The brony and pegasister phenomenon exploded after the fourth generation reboot of My Little Pony. Since October of 2010, interest in these pastel equines has cascaded by Internet word of mouth, gaining widespread popularity and reaching a demographic far outside the one that Lauren Faust originally envisioned. Male and female viewers of all ages enjoy the cartoon antics of the complex characters for the intelligent writing, the lively animations, themes for young and mature audiences, and mutual respect between Hasbro and the fans. Yet none of these qualities shine in Gameloft’s latest “freemium” title. Although this adaptation of Friendship is Magic does more justice to the license than any fan-made iOS game, rampant greed underlies later progression.
In this alternate take on the show’s two-episode pilot, Nightmare Moon seized the Equestrian city of Canterlot and shrouded the land in darkness. Luckily, Twilight Sparkle and her number one assistant Spike escaped capture. Now, Princess Celestia's faithful student must rebuild Ponyville, reunite the Elements of Harmony, and cleanse the town of Nightmare Moon’s fog of war. The game quickly falls into a rhythm: constructing shops, employing ponies, collecting bits (the in-game currency), clearing the lands' shadows, repairing characters’ homes, then welcoming new arrivals to Ponyville 2.0. The shops disburse gold in regular intervals (the more expensive the store, the longer the wait), but they also drop random element shards. These shards power the six Stones of Harmony spread about the map, and each must be activated before Nightmare Moon can be defeated.
Shops and decor can be sold back if you're short on bits, but homes and dirt roads cannot.
As players restore and rearrange Ponyville to their liking, the Mane Six (Twilight, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash) devise quests that need completing. The objectives pay in stars that increase your level – unlocking more ponies and awarding you more bits – while also asking you that buy buildings you might avoid, amass a certain amount of coins, gather specific element shards, or purchase particular decor and shrubbery. Some chores might even require players to use shards that eliminate parasprites occupying plots of land, or spend profits clearing out rocks, thorns, and trees that grow in size the longer they go unchecked. These weeds and stones annoyingly respawn. Exiting to the iPad’s home screen and returning minutes later caused several brambles and boulders to spontaneously generate, as did visiting friends' versions of Ponyville (more on that in a second). Progress will be slow initially, because procuring new buildings and removing unsightly debris rapidly empties wallets.
In the meantime, the various ponies may participate in a few minigames that increase their personal star ranking. Bouncing a ball back and forth or having each pastel horse catch fresh fruit falling from apple trees hardly contains the depth older gamers would appreciate. However, these activities last less than a minute, just short enough to maintain kids’ attention spans before they get back to brokering real estate. Once players fill one of the pony’s stars completely, they get the chance to regain some bits in a cloud-clearing minigame similar to Jetpack Joyride.
The gameplay just got 20% cooler, as Rainbow Dash performs her trademark Sonic Rainboom.
The higher a pony’s star ranking, the more bits he or she will accrue when employed at shops. The rhythm never stops until players hit a financial wall. As the buildings increase in cost, so too do their construction times. Gamers can expedite that process immediately, skipping quests and countdown timers by spending invaluable gems, yet I cannot condone such wasteful practices. Two of the Mane Six (Rarity and Rainbow Dash) may only be purchased using these crystals. Fans will accumulate the necessary gems if they play daily for several months, buy a mountain of the precious stones through in-app purchases, or sign up for magazine subscriptions and credit cards offers. Harmony Stones can be activated any time, provided gamers possess the minimum number of shards, but they will do little good against Nightmare Moon unless players reunite the Mane Six, who embody the Elements of Laughter, Loyalty, Magic, etc. Rarity alone costs 90 gems, the rough equivalent of $10, and so does Rainbow Dash. While Rainbow Dash initially set enthusiasts back 500 gems ($40), that’s still $20 total for two fictitious horses, and Gameloft forgoes any form of cloud saving system. Delete the game or lose your mobile device and you’re out of luck.
Everything can be accomplished in this game without spending a cent, but the aggressive in-app pricing model seems to penalize players that shun microtransactions – ironic in every sense of the word. If Gameloft tied the monetization to secondary/background characters, that would be less irksome; let the more zealous fans show devotion to their favorite ponies via real currency. If you do not buy Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and several pieces of decor, you cannot finish the game, which simply replicates the conclusion of the first season’s opening episodes.
The curse of having too many friends.
Being a Gameloft product, the developers balance in social functions that allow players to visit their friends' recreations of Ponyville and leave behind treasure chests. These chests contain hearts also used for buying select ponies. Community features requires a Gameloft ID or Facebook account, but the Gameloft Live app makes adding thousands of like-minded individuals a breeze with a few simple taps. The more friends on one’s list, however, the longer the list takes to populate.
The game does have several more things going for it, one of them being the addition of voice work by the show’s primary cast. Nightmare Moon in particular gets the lengthy dialogue treatment during exchanges between her and the Mane Six. The ponies also interact with each other, congregating in different parts of town to dance or display their favorite hobbies: Pinkie Pie manifests a cupcake from thin air (as she can break the fourth wall) before diving face-first into the baked good, Twilight reads her books, and Rainbow Dash clears the cloudy skies with a showy backflip. Gameloft even saw fit to acknowledge several fan-named characters and parody ponies, like Doctor Whooves, Jeff Letrotski (The Big Lebowski), and Derpy Hooves. Meanwhile, the presentation remains faithful to the show's colorful art style in spite of the lower polygon character models.
Sadly, not all of The Big Lebowski ponies make an appearance.
So why do children, teenagers, and, more importantly, grown-ups enjoy My Little Pony in a non-ironic sense? Although every brony or pegasister has a reason, that’s a dissertation in the making and far outside the extent of this review. The key point, Gameloft squanders the genuine feel-good nature of the show and its imaginary characters. Eventually. Several hours of gamplay precede the financial hurdle, not taking into consideration the construction times for each building bought or countdowns between minigames. This app offers perfect depth for MLP fans always on the go or those with a few minutes to spare, as collecting acquired bits and ranking up characters can be taken care of during coffee or restroom breaks. The game’s absolutely free, the only initial investment being time. At its core, however, this freemium title does little to outpace other similarly modeled experiences, and students that have no interest in the magic of friendship need not apply.