Father, forgive me as we tread into the darkest parts of men’s hearts. A story of friendship and adventure turned into a fight for survival. It’s not every day that you play a “family friendly game” and halfway through it you realize the horror in front of you. What starts out as a cute wonderful adventure turns into the harsh reality of facing your own personal demons. Losing it all, broken and alone, you only realize the gravity of your situation once the world opens up to swallow you whole.
Welcome to the grim reality of Pony World 3.
Let’s get right into this, shall we?
At first glance, you’d simply assume this is a game for preteen girls who love the shit out of ponies. As correct as this is, it’s a more complex game than your first impressions might indicate. To those who dare tread these dangerous waters, get ready for a lesson from the school of hard knocks. You’re getting free schooling in “Life’s Hard Lessons 101,” masked behind the cute curtain of Pony World.
We assume by the playful colors and 3D pony animations that this is some sort of My Little Pony knock off. Never have we been so wrong. The game is a Pony Simulator with some aspects of survival; you’ll be building a house, gathering food, maintaining a job and eventually starting a family. Well, time to get knocked onto your ass and face life’s hard reality; as we go further into this pasture, you will see the horror, the fight for survival, and the struggle of being a full fledged adult, alone.
First, let’s start with the in-depth character creation page. As you see below, we had total freedom and a full suite of customization options when making our own unique pony (which I named Orion). The developers did a fantastic job by giving full artistic latitude when choosing and designing your special pony. The colour options span the entire colour palette, from your fur and hair down to the very shades. There are no preset colors here, it’s up to you to get creative and show the world what you can do. The game also has minor accessories and add-ons such as a riding blanket, tattoos, and glasses.
You’ll also need to identify as a male or female pony, which is important later on for choosing a partner pony. To ensure players don’t get too comfortable, Pony World 3 adds some heat right out of the gate. Ensuring maximum frustration (and to make things more complex), you’ll have to choose a career from one of three categories. These are ‘retail‘, what looks like ‘services‘, and finally ‘baked goods‘. Choose wisely, as the jobs are sparse in Pony Town. Ensuring you get a job to pay for your house and future family are crucial.
The one thing that I don’t think anyone would expect, and something I was pleasantly surprised with, were the vast options for game play. Pony world definitely delivers with content. You’ll be able to run through a brief tutorial to learn the basics (I recommend starting here, it’s not every day that life gives you a hand). There are five play modes. We have a single-player mode which has campaign objectives like Meet 10 ponies, Find a friend, Find a partner (yes, it is what you think) Get Married, Have a baby, and finally… Raise that baby. You also need to choose where you’ll live; the options you get are a forest, a lush beach, and a field.
I chose the forest to follow in the footsteps of my forefathers, the Ukrainian settlers.
The other game play modes are: Couple (where you raise a baby), Sport Champion, Millionaire and Freeplay. For our review we will focus solely on the single-player campaign.
Once we arrive in the forest we’re greeted with our first real objective, survival. It would be be wise to invest our money in the bank, or even stocks, but we aren’t given this as an option. We are simply left in the wild to set up the homestead. To do so we are given $10,000 from (I assume) the Pony Bank or government. Just as the Canadian government in the early 19th century solicited free land to my forefathers, we have come to this new land, where we will start our new life.
The only difference is that this land is already cleared of trees, so we don’t have to do all the backbreaking work. Setup is basic and easy. We chose a lakefront property. (Pardon the broken graphics, we are clearly playing on Nightmare mode.)
The house I chose cost a hefty $6,370. Considering that this comes with a fence and patio, I’d consider this a fantastic deal. However, this is the game’s first real piece of reality: giving you a financial sucker punch.
Let’s get real, here. According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s calculator, this is living way beyond our means. We’re already set up for failure. If our housing costs more than 32% of our annual income, we’re in for a world of pain. Let us hope the game is forgiving. Thankfully, we don’t need to worry about a car payment, or bills for that matter, or we could have easily “GG WP” at the fifteen-minute mark.
Now that we’ve established ourselves in the forest, like the Ukrainian settlers, we must find work. I ventured forth into
the great Western world the local town in search of employment. I went to every store, shop, and even the hospital, but alas, to no avail. There were no sustainable jobs. When I thought all was lost, I landed my first job! I was hired as a server at the local coffee shop.
My wage is $40 for 8 hours of work. In the grand scheme of things in Pony World, that’s a depressing $400 a month in wages, and compared with what we started with ($10,000), that’s almost two-and-a-half years of work. We can easily do the conversion and base our salary off of someone who makes around $45,000 — that’s not a bad salary for a bachelor at all. However, in today’s market with a $100,000 mortgage (not incorporating the cost of food and medical bills), even with this $400 (or $4,000 converted), our character is still living on the literal edge.
Our next objective, which was probably the easiest part of the game, was talking to other ponies and making new friends. The game chat features an MMO-style chat scheme, simple and to the point. I was a little disappointed when it said go make ten friends; I assumed this was fellow real-world ponies, I found out they were generic NPC’s with little to no personality. You could choose from complimenting them, to gossip, to even asking to start a family. I literally insulted Pony Tom for a solid fifteen minutes. We became the best of friends, true story.
Speaking of which, our next objective is where the game got… uncomfortable. Legit.
Let’s refocus and get a pinch serious, here. This is a game geared towards children, presumably aged 10-14. Not only are we learning life lessons on buying and maintaining a house and making friends, but now we have to go out and find “The One“. I find this unsettling. Mostly, it’s the way the game goes about doing it. You have to build up your friendship and shower the pony with gifts. This is teaching horrible behavior, in my opinion. You shouldn’t have to shower someone you love or are serious about in gifts to be considered a “partner pony”. If anything, the foundation of a good Pony-on-Pony relationship should be built upon love, friendship, and trust. It’s not about bouncing a ball or launching fireworks out of your crotch. It doesn’t take a twenty-five-year-old male, drinking coffee and questioning their life decisions after playing a pony simulator, to figure this out. Maybe that’s why it’s here? Maybe there is some twenty-something-year-old that needs to see this is not how you have a healthy relationship, and see for themselves the slippery slope that falls next.
Back to taking this at face value. The game not only wants you to find your partner pony but start a life with them, and have a baby.
This task sounds easier than it is.
You go find a pony, you start general conversations with things like “Gossip” or “Tell a Joke” to get your friendship rating up. Once you’ve entered the friend zone, it is up to you to get out. But how? Well, what other way than Play With Ball, Launching Fireworks, or Pat Pony. This seemingly increases your friendship and gets you to the next level. In real-world dating these translate to: playing soccer, launching an array of pyrotechnics, or Netflix and Chill to generally win your partner over.
Finally overcoming the last hurdle of friendship points, I was ready to complete the game’s objective. Get Married.
I went to the local shop to pick out a beautiful emerald stone. Unfortunately this game does not classify pizza as a gift, but I knew this was the one for my Pony Partner.
Now, in most stories, this would be our happily ever after. We both move out in the country, enjoy the lakeside view from our cabin in the woods. Life is good. Unfortunately, as we’ve discovered, existence in Pony World 3 is unforgiving, not unlike the Canadian wilderness faced by Ukrainian settlers in the 19th century. Nothing is left untouched by the Promethean, purifying flame of Pony World.
Here comes the slippery slope I was talking about.
Our pony hero fell on hard times. After failing to get the promotion at work he was expecting, he fell into a depression and delved into substance abuse. Yes, this game has an option to go to a pharmacy (without a medical prescription), and it allows the player to purchase an array of drugs. As innocent as this may seem, exposing this to a younger audience is wildly unacceptable in my opinion. Introducing drugs for life’s everyday little problems, like “Stomach ache” and “Headache”, only teaches children that taking drugs for these things is the thing to do. It’s basically promoting pharmaceutical abuse — and worse, this leads to substance abuse. As innocent as the art may seem, it’s a much more sinister picture.
Our pony learned the hard way that he shouldn’t have spent his last few dollars on “headache” medication as, if he was truly smart with his money, he would have applied for Medicare at the hospital. Now that he’s in an altered state, bent on self-destruction, our pony no longer qualifies for Medicare because he’s “too ill to work”. He’s in the ultimate rut.
With nothing left, no source of income or a way to get better, our pony will eventually go bankrupt and end up on the streets. Another victim of money, drugs, and life in the fast lane.
Let’s look at a snapshot of the message here, and what transpired over the course of a few days. We moved to a new foreign land, got a home provided with government assistance, got ourselves a job, found the pony of our dreams and got married. When cash got tight, our pony broke and turned to substance abuse and lost it all. First, he became too sick to work — presumably the illness was withdrawal, or worse. Not only that, he no longer had enough money to eat or to support his family. Drugs tore his life apart. With no programs to help him get his life back together, or shelters to clean him, all he can do now is lie down and wait to die, and hope the sweet release of death frees him from this life of torment.
The long and the short of it: substance abuse killed off my pony’s marriage and ruined his life. Not being insurable through the hospital as he had no money to pay for treatments, this trauma lost him his job.
Pony World 3 delivers a real-world message here: live a good clean life, be happy, work hard and you’ll get rewarded. However, fall off the path and you’ll be eating dirt on the side of the road quicker than you realize you’ve already hit rock bottom.
Pony World 3 is meant to be a children’s game and is tagged as a “fun open-world adventure” on Steam. To the mature audience that may stumble upon this game as a dare or gift, I instead suggest tags such as “survival horror”, “a bleak reminder of the inevitability of death”, and “mortgage simulator”.
Let me know what you think. Are you up for the Pony World 3 Survival Challenge? Do you think you can do better? Let me know in the comments below! Or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback.
Until the next controversial game, this is Orion checking out.
Orion is a Contributing Editor for aybonline.com and self-proclaimed Field Reporter. Catch him Thursdays at Reset Interactive Ultralounge with the official AYBOnline “Level One Scrubs” Podcast, live on Twitch!