My five year-old daughter loves the My Little Pony Friendship is Magic TV show, and her Christmas presents were almost exclusively ponies. So in our house, we welcome all things pony. Which is why Gameloft’s My Little Pony Friendship is Magic, based on the traditional city-building casual game mechanic, could have been fun for my family to enjoy. Could have been. Should have been.
Because instead of creating a fun children’s game, Gameloft have a crafted a shallow experience that seems to exist largely to frustrate children by locking away content and forcing parents to pay real money to unlock it. I don’t know whether it’s irresponsible or cynical to create a game for young ones that is so heavily rooted in micro-transactions, but whatever you feel about the business model in general (personally, I have no problem with this kind of monetization for adult audiences), it’s disturbing to think that a publisher would find it ethically okay to wrap beloved characters around this kind of greed and foist it on unsuspecting parents and children.
Because, (and let’s set aside the Brony crowd for a minute), the average girl who might play My Little Pony Friendship is Magic is going to have a fairly limited understanding of how this style of game is supposed to work, and that much of the content is either unavailable or unaffordable unless you want to spend money on it.
When my daughter wants to purchase enough gems to unlock Princess Celestia (her favorite pony) in the game, and I have to explain how we can drive to Walmart, buy a real Princess Celestia, get lunch, and still spend less that it would have cost to add a few pixels to the game, something’s not right. Celestia is an extreme example, as the most expensive purchase in the game, but there are a large number of lesser characters that can only be acquired by either wasting countless hours grinding, or spending real dollars to unlock.
That right there parents, is frustration.
What makes it even more frustrating is that if you could get by without the microtransactions, it’s not a bad little game, and kids would definitely enjoy it. Loosely based on the show’s pilot episode, the game does feature a loose storyline, which is somewhat rare in the genre. Twilight Sparkle and Spike the Dragon need to rebuild Ponyville and save the land of Equestria from Nighmare Moon. That means building stores, welcoming back ponies, and pushing back the shadows to reveal the five elements of harmony.
Initially, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic plays quite smoothly as a few ponies are brought back, both very familiar faces and some secondary characters, and it definitely looks and feels like the TV show, including sound bites and dialogue from some of the characters.
Once you have ponies and stores, you can put them to work and start earning money, including playing a couple of minigames to level up your ponies and earn even more money. There are two very simple games, Apple Catch and Ball Bounce, that you’ll play repeatedly to get your ponies up to the five-star level (with each earned star letting you play a third minigame, Clear the Skies), but it would definitely be great if Gameloft could add a couple more minigames to provide even a small amount of variety.
That is where My Little Pony Friendship is Magic falls down, in that there really isn’t that much to do, especially once you’ve played for a couple of hours, and you start to hit that wall where things start taking longer and costing more (and hence, where you’d want to spend money to acquire more currency to speed things up).
If you know that your child is going to lose interest pretty quickly, unless you are willing to pay money to hold her interest a little longer, are you, as a parent, willing to spend that money? That’s the big question.
The GamerPops Recommendation
As a city building casual game, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic works nicely, if repetitively. As a game for young girls that love the TV and the toys, I have serious reservations.
If you are a Brony, go ahead and enjoy rebuilding Ponyville and saving Equestria from Nightmare Moon, and spend your money as you like on the in-app purchases.
If you are a parent though, take a moment before you download the app to think about whether your children will be able to handle not having easy (or any) access to a significant chunk of the game. While this looks and plays like a fun little app, once your children come up against the realities of a micro-transaction based economy, it’s almost guaranteed to become frustrating to them, to you, or to both of you, and that’s definitely not magic.