I'm going to hazard a guess here, and take it that you're not reading this because you're after the latest Halo beater, or epic, niche role-playing game. If you are, go elsewhere. Pony Friends is a game that knows its target demographic, which is clearly girls of primary school age who spend days in the classroom dreaming of tying ribbons in manes and nights at home dreaming of cantering and trotting.
For that group of youngsters this game is the perfect virtual realisation of such innocent daydreams, that will no doubt give parents a lengthy break from constant begging that next Christmas a Pony is stuffed down the chimney by Santa Claus.
For anyone else this elaborate Pony Tamagotchi will almost feel nothing like a game, and more like a menu-based simulation of the kind of work that is usually accompanied by the reek of manure and overbearing women in ill-fitting jodhpurs.
But reviewing this atypical Eidos release in comparison to the latest PS3 blockbuster would be as unfair as entering a Pony into the Grand National. So, in pursuit of fairness, let's have a look at what Pony Club offers the pre-teen Calamity Jane.
'... you can create and care for customised virtual ponies, keeping an eye on their health, diet, training and exercise routines.'
Essentially, you can create and care for customised virtual ponies, keeping an eye on their health, diet, training and exercise routines. As a simple stallion management system, Pony Club is actually fairly thorough. Riding and racing your ponies will tire and dirty them, meaning you will have to spend time picking stones from their hooves, shampooing and conditioning their hair, grooming their mane and keeping an eye out for potential illness.
Ponies are fickle beasts of burden, meaning their happiness, affected by their health, is paramount for a good performance. As well as petting your collection of miniature steeds and feeding them treats, you must be certain you apply hoof ointment, shower them with gifts and even make sure that you stroke and clean their hide with the grain of their hair, rather than against. Your selection of picky ponies will even kick up a fuss if you groom them too quickly.
The other major part of the game is the racing and the riding. The former simply relies on making sure your compact colt is on top form before race day, and on shouting encouragement into the DS microphone during the race. Hilariously, if you yell too loudly you will startle your poor ponies into under performing.
The standard riding is the most surreal of the game elements, and perhaps borrows most closely from on-rails shooters like Time Crisis. Rather than taking direct control over your dainty ride, you assume the perspective of the jockey, following a prescribed route. Using the stylus to direct a stills camera, you can take shots of the local wildlife for cash rewards to finance your habit, and spot new riding paths and accessories hidden in the trees. As a riding game this is laughable, but as a collecting mechanic it is fantastic.
Graphically the horse models are genuinely great, and much of the loading screen artwork is akin to the kind of design usually reserved for trendy Londoners' coffee table books. Sadly the menus themselves are rather uninspiring, but nonetheless the game's visuals are a genuine surprise.
If you're don't shiver with excitement at the mere thought of a lovely pretty little pony, forget about this, but if you have a daughter who is overwhelmed by the desire to put pink things on mammals, then this is an excellent little package that has plenty more to offer than two halves of a coconut, and comes in at far less than the cost of a saddle.
VideoGamer.com Score7 Score out of 10
- A great little simulator for pony fans
- A surprisingly well designed DS game
- Not really 'gameplay' as such
- A very niche title