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Crystal’s Pony Tale

Genre: Children Developer: Artech Studios Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1994

As a father, one finds oneself doing things otherwise thought impossible. Ever run around town looking for a replacement bulb for a child’s nightlight, knowing that you simply could not go home without one? No? How about learning the complex intricacies of making pony tails on dolls much too small for bumbling male hands? Ever listen to the same Sesame Street CD in your car a dozen times in a row without complaint? If you’ve done none of these things, then you’re simply missing out on how awesome it is to be a parent.

Granted, there are times when you sometimes question your decision to procreate, but the vast majority of the moments spent with your child makes for memories that simply cannot be had anywhere else. Believe it or not, Crystal’s Pony Tale has become one such memory for me. One of a handful of titles I picked up off eBay on the cheap side a while ago, I had simply shelved it and forgotten my purchase. Forgotten that is, until my precocious four year-old spies it from across the room. Yes, she has the eyesight of a bald eagle, that one, and she pounces on it with equal predatory skill. “What’s this game, daddy?” she asks, knowing full well that her inability to read means nothing when the game box is plastered with happy ponies and butterflies. She knows damn well what game it is, I think as I sigh and remove it from its dusty home. After a simple answer (I forgot what I said, but suffice it to say that my mentioning ponies was enough affirmation for her), I find myself sitting on my futon, controller in hand, and staring at the start up screen. The little one has won again, and now I’ll have to play through this thing.

And play through it I do. Through it all, she never leaves my side. Deciding to make the best of it, I figure I can at least get a review for my troubles, and I chalk the whole experience up to “quality time.” We start, and things are going well enough, but after only about fifteen minutes the game is over, and she sits with me in silence, watching the credits scroll by. Finally, she asks me “is that it?” For all her innocence, my daughter is just about as unfulfilled as I am, and in a nutshell, that singular adjective probably best sums up our feelings about Crystal’s Pony Tale.

I guess that’s to be expected from a Sega Club title. Most likely, the developers were counting on the nebulous puzzle elements of the game to keep young players occupied longer than it takes for them to watch an episode of Scooby-Doo. Unfortunately, there’s no way anyone in that demographic would play long enough to see the end, and this becomes painfully apparent when little Kimberly takes over the controls.

In your quest to save fellow ponies from an evil wizard’s spell, you’ll have to find the magic gems scattered around each level. All clues are given in the shape of thought bubbles provided by the local fauna, and having a spider show a gem doesn’t seem like much to go on, at least at first. Once you realize that said gem is located in the same level, things become easier. The problem is that they quickly become hard again once you’ve located and used that gem. There’s a central hub for entering the levels that isn’t so central, and a substantial amount of backtracking will be required for those who don’t learn a particular gem’s location quickly.

Along the way, you secure horseshoes which are needed for opening doors to leave each stage, as well as keys for opening chests. There’s no way to die, and your pony will even jump over obstacles automatically. An action button lets you use keys and gems, and doing so rescues a pony, who then tells you where to go next. It takes a bit to recognize what’s being said, but older gamers should breeze through the whole thing in no time at all. Kids? Not so soon. My daughter, who’s almost five and very bright, simply wanders around the same stage endlessly, collecting horseshoes and commenting on how pretty everything is. I want to pull my hair out, seriously.

Not that she’s wrong though. The visuals are excellent, and you can even customize the colors of your pony before the game starts. The fact that things are only loosely based on the My Little Pony franchise means little in the grand scheme of things, as my daughter laps up the sugar-coated gameplay with a smile. After some coaching, she makes some progress, but it’s simply too abstract for her to do on her own. I understand that thought bubbles were used because the intended audience probably wouldn’t be able to read text, but some arrows or signs might have been more helpful.

All in all, I guess I can’t complain. She enjoyed it, right? That’s enough, I suppose. So to Artech I say “well done!” The simple gameplay, great visuals, and attractive characters is enough to keep the kiddies interested, even if they don’t really care if anyone’s saved or not. Older gamers should probably only try this one out for the bonding experience, and leave the pony stunts to the younger set.

SCORE: 5 out of 10

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