Friday, September 21, 2012

Review: Welcome to Ponyville Act 1

Welcome to Ponyville title screen.

As I said in my previous post I have never been entirely sure as to why the Brony fandom seems to have fallen in love with Welcome to Ponyville. The one that seemed most likely to me based on my observations was that they really wanted a game in which you could date ponies (which isn't really that strange, given that there was a pigeon dating simulator of all things) and this game promised both that and a fairly decent visual novel experience. Now that Act 1 (which is essentially a demo of the final thing) has been released we can play this game for ourselves and decide whether it really has lived up to the hype.

Just how good is Welcome to Ponyville? Find out in our review which we have conveniently placed after the pagebreak.


You would expect that a visual novel demo would have a fairly small download, right? Wrong. Imagine my surprise when I began the torrent and found to my horror that the demo took up over 1GB of hard drive space. Just let that sink in for a moment. But if the game is that large it must be really substantial, right? Wrong again! Act 1 is a very short demo, and what contributes the most to the game's filesize is actually the audio. It's quite a shame that the team didn't even bother to put the game in a zipped folder (which in tests has been shown to almost halve the game's size) in order to save on download time, but let us get on with the actual game, shall we?

Welcome to Ponyville Act 1 screenshot
Bon Bon introducing herself.
Pretty much Welcome to Ponyville is your basic visual novel and has a very small amount of actual gameplay. Most of it is spent talking to the various ponies in town with a minimal level of interaction, with the player just clicking the left mouse button to advance the conversation and occasionally having a choice between saying different things. In my opinion the game would greatly benefit from making greater use of the latter, since at times it felt like I was just an observer and had almost no say as to what went on in-game. Players in general like to have plenty of choices when it comes to interactive stories but sadly Act 1 drags them along, forcing them to be nice when they are feeling naughty and vice versa. Hopefully the developers will realize this and make the necessary changes in the next few acts, or else I (along with many others) shall feel greatly disappointed with this.

As most of you probably already knew by now Welcome to Ponyville only uses a minimal amount of original sprites, and uses community-created vectors instead. While I must admit that this was a good idea the execution was quite flawed. You see the vectors are often scaled inconsistently, creating the effect of a pony growing and shrinking as they talk. For some reason it seems that Filly Games refused to zoom in to some of the various backgrounds used in-game which introduces black bars on the top and bottom as you can see in the screenshots. This is only a minor setback but it would make Act 1's environment even more immersive then in its current state. As for the music...it's good, but nothing special. It does its job and does it well but most of the time you won't even realize that it's there.

I get the impression the Vinyl Scratch will probably be the easiest character to ship yourself with early on.
One final complaint that I have about this game is the engine. Sure, it was nice that they actually went through the trouble of creating their own engine and it runs smoothly in Wine but much development time could have been saved if they would have used a free visual novel engine instead such as Ren'Py. The current engine also has several annoying quirks such as ponies disappearing during transitions, which makes it look like they are popping in and out of existence and actually ruins what could have been a genuinely scary scene near the end.


From this review most readers would probably conclude that I am rather disappointed in Act 1, and they would be correct. However one must remember that this is just the first chapter in Welcome to Ponyville and that hopefully things will get much, much better. Still, I would not say that this game has so far not lived up to the hype and for that I give it a 4/10. Let's hope that the next few instalments will be somewhat better, eh?

4/10


Oh, and here's a warning to any of our readers that happen to be both autistic and have sensitive hearing.  You may want to turn down your volume for the bell chimes, as they can aggravate your noise sensitivity and cause varying degrees of pain. This was discovered during my first playthrough and resulted in around an hour of pain for yours truly.

A couple of additional notes from Arctic Lux:
An alternate download link can be found here. The file's a little smaller, only about 600MB.

If you attempt to run the game and get the error "The program can't start because d3dx9_43.dll is missing from your computer," click here to update DirectX on your computer. Make sure to uncheck the box to install the Bing toolbar...

Also, I figured I'd add my unasked for personal opinion on the game: I'm more a fan of story-oriented games, and I had fun with this one. I think Xtux is right about a lot of the problems, but I'd still recommend it to fans of similar games.