Ninendogs. Dogz. Catz. Even Hamsterz. (What’s with the zees? Are zees cooler than esses?) After Nintendo released Nintendogs for the DS everybody else jumped on the boat and released their own pet sim for the DS. Unfortunately they missed a few animals. One of those unrepresented animals is the pony. Thankfully, Eidos has stepped up to the plate and given us Pony Friends, a pet simulator that actually does more than the game from which it draws inspiration.
Don’t misunderstand, Pony Friends treads over much of the same ground that Nintendogs does. As the game begins the player must choose a pony or create one from scratch. Then the pony must be named and following that your new equine buddy can be groomed, ridden, given accessories to wear, or chores can be done to make money.
Where Pony Friends really differentiates itself from Nintendogs, however, is the trail rides. In all actuality Pony Friends is a pony riding game with a smattering of pony care minigames. Picking hooves is all well and good, but you’ll spend most of your time out on the trail. Rides take place from the first-person perspective of the rider. And the ride isn’t just an excuse to scope out the game’s overworld. There are photos of animals to be taken, gates to be found. Finding the aforementioned animals and gates is no easy task either. Some of the animals are well-hidden and only appear in one area while some of the gates are on the complete opposite end of the park. Finding these gates is immediately gratifying because not only have you completed a task, but you’ve unlocked new areas to explore on your titular pony friend. And the best part? Pony Friends chose not to implement a Nintendogs-inspired fecal matter clean-up minigame (and it’s a good thing, too – horses poop a lot).
There’s also a riding game included. Unlike other racing games Pony Friends races are controlled via the DS’s microphone. Speak too softly and the pony trots along slowly; yell too loudly and the pony gets scared and lets off the speed. It’s a delicate balance that must be struck, and it makes the races entertaining, fresh, and great for the game’s target audience.
Pony Friends isn’t for the hardcore gamer. It won’t sit proudly on your shelf between Disgaea and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but it succeeds in creating a virtual environment for pony enthusiasts. Those that love horses and have a DS are going to have a good time with Pony Friends – especially if they enjoy the Nintendogs gameplay model.