Some games are easy to assess. Take Halo 3, for example. How many big shiny guns are there, what colour chunks will the Covenant explode into when I stick a grenade to their posteriors, and will the multiplayer component eat up months of my life when it finally comes out? The answer to all three of those questions, by the way, will probably be "many", "purple" and "yes", respectively. Then there are niche titles, like Eidos' Pony Friends. At the tender age of 33, I don't really think much about horses. Luckily for me, I have something of an advantage when reviewing Pony titles, however -- my five year old daughter, Zoe. Like many five year old girls, she's utterly Pony mad. As such, even the sight of a box labelled "Pony Friends" was enough to send her into a paroxysm of joyous squeaking.
The first thing you'll do upon launching Pony Friends -- beyond simple language selection -- is to acquire your first Pony and name it. In the interests of making sure that the five-year-old Pony-obsessed viewpoint won out, Zoe got to control everything, including naming. This is how we ended up with an animal called "zyiahtjel". Apparently she just liked those letters, but even she couldn't pronounce it.
In many ways, Pony Friends follows the/Petz model very closely as a game, albeit with a more obvious equine slant. The game revolves around a set of key activities, each of which is accessed from a simple onscreen icon. The homestead is where you can check your goals, journal, all of your ponies and receive your daily chores. Like other DS titles such as Animal Crossing, Pony Friends uses the DS' internal clock to control your access to chores, and thus one of the sources of money within the game. It's not a terrible hook to keep you playing over many days, but it is tough to explain to a young girl that she can't keep doing chores -- some of which cost money to perform -- in the hope of getting more money (and ponies) right away.
From the game's stable you can accessorise your Pony -- and if you think that accessories and Ponies don't go together well, you've clearly never seen a horde of young girls at a My Little Pony party. The Care section launches some simple scrubbing and tapping mini games for keeping your pony clean. You can move the pony to the field for some feeding or a very mundane patting mini game, or move it out on a longer ride. This then takes you to the game's main map, which is where you can explore, find new treasures and even earn a little extra money. Initially much of the map is locked off -- and this proved a problem with the five year old set, who didn't automatically work out why in the way a more seasoned gamer might -- and it controls via stylus dragging, which is also a touch tricky to explain when virtually every other selection in the game is via tapping.