IGN Review of Pony Friends
A red racing pony, with a braided black mane. A shortened tail, blonde, whipping in the wind behind a blue-speckled body. Covered in stripes. And a tattoo of a smiley face. Throw in some green leg stockings and a purple patch on its muzzle, and you've just about envisioned the extent to which you can customize the look of your foals in Pony Friends. It's a free-spirited, open-ended virtual pet experience that allows for a lot of personal choice and modification. It's a game that lets you own a horse of a different color.
Pony Friends is the latest in a line of virtual pet games seeking to capture some of the success of Nintendo's smash hit Nintendogs. But its more direct competitors are the other horse-focused titles to have come out recently, like Ubisoft's
Bratz Ponyz from The Game Factory – two titles that, fortunately enough for Pony Friends, weren't as focused on the core idea of horse ownership as this game is. Horsez was more like an RPG for aspiring equestrians, while the Bratz game centered mostly on fashion accessories. Pony Friends gets it right, by giving you a horse, an array of options for how to interact with your horse, and a great deal of personal freedom in deciding just what your horse is going to look like.
The interface for customization greets you right away when you first begin the game. Though you're given the option to just choose a ready-made, standard animal, the true draw is crafting your new pet from scratch, piece by piece. You'll pick your pony's coat color. Mane color. Tail length and, of course, color. You'll be able to apply different patterns to your pony's body overall, all actual genetic possibilities drawn from real horse breeds from around the world – like spots, or large, patchy stripes, or a belly that's lighter than the hues of its back. As you make each choice, you'll find yourself more and more invested in your creation, which is an immediate positive for a virtual pet game to have – in other titles where you simply give a stock, static creature a name before taking it home from the vet it's hard to feel any kind of bond right away. Here, you'll want to name your animal proudly – it's your own masterpiece, after all.
And after all that decision making, you'll have yet more choices to make – in how to interact with your new animal. The options aren't overly extensive, but variety is there. You can care for your pony by brushing and washing it, you can feed it its favorite food and go to the store to buy more when you run out. You can compete in head-to-head races against other horses, encouraging your steed to add more speed with shouts into the DS mic. And you can just go out for casual trail rides around the countryside.
The trails are probably the most compelling aspect, because riding along them plays out like a simplified version of the addictive N64 title, Pokemon Snap. Sitting high astride your four-legged ride, you'll travel forward along an on-rails path through a forest, or marshland, or small western town. You'll be able to use the stylus to shift your view around and, then, to point at objects of interest in the background when they appear. If you happen to spot an animal, touching them on the touchscreen will cause the camera to zoom in and take a snapshot – you'll often be given assignments to photograph specific animals, and completing these will earn you money to invest in care products, food, or decorative accessories.
Though you can always make your own. Pony Friend's early customization interface comes full circle and shows up again when you're busy adding saddles, blankets and brandings to your beast of burden – you can design your own tattoo and tapestry textures with a sprite editor interface that's similar to the one found in
Animal Crossing. It's difficult to see your custom-created saddle blankets once they're in place on the animal – because the saddle covers a large portion of the design – but the quartermarking on your pony's rear haunches is more readily visible. You really can tattoo your horse with a smiley face, if you want to.
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