Guest Review by: Lisa Harrison
Behold, the clip-clopping of hooves. Elegant society ladies will recognise this sound from Ascot, on a race day associated with the wearing of hats and the frittering away of millions of pounds on a fancy steed for the stables. The rest of us may be more familiar with this sound as being associated with Monty Python and the Holy Grail—the bashing of coconut husks together. Either way, this sound is synonymous with horses—perhaps necessary to feel the true atmosphere of racing ponies. It is this sound too that best sums up Pferd & Pony—entirely lacking from start to finish.
There’s not an awful lot that a person can do with Pferd & Pony. The game itself centres around the hobby of breeding and training ponies—rearing horses in a stable and some paddocks to breed them up to racing greatness. This is a horse management simulator, the game being centred around an office, a stable, some fields and a small house. It all sounds fine from the outset, but once you get into it there really isn’t much to do—the game is exceptionally linear with very few actual management options available. To be blunt, it’s really more of an interactive movie. Every game follows the same tedious pattern—bathe horse, groom horse, pet horse, feed horse, saddle horse, race horse. Each of these actions features a short animation sequence during which the horse does not react in any way whatsoever. You may as well not bother.
There are several add-ons that can be used to make money. You can rent out a guest house, advertise your stables, buy and sell land and race professionally. This is extremely difficult to get started though—the budget in the office section of the game is very limited, so you’ll find that there’s not much to do from the start other than train your horse in the above-mentioned ways. Income avenues are extremely limited and no interaction is required from the player other than selecting each option from a static menu. Rewards seem non-existent and again, nothing really happens, so you may as well not bother.
Onto racing your horse, then. Surely this requires interaction? Well, no. There is a race course provided for training with a few simple jumps over a mostly-straight run. You need to control the horse’s speed during this section of the game and jump over hedges as needed, so in this sense the horse responds, but its bewildered, cartoonish facial expression remains unaffected. The backdrop of this race course never changes, and nor does the difficulty of the course itself (moderate difficulty—controls can be unresponsive at times). Even when using this course the first time, the race itself feels monotonous and repetitive. Rewards appear in the sense of your horse becoming stronger, but this is extremely slow in coming with countless races being needed to raise any kind of competitive ability. For all the fun this is, you may as well not bother.
The backdrops provided are crude, giving only a basic representation of what a field might look like (big and green) as the main focal point of the settings. The horse itself looks as though it was drawn by a six-year old, with huge round eyes and a never-changing fixed facial expression that gives the appearance of a horse expecting something very unorthodox to assault it from its rear end at any moment. The atmosphere is complemented by an almost complete absence of any sound effects whatsoever, the only effects being a rooster crowing when the player saves their progress and a sawing sound being heard if builders are called in. No sound ever accompanies the horse. Racing the horse will lead to a tune (always the same) being played to accompany it, which is reminiscent of that which might be heard when someone rides a lift in Ecuador.
Indeed, Pferd & Pony is a game which increasingly makes me wonder why I bothered even playing it, let alone reviewing it. So I’ll stop.