Developer: Chillingo
Price: $0.99
Version Reviewed: 1.13
Device Reviewed On: iPhone 5

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★½☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★☆☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Combining Pokemon Snap, Nintendogs and, arguably, even a hint of Fable: The Journey is not something I expected to see from a $0.99 game. That’s almost exactly what Pony Trails offers, however.

The game is a sedate horse riding simulator, at its most basic. Players choose their horse or pony, then ride it through one of three areas, either mountain, plateau or coastal based. As they ride around, they can snap photos of other animals in the area, as well as collect coins to buy new equipment for their equine friend.

Each day, quests are given to the player with challenges such as “collect x number of coins” or “snap photos of 5 different animals.” More attractive, however, are the challenges which encourage exploration, as each trail gives the player the option to pursue different paths around the level. The time of day can change what happens, meaning certain quests can only be completed at night, and certain creatures can only be found when it’s dark.

Equipment is simple yet cute, such as a heart-based saddle or a new bridle to add a personal flourish to the horse. The creature needs cleaning too with a Nintendogs style touch interface, enabling players to sponge them down before hosing the bubbles off.

It all sounds quite idyllic, especially for younger gamers who love horses and ponies. It’s not quite as smooth sailing as that, though, mostly thanks to the control scheme. Players have two options, both involving tilting. One requires the player to shake their device in order to encourage the horse to accelerate, while the other involves touching a button to speed up. Acceleration isn’t a big issue, but being reliant on tilt controls is. They work after a time of practice, but it reduces the flexibility in which players can game. In bed, or on a bumpy commute just doesn’t work out very well. A virtual d-pad might have felt less realistic, but it would have been more convenient at certain times.

It’s unfortunate that the control system does the one thing that Pony Trails doesn’t want to invoke: stress the player out, as it’s, otherwise, a quite serene journey. Snapping jackrabbits as they run past is oddly relaxing and it’s nice to play a game that isn’t as action-packed or as violent as many others.

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