Dang, it’s been a while since I last wrote hasn’t it? Hopefully you guys still remember me, but if not then allow me to reintroduce myself. I am the Bargain Gamer, and I am here to share my thoughts on bargain titles and specials for your perusal. I will also review the occasional mainstream game as the inclination strikes me, but for the most part what interests me are the games that have either been passed over or faded into gaming’s history with time. After all, there is more to a great game than its graphical fidelity, and it is my job to find out which games of yesteryear are worthy (or unworthy) of your time. And what better way to prove my commitment to you, dear reader, than by throwing away my masculinity in the name of reviewing! In that vein, let’s take a look at the ultimate example of girly media turned into a manly phenomenon, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
Now, I’m not going to be going over the cartoon series in any real depth, as there are more qualified fans than I who could explain it. Instead, I want to take a look at the My Little Pony iOS and Android game that just came out recently which ties in with the show. The news is good to start with, as the game is a free app that is available across smart phone platforms, meaning it is easily available and readily accessible for most users. The downside to this is that it is a freemium game, but I’ll get into that later on.
Starting off, the game’s story has a simple appeal to it. It isn’t exactly groundbreaking in its complexity, but it sets the scene and explains the premise of the game well enough. Simply put, it’s an alternate take on the show’s pilot episodes. Nightmare Moon has returned after one thousand years of banishment, and it is up to Twilight Sparkle to gather the Elements of Harmony and prevent nighttime eternal. The difference here is that instead of each element being directly tied to a single pony, as they are in the show, they are now tied to altars scattered across the barren, shadow covered landscape where Ponyville used to be. To activate these altars you must first gather enough shards of the respective element, and then reclaim the area where the altar is so that you can access it. Only once all six elements have been activated will Nightmare Moon be defeated.
Of course the underlying mechanic of the game has nothing to do with defeating Nightmare Moon, but is instead more of a combination of collecting/city building, ala Pokemon/Sim City. As you proceed through the game you lure individual ponies from the show to your town by constructing their homes. Once they have a place to stay they are dropped off via hot air balloon and are now a permanent resident of your town (so long as you don’t remove their home of course) you may then build different businesses such as apple stands and spas for the ponies to work at, allowing them to make your town money and element shards. And there is the interesting bit, as bits, the game’s currency, are the key to almost all basic progression. Want to get another pony? You’re going to need bits. Another business? More bits. Expand your build area by using the magic of friendship to push the darkness back? That’s going to take an increasingly large amount of bits.
This is not to say that raising bits is the only thing the game has going for it mind you. All of your ponies have the ability to level up a maximum of five times by playing mini-games, of which there are three variations. Two of them, the apple bucking and catch mini-games, are used to gather experience and the third, the clear the sky mini-game, happens each time you level, allowing you to shoot for a new high score each time. And leveling up is important, as only higher level ponies can do the more advanced jobs, bringing in the maximum amount of bits to your town. The games all play well enough, but given the sheer quantity of ponies that you can collect and the amount of plays it takes for a pony to level up they can grow a bit tedious after a while. Another game option or two would go a long way to making this a more enjoyable experience in the long run, but it’s serviceable enough.
The game is also fairly aesthetically pleasing, with decent graphics considering the limitations of the platform the game is based on. The ponies all move fluidly and are easily recognizable (though a few, like Snails, are a bit disproportionate), and the various structures that you build are also colorful and interesting to look at. It’s easy to see how the show’s visuals have been incorporated into this world’s designs, making the game easily recognizable at a glance. The audio is also solid, incorporating songs directly from the show and voice acting from the main ponies in order to keep the gamer invested in the moments that the game’s story comes up. I was pleasantly surprised when I first starting playing, and that first impression has lingered even as the tedium of the mini-games have worn at me.
Unfortunately, this tedium is only compounded by the game’s way of imposing an additional layer of challenge in the form of creating obstacles within your town over time. These can take the form of rocks, trees, and brambles forming seemingly out of nowhere, costing you time and bits to remove the pesky obstacles. These are tolerable though, as it makes sense that Nightmare Moon would be attempting to undermine your town through her magic, so we’ll let this slide. The thing I hate though, are the bucking parasprites! I still don’t know how the game decides to generate them, whether it be based off of time spent playing, overall progression, or some other factor, as their appearance seems somewhat arbitrary.
What I do know is that my game went from totally clear to engulfed with swarms of the little pesks literally overnight. The problem with this, dear reader, is that these bugs don’t require bits to be cleared out like the other obstacles. No, they require element shards, the same ones you are collecting to defeat Nightmare Moon. This becomes even more irritating when you add in the arbitrary randomness of the elements that is present (personally I could not generate any magic shards for the life of me, so of course half the swarm was magic based), which makes it impossible to clear the map of the bugs if you don’t have the correct element type, which invariably you won’t. At this point there is only one way for the player to gather additional elements outside of having your populace generate it for you: spend actual money.
And thus we come to the game’s major flaw, the fact that it is a freemium game. For those of you who don’t recognize the term, a freemium game is one that lures you in with the fact it is free but makes it difficult to play without subsequently investing money into the game. And this game is hugely guilty of this moniker, to the point of being downright cruel. You see, the game has an alternate currency called gems, which are incredibly rare. There are a large amount of ponies and shops that can only be obtained using this form of currency, including two of the “mane six” ponies, Rarity and Rainbow Dash. On top of this there are ponies you must gamble for the chance to possess them (this gambling game is also the only way to collect additional elements), which also costs gems. This wouldn’t be so bad in itself if the price for gems was somewhat reasonable, as I’m sure there are plenty of pony fans who would shell out a dollar or two for their favorite pony character.
But they’re not.
To cite my earlier example, if all you wanted to pick up were the two main character ponies so as to complete your set and finish the game’s weird quest based system, then it would cost you at least $15.96. And God help you if you want a pony like Princess Celestia, who costs almost $70! This is outrageously priced by any standard, as the cost for individual ponies can be seen to outweigh the cost of most AAA games, let alone bargain ones. Sure, you can play for free, but even the game’s story quests require gems on several occasions, and then have the audacity to also cost gems if you want to skip said missions. Feel free to check out the prices yourself, as you can see the “deals” the game has for gems whenever you accidentally click on anything gem related.
As such, it’s hard for me to recommend this game beyond maybe taking a look at it to see what could have been. The game does have a nice aesthetic to it, and the mechanics are conceptually sound, if a bit tedious. It’s worth checking out at least, as it doesn’t cost you anything to download and play the app, and it’s certainly enjoyable enough in the short term. But in the long term the share gall of the game’s gem pricing just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, leaving me unable to recommend it to anyone but diehard fans of the show despite the initial price. Feel free to window shop, but please leave your wallet at the door.