Genre: Party/Awful Awful Pink Ponies
Release Date: November 26, 2007
I'll spare you the concept reviews. My first thought was a (very nearly true-to-life) scenario where My Little Pony: Pinkie Pie's Party Parade had actually caused a complete loss of sanity and the review was a set of transcribed notes showcasing a decline in mental health. The second was essentially a rant as to how, back in my day, kids grew up with proper games — bona fide classics like Dungeon Master and Carrier Command. But no, we'll try to keep the drama to a minimum and take Pinkie Pie's Party Parade seriously, regardless of the involuntary shudder I have to suppress every time I type out that name.
Let's deal with you first. Yes, you, sitting there and staring at the screen. If you're reading this, I can only assume it's because you're either genuinely intrigued as to whether MLP: PPPP is a worthwhile purchase for your kids, or because you're a sadist who takes glee from the suffering of poor journalists. The latter will be deeply amused, but it's the former with whom I'll concern myself today.
MLP: PPPP is more of an activity set than it is a game. There are 10 activities for your biological tiny to play with, of which six are games, one is an activity pretending to be a game, and three make no pretense of being games and are simply design workshops. Of these 10, it's possible to lose exactly zero of them — there's no game over, and no penalty for failure. Perseverance is rewarded far more than any level of skill. (Back in my day, we had the hardest games ever, like Jet Set Willy, and they taught us lessons about how worthless we were, but I digress.) For every few levels of continuous play, the player is rewarded with a quarter of a poster showing off one of the e-pony-mous equines (I'm so very sorry.) If you collect the entire poster, you can print it out.
The activities vary slightly. The first is essentially a rudimentary painting program, presenting a choice of backgrounds, some stickers, and a number of paintbrushes giving various different effects, and it even lets you print out the finished work. My first effort is a masterpiece worthy of one of the Renaissance masters, and I feel that it perfectly sums up my feelings at the time.
This painting section is also far and away the best thing in the package. The other activities suffer from being incredibly limited; while the painting allows some level of creativity, the majority of the others simply let you pick various different designs that are automatically placed. One allows you to pick out some clothes, of which there are around seven articles for each clothing type (seven sets of earrings, seven hats, etc.). The other lets you decorate a room by picking, say, a banner and some balloons, and then watching a slow and incredibly annoying animation of one of those godforsaken horse-mutants floating up and placing them in the room.
The final activity pretends it's a game. The deeply intelligent player is shown a picture of a cake. He or she is then forced to replicate said picture — with it visible the entire time, as there is no memory-based trickery here — by selecting, say, the shape of the cake, from a list of options, and then placing candles in the correct place and so on. While this is MLP: PPPP's first attempt at a game, it reveals its true colors when you successfully recreate a cake, at which time it lets you go completely mental and decorate it however you like before you move onto the next one. Obviously, this "activity" is actually a chilling morality tale of how striving for simple perfection inevitably leads to nothing but discordant chaos. A fitting lesson for any child, and one we would all do well to bear in mind.
Then we come to the “games." One is a useless matching exercise apparently inspired by Bejeweled, asking only that the player clicks on a flower if it's connected in any non-diagonal way to two or more identical flowers. It has a hint feature on the off chance you get stuck, which doesn't so much hint as it shows you where a match is. One requires you to throw stars to blow up clouds by simply selecting a height, so that they arc downwards. Then you've got a bowling game that plays like golf games of yore, requiring only a couple of clicks at the right position and at the right power, but, again, without any real skill involved. Then there's a top-down racing game that doesn't have either accelerate or decelerate buttons, and then — oh, you get the idea. The games are all basic, simple, and calling them “games" is a bit of a stretch, but the target audience probably won't mind too much.
In terms of technical prowess, MLP: PPPP doesn't appear to have any bugs, which is nice. It'll also run at any resolution as long as you ask it to run in 800x600, complete with an eye-gougingly low refresh rate. Options are relegated solely to music and sound effect volume, which is useful, because while the sound effects are fairly standard, the music is made up of a tune that seems to repeat after about 12 notes. Forever. Or at least until you pray that your ears fill up with blood and a deity takes mercy on you, blocking out the horrendous dirge. As a game aimed at the very young, it also appears to disable most Windows keyboard functions, so there's no chance of accidentally going back to the desktop by mashing the Windows key or alt-tab.
What else? The plot — because I have no doubt that as an intelligent person, you are deeply intrigued by the prospect of ponies throwing a parade — well. It's disappointingly bland, particularly after the fantastic plots seen in various competing games recently (like Bioshock), but for the plot twist at the end, which is spectacularly Machiavellian, albeit almost certainly unintentional. It is possible that I'm merely thinking too hard about it, but that previous sentence was largely without irony. The graphics are generally of a rather low quality, with a lot of things that should probably be animated (e.g., the stars thrown in the cloud-destroying game) simply represented by static pictures, and the ponies themselves are seemingly rendered images that have been turned into the in-game graphic equivalent of an animated gif. Oh, and the speech is intensely annoying, but I'm not sure that'll surprise anyone.
But — and here's the kicker — it doesn't matter. If you're reading this, the game is quite clearly not for you, and you're way past the targeted demographic (insofar as you're not the one for whom the game will be purchased). Is it worth it for the mini-people, though? That really depends on whether they're big fans of the My Little Pony franchise. The absolute lack of challenge and emphasis on rather repetitive activities aims it squarely at the very, very young, and both of these issues imply that anyone who's not a fanatic of the franchise will likely be entertained for an hour or two every now and then, but will quickly tire of it. On the other hand, those who can't get enough of the Ponies will probably be entertained for a longer amount of time. The only issue that's likely to cause worry for them is the refresh rate causing eye irritation, but over short periods, it's unlikely to be a major issue.
So, a thoroughly middle-of-the-road score for a thoroughly middle-of-the-road children's game. My Little Pony: Pinkie Pie's Party Parade is no Carmen Sandiego, but then it's aimed at a considerably younger audience. At the very least, it should buy parents an hour or two of silence, but it's not particularly educational, nor is it going to have any great longevity for all but the most ardent Pony-ites.
If you're an adult contemplating this for yourself, subtract 5.5 from the final score. And slap yourself. Otherwise …