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Review: My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic (iOS)

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012 by

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I am not a brony. Well, not enough of one, anyway. I’ll admit to rather liking the new cartoon series and its mixture of mythological beasts and cutesy horses. But My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic did not turn me into some guy who’s suddenly dreaming of technicolor horses, unicorns, and pegasi frolicking about with tramp stamps.

Actually, all it really did is re-instill the distaste I have for Gameloft as a developer.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is your standard town-building game. The premise, straight from the premiere episode of the cartoon, has Twilight Sparkle on a quest to save Ponyville from eternal darkness. From here, you’ll get a tutorial mission and a couple of experience levels to stimulate the part of your brain that loves progress. After that, you’re mostly on your own to figure out how to spend your cash.

Looks pretty normal, but what lies behind is devious.

Looks pretty normal, but what lies behind is devious.

The tutorial actually does a horrible job, forcing you to spend 1,000 Bits to get 2x the points in the first minigame. It makes it seem as though Bits are easy to come by when they are not. Not knowing this actually set me back in the early going. It also tempts you speed up crafting by feeding a Gem to Spike, the baby dragon. It’s no coincidence, of course, that you can buy both Bits and Gems, is it? How’s that old saying go? Teach a man to buy a fish, right?

You’ll spend the Bits you scrimped and saved to bring new ponies to Equestria and build cash-earning shops. It is an absolute struggle to get ahead early on. Each shop needs at least one pony to work. While any pony can work in the low level slot, you’ll need ponies with stars to work in the second shop slot. If you want to add a third pony, which will add a Bit bonus every time you collect, they’ll need even more stars.

My Little Pony may introduce a new concept to your child: monotony.

My Little Pony may introduce a new concept to your child: monotony.

To earn these stars, you’ll have to work through two awful minigames that also cost Bits to play. I’ll admit that I had a slight bit of fun at first when I had just a handful of ponies to work with. However, as my town grew, so did my contempt for these minigames. These games were culled from moments within the first ten episodes of the cartoon. There surely must be more that would be worth adding, if only for the sake of variety, from later episodes. After earning enough points in these minigames, you’ll unlock the Star game.

The Star game is actually a lot of fun, but its 45 seconds are all too brief. Gameloft basically took Jetpack Joyride’s first few hundred meters, added a turbo boost from knocking out white clouds, and called it a day.

This minigame is the most fun you'll have in the game. It's not that fun.

This minigame is the most fun you’ll have in the game. It’s not that fun.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic appears faithful to the cartoon, though even I can notice small differences in colors and design. Fluttershy and Apple Jack don’t look quite right, though I can’t quite put my finger on it, and I’m sure fans will notice a lot more inconsistencies. Considering these are main characters, it seems like an awful shame. Each of the main ponies, though, is voiced by the original cast. There’s not a whole lot of voice work, mind you, but it’s a nice touch. We probably have The Simpsons: Tapped Out to thank for that, though.

Then we get to the real problem. The costs for some of these ponies is insane. While I know every free-to-play has a few luxury items, My Little Pony goes overboard. Rainbow Dash, the last of the main ponies to unlock, costs about ten dollars. If that cost seems high to you, know that it was much higher before the latest version. You can enjoy the game without getting every pony, I know. But the 950 Gems (about $70) to bring Princess Celestia is absolutely insane, even if she drops Elements of Harmony and is a five star pony from the get-go.

This was an ill-gotten gain. I grew bored and played with hacks to stop playing altogether.

I grew bored and played with some hacks. Breaking a game is how I break the habit.

Even design choices, which may or may not be intentional, seem dubious when Gems are involved. On three occasions, as I was gathering Bits from a shop, I accidentally spent Gems to speed up production. With no prompts, it seems like an intentional choice to nickel and dime a player. There’s simply no reason I need to be tapping all around my town, is there, aside from making a boring game into a click fest. Nothing says fun like needless taps, am I right? I am far more coordinated than a child, or so I like to believe, and I would bet many children wouldn’t even realize they used a Gem. When there are paid elements involved, you simply have to have some sort of verification prompt in place. Not doing so is just inviting distrust.

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My Little Pony is very cute. It’s fun to watch the ponies socialize.

Then there are the annoying Parasprites and natural growths to deal with. Any area of your land that is not housing a building or decoration is vulnerable to these annoyances. Parasprites require different Elements of Harmony, which randomly drop when you collect from shops, to remove. Rocks and trees require Bits. One simple rock can stand between you and progress. Of course, once you pay the absurd amount to remove the growths, you’ll have a timer tick-tocking away.

Finally, the social elements in place just don’t work well. You’ll need to connect to friends via Facebook or Gameloft Live. Neither option works particularly well making the social Heart currency difficult to collect. It’s a clunky experience when there are games out there using GameCenter perfectly well. However, this is a cross-platform game, so I understand it’s the nature of the beast.

That said, I ran My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on my Google Nexus 7 and was astounded at just how poorly it performed. When scrolling through town, Android users can expect lag and a general lack of responsiveness. There’s no way this Tegra 3-powered tablet is less powerful than an iPhone 4, so why exactly are Android users getting such a lousy version of the game?

If Tiny Tower and Happy Street represent how social building games can be fair and fun, My Little Pony represents all that makes social gaming an aberration that simply needs to die. Between the questionable design, tedious gameplay, and distasteful in-app purchase system, it’s impossible to recommend My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to anyone.

1 star

(My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is available for free in the App Store and Google Play Store. It features Retina display graphics and is optimized for widescreen displays, but it lacks GameCenter support. While both Android and iOS versions were played for this review, the score represents just the iOS version. Version 1.0.1 was used in this review.)

About the Author

Fade to Slack is a founding member of Delta Attack, an American expatriate in South Korea, and a true believer in the legitimacy of mobile gaming. Keep up with him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Fade2Slack so he can justify having a Twitter account.

Fade to Slack has written 347 posts on Delta Attack
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  • Markham Asylum

    You may as well embrace your Brony status.

    • http://www.deltaattack.com/ Fade to Slack

      I cannot bear that burden, sir. It’s just too much. I am just one man.

      • Markham Asylum

        I’m sure you could find an equine Bropanion to help carry your load. Er, the load.

        • http://www.deltaattack.com/ Fade to Slack

          I couldn’t, in good conscience, saddle someone with that.

  • http://twitter.com/BamMargera911 Lil’Bam Margera

    Add me bam555666