Review: My Little Pony

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: E - Everyone
My Rating: Ages 6 and up
Genre: City Building Simulator
License: Free to Play
Release Year: 2014
Review Published On: December 12th, 2017
Played on: Thaddeus

Available from:

Windows Store

Save System:

Progress is saved as you play.

To pause during a minigame, click on the pause button found somewhere on screen.

Summary of
Major Issues:

For a game aimed at children, this game is very reliant on its premium currency. In other words, it expects you to either earn gems through gameplay or in-game purchases.

While that is the major issue, the world of Equestria is also filled with fairy tale magic and magical horses.


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A group of happy ponies

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Changelings have invaded Canterlot!

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The Great and Powerful Minecart Minigame

Game Overview

The most recent generation of My Little Pony has turned out to be far more popular than anyone could have predicted. Thus, it's not surprising that Hasbro would move to capitalize on this large audience with a mobile game. Of course, this isn't the first time that this franchise experimented with a tie-in video game, but this is clearly the most successful of those attempts. In the past, these games have focused on creating your own pony or doing very basic fetch quests and minigames. This time around, the game is a town building simulation featuring story-driven quests.

Just like the TV show, the stories focus on the adventures of a purple unicorn named Twilight Sparkle and her young dragon companion, Spike. However, this game doesn't quite follow the show when it retells the events; probably because things like a battle with a fierce manticore or re-attaching a sea serpent's mustache aren't exactly going to mix into the game's gameplay mechanics all that well.

Still, the primary concern is bringing an end to Nightmare Moon's eternal night. To do this, the player will need to rebuild Ponyville to bring everypony back and locate the Elements of Harmony. These magical artifacts are found in two places: the six Harmony Stones scattered around the map, and in the hearts of six special ponies. To defeat Nightmare Moon, you must activate the Harmony Stones with the appropriate number of Element Shards, and have all six of the element bearers back in Ponyville. Getting the Element Shards is actually the easy part, as they are produced by the businesses in your town and you can also earn them through various minigames.

Later on, your adventure will continue into Canterlot, which is dealing with an infestation of bug-like changelings. Defeating them will require a lot of element shards, and eventually you'll need to defeat the evil Queen Chrysalis in a like manner. Technically, you can rescue Canterlot before you defeat Nightmare Moon, but the quests for it begin after you've already made progress in Ponyville. In the end, there is no actual win condition in this game; once you've completed every quest, you're free to continue expanding, building, and decorating both Ponyville and Canterlot to your heart's content.

Unfortunately, there are a number of issues with this game beyond the emphasis on magic and pretty pony princesses. The big one is that it's frighteningly dependent on in-game purchases. Thankfully, you can earn the premium currency it uses via gameplay, so with a little determination and some grinding, you can still save Equestria without spending a dime.

As for whether or not someone will enjoy this title, the question really just boils down to whether or not they are fans of the current "gen 4" My Little Pony series. If you're not already sold on the show, the simple gameplay and large amount of grinding is likely to turn you away after a while.

Points of Interest

The ponies come alive
Once a pony has joined your town, they walk about the streets and interact with other ponies. You'll often find a group of them sitting and talking together, though it's not uncommon for two ponies to simply wave at each other as they go about their business. Ponies also react if you click on them. Some of the time they'll just look around or stand at attention, but they'll often do a little dance, buck, or "raise the roof".

Several of the ponies also have their own voice acting and special, unique animations. For example, Rainbow Dash occasionally clears away a spare cloud, while Applejack may toss an apple into the air and eat it. All of the six main characters respond to being clicked on by saying something in addition to their usual animations. Beyond this, a handful of other characters (usually those that share a voice actor with a main character) will also have a line or two to say when you select them.
Four major story arcs
While the focus of the game is the Nightmare Moon arc from the show's first two episodes, there are three additional storylines from later on in the series. The second storyline covers the events of the Season 2 finale, where an evil race known as the Changelings attempted to conquer Canterlot by disrupting the royal wedding. The other two storylines are very brief, covering the events that led up to the first Equestria Girls movie and Twilight Sparkle's ascension to princesshood.
Multiple minigames
Ponies are generally unskilled when they arrive in town. This is a bit of a problem, as each business has a skill requirement, and you need all of your stores to be producing goods. Training your ponies involves playing a few minigames with them. Specifically, you help them collect apples from Sweet Apple Acres, map out constellations in the night sky, and play catch with a big toy ball. Once a pony is ready to earn a new star (ie, level up), they are given magical wings so they can soar into the sky and clear clouds in a short bonus round.

Other minigames include a rhythm game where you help the girls from Canterlot High dance to the various songs from the Equestria Girls movie, and the Crystal Mines minigame, where you race a pony of your choice through the mine's tunnels. Both of these minigames award prizes based on your overall progress. The dancing game unlocks ponies you can't acquire through normal means, while the minecart game is going to be your primary source of gems (and thus a major source of income) later in the game.

With the exception of the minecart minigame, you can improve the results of a minigame by buying multipliers with bits or gems. This comes in handy towards the end of the story arcs, as the late-game ponies take a lot of experience to level up.
Many details to please the pony fans
If you're making a game aimed at a specific fandom, it's always a good idea to try and cram in as much fanservice as you can, provided it doesn't distract from the game proper. Gameloft's My Little Pony App is one of the better examples of this, as it has tons of little details for the Brony community to get excited over. Many of the fan favorite ponies are available to include in your town, though there are some cases where the popular ponies are given different names than people might be used to. For example, the pony the fans know as "Night Light" is simply labeled "Twilight's Dad". While accurate, as Night Light is indeed Twilight's father, it comes across as a little strange that they didn't use his official name.

Another example of a fan-favorite character is Derpy Hooves (aka Muffins aka Ditzy Doo). She is present as a bonus character; instead of being able to have her move into town, she'll hide somewhere on the map, usually under a cardboard box. This is a nod to how she appeared in the show's second season -- she was hidden in the background of episodes like a "Where's Waldo" easter egg. Here, if you find her, click on her to earn a small bonus.
Gems can be earned through gameplay
Thankfully, you don't need to spend real money on the game to get the gems you'll need. However, it's not going to be a quick thing. While some quests reward you with gems and you can earn gems from various actions randomly, the main way you'll earn them is by playing the minecart minigame. The catch here is that this minigame can only be played when you have collected four minecart wheels. There are a few ways to do this, but the most reliable way is only available after you reach level 20 or so and the changeling invasion story arc begins.

Earlier on, you'll be relying on parasprites to earn those wheels. Each swarm of parasprites has five of the pests, and each one you clear has a chance to drop a wheel. This works out to roughly one chance at the minecart minigame for every two swarms you clear. Parasprite swarms are a bit rare though, so this won't be much of a quick fix. Changelings on the other hand, take five hits before they flee, and since each wheel they drop is actually worth four wheels, that's a possible five trips to the mine per changeling. Once the invasion starts, a handful of these monsters will appear in Canterlot every day, so you'll have a lot of opportunities once they start coming around.
Heavily dependent on gems
When microtransactions are used well, they provide a way to let players have more fun with their favorite games. The way they are used in this game isn't one of those times. Here, you'll need to acquire gems, the game's premium currency, in order to simply play the game. While there are ways to earn gems by playing the minigames, it's rather tedious grinding and the amount of gems we're talking about is pretty ridiculous. See below in the Concerns and Issues section for more details...
The Windows version has been effectively abandoned
Unfortunately, there haven't been updates to the Windows version since 2015. However, the mobile versions of the game have had multiple major changes and updates, keeping up with the show, movies, and supplying fixes for bugs that have cropped up. Thus, this version only has content from the first three seasons of the show and the first Equestria Girls movie.

On the plus side, there aren't many serious bugs. The three that stick out to me the most are a small graphical error when you're playing the Equestria Girls minigame as Twilight Sparkle, the multiplier on the minecart minigame failing to work, and the fact that the minecart minigame is unable to give you gems or the ponies you have earned as milestone rewards. This makes three ponies completely impossible to earn. Fortunately, the gems and coins earned in the minigame itself are added to your total, like you'd expect.
Simple gameplay
Beyond the quests, there really isn't much more to this game than placing buildings and decorations around town, leveling up your ponies, and playing a few other minigames. There's no need to deal with crime or property management, or just about anything more elaborate city management simulations have you deal with. Thus, it's pretty obvious that this was intended as a mobile game you play from time to time, rather than something to keep you invested for long periods.
Time limits and a lot of grinding
Like many mobile games, various actions take real time to complete. Clearing debris can take a few minutes to a few hours, and a new store or home can even take more than 20 hours to build. One of your more common tasks is to collect the products made by your businesses, and this too can only be done every so often. In some cases, businesses take over twenty eight hours to make a product!

Likewise, training ponies requires playing the same minigames over and over. Again, a fair amount of time needs to pass before a pony is ready to be played with again, further adding to the difficulty of leveling them up. In both cases, you can spend gems to reduce the time required, but you'll be spending a lot of time in the minecart minigame to earn what gems you need already!

Concerns and Issues

In game purchases
Although you can earn gems by playing minigames, it's pretty clear that the idea was for you to spend real money on them. There are several different amounts you can buy at once, and the more you purchase at once, the cheaper they become, but on the average each gem is worth about $0.10 USD.

Here's the big problem with this: many quests require you to spend gems on items or ponies you might not want, and many of the ponies in the game can only be bought using gems. I totaled it up as I played, and in the end, you'll need 1,549 gems to complete every quest. If you bought the gems using real money, this would cost you between $107 and $156, depending on which gem bundles you purchased.

Note that this doesn't get you all the ponies; it just covers the cost of completing the quests. Getting every pony available in the shop would run you an additional 2,156 gems (~$216), and there's a number of ponies that can only be won in Flim and Flam's Balloon Pop minigame -- the one that costs 10 gems (~$1) per attempt.

On a side note, there does appear to be some method to this madness. Things seem to be priced based on where they appear in the storylines. For example, Rainbow Dash is the last of the Mane 6 that you guide into Ponyville, and she's also the most expensive, at 65 gems (~$6.50). Apparently the idea is that you can use gems to skip ahead of the story in order to play with your favorite ponies immediately.

Another, possibly more risky, use of gems is to speed up things in progress. It takes time for buildings to be built and products to be made, but by paying a few gems they can be done instantly. The risk here is that you can get a little too comfortable spending those extra gems on instant gratification. Ultimately, I don't believe it's worth spending them to remove time limits; often, by the time you've earned enough gems to pay the fee, whatever you're waiting for will already be finished.

In Gameloft's defense, there are two big warnings about the use of microtransactions when you first start the game. They are hard to miss, so it's not like this aspect of the game was hidden from anybody.
In-game advertising
It's sort of remarkable that with all of the focus on microtransactions, there are still some places where advertising is shown. The usual location is a banner advertisement at the bottom of the screen, and this only appears when selecting your boosts for the various minigames. Every so often, a full-screen ad is displayed briefly, and you need to click a white X at the top right of your screen to remove it. The third place you'll see ads is optional: you can choose to view a short video advertisement as "payment" for various perks instead of the usual bits or gems.
Virtual gambling
One of the special buildings is a set of tents that provides you with access to Flim & Flam's Balloon Pop. In this minigame, there are three booths: one is free, one costs ten gems (~$1), and the third costs thirty hearts. To play, you pop balloons until you've won three random prizes. You can win up to five prizes if you're willing to pay gems to pop additional balloons.

What prizes you can win depend on which booth you use. The free booth can be played once every day, and usually gives out a small amount of coins or element shards. The booth that requires gems, however, can award decorations that normally cost gems to buy or rarely, some exclusive ponies for your town. This is the only way to get some of the fan-favorite characters, like Doctor Hooves or the Great and Powerful Trixie. Mind you, the odds of winning a pony aren't that high, and you'll end up having spent a lot of gems before you have them all. If you paid real money for those gems, then you literally gambled for your prizes.

An amusing side note here is that the creators of this game used Flim & Flam, the two biggest scam artists in the My Little Pony franchise, as the hosts of this in-game gambling attraction.
Very mild violence
At random intervals, parasprites will swarm around spaces on the map, preventing you from building in those locations. To clear them out, you click on them. This spends an element shard and makes one of the parasprites disappear. The changeling invasion works in a similar manner: each changeling takes five clicks (and thus five shards) to clear. Each click on a changeling makes them flinch slightly, and once their health bar is exhausted, they teleport away.

During the minecart minigame, you might end up landing on a Diamond Dog or other enemy after a jump. This just knocks them off the track, and they don't appear to care about getting knocked aside by you doing this. However, this is generally not the best idea as there is no reward for doing it and a slight mistake could easily result in your pony coming down too soon, finding themselves falling off the track instead.
A magical world with pretty pony princesses
As anyone remotely familiar with the My Little Pony franchise will tell you, unicorns, pegasi, and alicorns (ponies with both magical horns and wings) are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how much the brand is built on concepts found in fantasy settings. Magic is all over the place, and in Friendship is Magic, the bond between friends is actually a type of magic in and of itself. Manifested most strongly in the Elements of Harmony, a set of six qualities that are found in the truest of friends, this powerful source of magic is a key element in many of the show's stories and plots.

On a related note, one of the ponies you can have move into your town is the Great and Powerful Trixie, a unicorn mare that specializes in stage magic. She wears a stereotypical magician's hat and cape, somewhat reminiscent of the outfit worn by Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer's Apprentice.