A few weeks ago, casual games developer PopCap Games launched a new development studio by the name of 4th & Battery. Intended to create “smaller, simpler, and sometimes edgier games,” the intention was to allow for PopCap to develop more “experimental” ideas. Unpleasant Horse for iPhone and iPad is the result of such experiments (in fact it is noted as such in the game’s description in the App Store) and is the child of PopCap’s first “game jam event,” where employees attempted to make a complete game in 24 hours based on a random idea.
It’s not a far leap to surmise that Unpleasant Horse was the random idea. The game is a violence meets My Little Pony sort of platformer that will not appeal to everyone, but its simplicity provides an excellent source of amusement. Free to play, with no visible forms of monetization, the experimental title appears to be more for testing the waters for the type of game that it is. Either way, it has both the simplicity and quality that users have come to expect from anything sporting the PopCap logo.
So players are a cute little black horse with wings. Sounds nice enough, no? Well, it sports a few skull tattoos on its backside, so it’s not a stretch to believe this “little pony” has a bit of a mean streak. The idea of the game is to platform from cloud to cloud — effectively darkening it into ominous thunderheads upon landing — and cover the farthest distance possible before falling; scoring points along the way.
In order to jump from cloud to cloud, players merely tap a location to leap to, and their demonic-looking horse does the rest. If there is no cloud visible, then players can tap at any random location and the avatar will leap in that direction, traveling well beyond the edge of the screen. Now, this is one of the complaints to be had with the game, as this happens often. As such, players are often force to take a proverbial leap of faith and hope that they either land on before they hit the ground.
This is where the cartoon violence of the game comes into play. The ground is actually made up of horse-grinding buzz saws, and in order to rack up significant points, players must not only jump from cloud to cloud but leap onto the back of the cute “pritty ponies.” Upon doing so, they will fall to their deaths below (with the black pony still atop them), with the player scoring points for each second or so the pritty pony falls. Once it hit’s the saws, it will be ground up into tiny pony bits and the user must leap away before they are ground up as well.
Beyond slaying the pritty ponies, players can also tap on birds. Should the user hit one mid-leap, they will collect feathers. For each feather available, players will be able to leap from midair without having to be on a cloud or the back of a pritty pony. That in mind, the strategy — since users will not always see a clear platform to jump to — is to collect feathers while one can, and use them should the previously mentioned “leap of faith” prove to be a bit more hazardous than one should hope or should they see a potential landing spot.
As was also mentioned earlier, Unpleasant Horse is completely free for both iDevices. There are no in-app purchases or even advertisements. This game, which highly addictive and well polished, is noted as an experiment for 4th & Battery and PopCap. Likely, it is intended to gauge the appeal for such a game on iOS, but considering the overall positive reviews the title has received from the majority of its users, it will be interesting where the new company takes its developments from here.
As for any other highlights, the game dose have in-game leaderboards, and the ironic use of classical music blends beautifully with the sounds of splattering birds and grinding pritty ponies. There are also special achievement-style point boosts users can earn such as grinding X amount of pritty ponies in a row or avoiding the saws at the last possible second.
Overall, Unpleasant Horse is a wonderful little game for either the iPhone or the iPad. It is extraordinarily simple, but highly polished and gratifying. Whether it’s the soundtrack or visuals of those snarky ponies grinding up in the earth, or graphical changes when the unpleasant horse lands a cloud, each one enhances the experience significantly. Moreover, as a free game with no advertisements, it’s certainly a great deal for all users (assuming they don’t mind a little graphic, cartoon violence). That said, it is worth noting that since it is free, and an “experiment,” it does not host some of the more common features of such games, like Game Center leaderboards. All the same, Unpleasant Horse is certainly a game worth trying and leaves us looking forward to what 4th & Battery has in store next.