games. They do share a couple of similarities though, both follow a meta narrative and have similar starting points with the main character finding himself/herself in a world they do not comprehend, but Pony Island heavily dives into the 4th wall breaks whereas Undertale is a bit more grounded in reality and only occasionally does this (except for that ending, boy that shit was ridiculous). Both were created mostly by a single person and both of them have awesome soundtracks (Undertale's soundtrack is definitely much better, but still both are enjoyable).
So onto the actual review, but WAIT!
VERY IMPORTANT NOTICE : The less you know about this game's narrative and lore, the better. So I'm going to use really vague terms, please bear with me here guys.
I would describe Pony Island as the perfect example of below than average gameplay, but terrific presentation. What this game's gameplay boils down to is a simple 2-D platformer game where you can jump, glide and shoot. And a hacking game, which follows logic similar to those seen in kids programming language puzzles. Have a look at that, doesn't seem really interesting amirite? But what this game excels in is the presentation, the pacing is so well done that you wouldn't even realize that all you are doing is solving a couple of casual puzzles and completing a couple of platformer levels that are well... competent I guess. You are just so engrossed in the narrative and what's going to happen next that you really wouldn't care about what the gameplay loop is.
The premise of the game is weird (the whole demons and souls and arcades thing) but its alright. I'm ready to buy into it. But where this game falters is the conclusion, there is nothing done with the game's setting or even an attempt to explain why this world is, how it is. I guess this could be intentional on part of the dev, to try to encourage the community to come up with their own theories, but the problem with this is that there is not even a basic explanation as to what's happening, so it all feels really "less rewarding" when you finish the game (gotta get dat sweet dopamine somehow). There's certain secrets in this game that you can discover by finding NPCs at specific places (I guess its like the Dark Souls of NPCs), they try to answer some of your questions about yourself, this world and the timeline. That's awesome, just what I wanted. But the thing is, its still too vague. The answers to some of these questions are really interesting and worth looking more into, but the game does nothing with it, hence why I felt so "less rewarded" when the game finished (perhaps there could be another game, a spinoff of sorts, which explains the story of the main character, but it definitely cannot be a meta game like this one). There's also hidden collectibles in-game that are rewarded for doing things/actions that are off the beaten path and some of these actions are like way, way off the beaten path and that's good, makes the game fun, trying to find these hidden actions.
If I haven't made it clear already, gameplay isn't that fun. So its no surprise that the boss fights are boring. But... the game circumvents this limitation by making the boss fights not just be about fighting and fisticuffs, especially in the second last boss fight, that was way too meta for me. Recoiled in my chair when I realized what was happening (if you have played this game, you know what I'm talking about). This gimmick can only last for a single playthrough though, so replayability is definitely thrown out the window. The last boss fight was definitely lacklustre, but it had an epic feel to it with the battle music and all, so that's fine by me.
The game's really not that long, took me about 4 or 5 hours to finish it. And this is why I said earlier that the pacing is really good. If this game stretched out even for just a little bit, I was going to be fatigued, because by that point, you start to realize what the gameplay actually is. So props to David Mullins for that.And by the way, there's a secret ending to this game and I think it will be pretty obvious how to achieve that. The ending itself though, seemed lazy and really pointless, but I guess the self-awareness and purpose of the character makes it tolerable I suppose.
Final aspect to cover, the soundtrack. While it doesn't have a lot of tracks, the few ones it does have are quite good. The thing is, the game incorporates the use of the "sound of silence" and ambient sounds more than actual tracks as the game proceeds on, reciprocating the increasing sense of hopelessness that you feel in this world as the narrative moves on and that lends a certain vibe to the game, although after a while it gets a bit boring but nonetheless good soundtrack.
So.. to sum up, I would say Pony Island is a good game with some interesting ideas and things that you might not have seen before (but with the current indie scene being filled with these kind of games, I find that hard to believe) and a fun, short adventure at a reasonable price too. Go for the full price babyeeeeeee!
Final Word : Asmodeus? More like Asmodeus ruin all my friendships pls amirite?!
Final Rating : 8.5/10