Not even as a joke. However, what started as a rant about how bad this game is quickly turned into something that even surprised me. But first, I’ll explain why I even played this game and why today is International Review Crystal’s Pony Tale Day. It all started with this tweet:
Decided to attack the Sega Master System games in my backlog. First up, Sonic the Hedgehog!
— Äɨ̃šïñǧäñöï (@Atsinganoi) 16 mai 2016
I then got this reply:
— Oceanity (@Oceanity) 16 mai 2016
One thing led to another over a series of tweets, but eventually, several people decided we should all play Crystal’s Pony Tale and post a review on the same day. I then bugged Eric Bailey until he added it to The Retro Gaming Celebrations Calendar. And so here we are, but what the heck is his game?
Crystal’s Pony Tale is a action/adventure platforming game for the Sega Genesis developped and published by Sega with young girls, aged 4 to 7, specifically in mind. Crystal was supposed to be Sonic the Hedgehog, but for young girls. An evil witch has has captured all your friends with a spell in order to rule over Ponyland. Luckily for you and your friends, this “Storm Witch” did not use her magic to capture you. I don’t know, maybe you were out of country on business at the time. You had a meeting in neighbouring Ponystan with the CEO of the company you work for, Ponytech. Anyway, your friends have been “captured” and, again, not to criticize this witch or tell her how to be evil or anything buuuuut, luckily for you, all your friends are kind of hidden in plain sight. All you need to do is collect crystals to release them, all of which happen to be laying around near your friends. I mean, this isn’t how I would go about taking over some place, but it’s easy for me to criticize when I’ve never even tried.
So, you collect crystals and free your friends, but you also have to collect horse shoes wherever you go because the seven levels have these kinds of toll booths where you have to pay in horse shoes to go through, because the roads in Ponyland don’t maintain themselves, ok? I first played the game on the easiest of its three difficulty settings and it might’ve been the easiest game I’ve ever played. I then tried it on the hardest difficulty and it was mildly more difficult. I think once I got to a toll booth gate thing and didn’t have enough horse shoes, so I backtracked and got more. You lose them if you get hit by enemies and I was just plowing through them like they weren’t even there. I’d forgotten that I needed them for something later in the level. Basically, this game is ridiculously unchallenging.
Now, that’s what the game is about and how you play it, but I need to talk about what it looks like and what it was made the way it was.
The whole game was apparently based on “research.” Research showed that girls prefer story-driven games to fast-paced action games. As a result, the game has a story. Because “research shows” that girls are motivated by sounds, colours, voices, and music, the game allows the player to choose Crystal’s colours and which one of four music tracks they want to listen to while playing. The list goes on. Here’s some “research” findings on gamers based on gender I found in Game Developer Magazine’s October 1995 issue:
This was included in an article on Crystal’s Pony Tale and video games aimed at women, particularly very young girls. I’d love to see who conducted this “research” and why anyone would decide to make a video game on such terrible findings. Minecraft fans must be happy no one involded with ensuring that game got made and released read any of these research articles. There are just so many things my brain screamed at my computer screen why I saw this: WHO TURNS THE SOUND OFF TO PLAY VIDEO GAMES? WHAT MONSTER SAYS THEY ENJOY AND ARE MOTIVATED BY STARTING A GAME OVER FROM THE BEGINNING? WHY ARE YOU DISCUSSING HUMANS LIKE THEY’RE ANIMALS?
Whatever. Maybe you think this is silly and no one would ever really make a game based on this kind of nonsense “research.” Here’s something from a February 1995 Game Developer Magazine article:
So, Crystal’s Pony Tale has certain colours in it because apparently girls like pink and stuff, but we have no idea why and it can’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that every thing that’s marketed to them is pink. Nope. It’s probably biology, maaaaaaaybe society, but really, we just don’t know. Girls like pink and ponies and so we made a pink pony game for them. Please buy it.
Don’t worry though. Not everything about this game was painful and cringeworthy. Some of it was utterly bizarre.
HEY! Hey kids! Buy this game. It has ponies, and you know what that means, right? Heck yes! You can paint your pony, just like in real life! That’s from an October 1994 Sega Visions advertisement for the game. “Painting” your pony was actually something at least one person thought would be a selling point for the game.
The reality is, no one wants a game with ponies. No one wants a game where you can customize the colours of the main character. No one likes games where the goal isn’t to kill enemies and win. This is why games like Minecraft do so poorly. This is why the My Little Pony reboot was a huge flop. This is why gamers just skip the character editor stuff in RPGs and never spend hours customizing. No one wants an easy game. No one wants to play something casually and stress free.
I’m kidding, of course. The fact of the matter is, Sega set out to make a game that was accessible to young children, kids aged around the 4 to 7 range, maybe kids who hadn’t played a lot of or any video games yet, and, yes, girls, which, whether rightly or wrongly, they saw as a group that didn’t play games very much at the time. And you know what, with that in mind, this game delivers. If you were a kid in love with the Sonic games, maybe this wasn’t made for you. You might still enjoy it, but it wasn’t made with you in mind. The game is very easy. There is little to no violence. It has a simple story, with simple puzzles, classical music for a soundtrack, and a “happily ever after” ending, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t let my 4 year old son watch South Park. He watches garbage like Paw Patrol, because it’s appropriate for his age. This game is appropriate for his age.
It was marketed for girls, but my 6 year old son loves dinosaurs, hockey, skateboards, Ninja Turtles, explosions, punk rock and heavy metal, and the colour pink, and Hello Kitty, and playing dress up, and painting his nails. My 4 year old nephew can’t watch Thomas and Friends because he’s terrified of Mr Conductor. My point is, kids are different, like all kinds of stuff, and are just REALLY different. With Crystal’s Pony Tale, Sega made a simple, easy, inoccuous game perfect for people who might not have been ready for the challenge or violence of Mortal Kombat or Shining Force. And what’s more, they put some time and effort into making it a GOOD game. It looks beautiful. The puzzles are well done. The characters and enemies are well animated. Even playing for the first time as a 35 year old man, I can’t say that playing through the game was unenjoyable. We’ve all played Barbie for the NES or looked at a video of one of those Olsen twins games and laughed at how awful and broken those games were, but Crystal’s Pony Tale is not a half-assed effort made quickly to try to get girls or younger kids into video games. Sega looked at the research. They actually even had a woman produce the game. The lead tester and both assistan lead testers were women.
And the game was a huge flop. Why? Who knows? Women are complicated, man. I knew girls who loved Sonic, so I have no idea why they wouldn’t love a Sonic game for toddlers that treats them like they’re inferior beings. I honestly think that’s the problem with the game. Parents probably bought this for their daughters who already played video games. A 12 year old girl who enjoys tearing through Sonic 2’s levels is the wrong person for this game. A 5 year old kid of any gender who gets frustrated with Sonic because they’re always dying is who this game is for, and I highly recommend this game for those kids. It’s a perfect game to get them to learn how to platform and try to figure out puzzles. They should start playing games with this, rather than Ninja Gaiden. I’ve seen my oldest boy want to try video games when he was 4 and basically abandon playing completely for almost a year because of how pissed off he would get at Mario and Sonic not jumping and moving like he wanted. Which Crystal’s Pony Tale, there aren’t pits and limited continues and precision platforming and ridiculous boss fights.
Sega made a decent game for beginner gamers. They also marketed it overtly as a game for girls. As a result, it was wrong of them to assume they’d get something as successful as Sonic. If you were 8 in 1994, his game might’ve been great for your younger sibling, but it wouldn’t have had enough going on for you, and that’s a pretty limited market already without further limiting it to girls. If you have kids that are just getting into gaming, maybe give Crystal’s Pony Tale a shot. For yourself, maybe play the game just to experience those colours and the ridiculousness of one of the most misguidedly market-researched games I’ve seen. SAVE THE FUCKING PONIES!
Now, I have to admit that this has been fun, so I’m thinking we need to do this again next year with another weird/interesting/obscure game. I’m open to suggestions, folks.