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City Building: “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” vs “The Simpsons: Tapped Out”

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While waiting for that new Sim City to work, I’ve taken to casual city building games on my iTouch to show off my city planning skills; namely My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and The Simpsons: Tapped Out. I figure that if I am going to waste my time building a virtual city, it might as well be a city based off a successful cartoon franchise or two.

Rather than review them individually, I’ll just compare the two based on a few predetermined categories. (At least that sounds more scientific than lazy.)

By K Valentine

Premise/Writing

These cartoony city building games should reflect the successful cartoon franchises that they are based on. My Little Pony’s premise has Nightmare Moon spreading darkness across the city of Ponyville and it’s up to Twilight Sparkle (aka the player) to restore things to the status quo, repopulate it with various equestrians, and drive out said darkness with the Elements of Harmony. Given my limited knowledge of the cartoon, this is a pretty good adaptation of the series in game form that manages to give purpose to the game. It even adds context to that shroud that surrounds the starting area of the game.

Tapped Out’s premise is that lovable idiot Homer Simpson blew up Springfield while playing a city building game and now he has to rebuild the city. During the city building, various beloved characters from The Simpsons (and Martin) will arrive to request that buildings get built as they provide some joking commentary about the city building game genre. Tapped Out reflects the humor of The Simpsons and shows how crappy the writing has become. The commentary about city building are just references and poorly executed lampshading that reflects how monotonous the city building genre is. The commentary about the monotony of city building becomes monotonous itself and reminds me why I haven’t really been watching the newer seasons of The Simpsons.

One point for My Little Pony.

City Building/Level Progression

My Little Pony has the basic city building game economy and level progression: Place buildings, collect income & experience from buildings, use income to place more buildings or the occasional decorative item, and gain enough experience to level up to unlock more stuff to place. In My Little Pony’s case, the buildings serve as homes for the ponies and places for them to work. Strategically placing ponies in those work buildings determines how much and often they generate income and experience. Occasional story quests asking to place a certain objects or collect income from buildings flow into the game without interfering.

Tapped Out has a similar economy but executes things slightly differently. Simpsons characters have to be interacted with directly as they request buildings to place, which will only then unlock the building. This means you can’t build your city, which I remind you is kind of the point of a city building game, until the character directly asks for a building and makes it available. While more engaging, the actual city building severely slows down since characters can only request one building or action at a time and buildings can take up to a day to finish. Leveling up is moot since levels won’t unlock building

One point for My Little Pony.

Graphics/Sound

For a casual game on a smart device, the quality of the graphics and sound are on par with the cartoons these games are based on. The ponies of My Little Pony look and move like their cartoon counterparts (though Big Mac has some girly animations) and I could relax watching them frolic, trot, or get distracted by butterflies. The Mane 6 ponies and a few ancillary ponies are voiced by their cartoon actresses. Spike and Twilight Sparkle’s dialogue during the introduction and pivotal scenes feel straight off the show.

Tapped Out also has well-done sprites of the various characters and buildings that match the show. The people all have nice animations that reflect the current activity you assign them except for the activities that takes place indoors. Most feature voice acting, though I do question why Milhouse is currently mute despite being a major ancillary character. Pivotal scenes are fully animated like the original cartoon, which puts it ahead of My Little Pony in this category.

One point for The Simpsons: Tapped Out.

Social and General Connectivity

One of my personal banes with city building games and today’s games in general is a shoehorned social connectivity aspect. I usually play games to unwind and to get away from connecting with people who aren’t my wife. For the most part, city building games allow you the option of connecting with other players so you can show off your city. Additionally, the game developers hope you can hook more people into the game who may end up paying real money for this free game later.

My Little Pony manages to turn social connectivity into a requirement by featuring a unique social currency earned by adding and visiting other people’s accounts. You’ll need this currency to unlock at least one of the ponies during a story quest. That wouldn’t be so bad except the damned social server hardly works. Despite adding a bunch of people to my account, I hardly ever succeeded in connecting to the server to send or receive any social currency.

Tapped Out has an easier way to connect socially through EA’s Origin account. Chances are if you’ve bought an EA game before, you already have Origin and can find people playing the same EA Games as you. Visiting other people’s visions of Springfield nets in-game currency and experience but is not required.

So that point goes to Tapped Out – until I noticed that Tapped Out requires a constant connection to the Internet to play my own city. And so, Tapped Out shoots itself in the foot just like a certain other EA city building game that has issues due to its requirement of being constantly connected to the Internet even for single play. And since I’m on an iTouch, I don’t get Wi-Fi access at all times. If I wanted to kill time and check up on Springfield while waiting in the car to pick up my wife, which I remind you is one of the appeals of casual games like these city building ones, I’m better off just checking on Ponyville since I only need Internet access when visiting other people if that function ever works.

No point for either.

My Little Pony

Miscellaneous Gameplay

As Tapped Out is quick to point out, city building games are monotonous tapping of the screen. This is a perfect opportunity to break the monotony with bonus mini games that can provide more story or enhance a game experience. And outside of a recurring scratcher lottery game, this was an opportunity that Tapped Out ignored in favor of just pointing out the monotony. My Little Pony provides two mini-games used to level up resident ponies so they can work in more advanced buildings for more income. But apple catching and ball bouncing can get boring as the only games available. So it’s back to monotonous screen tapping for both cases.

No point for either.

Premium Currency

While both games are free to play, both games want you to pay real money for premium in-game currency that’s used to speed up production or place exclusive buildings or characters. Tapped Out may progress at a snail’s pace, but it’s never required to actually spend premium currency to speed up production or take part in the raffles for premium items. My Little Pony makes it clear that the game, like the rest of the franchise, is here to take your money. You can’t buy two of the Mane 6 without coughing up about 600 units of premium currency that can take months to earn for free or several hard earned dollars. And the fact that you need these two ponies to complete quests really shows how greedy this game is.

One point for The Simpsons: Tapped Out.

Winner

Neither. Both games are functional, but lack the features that take it beyond tapping a touchscreen and waiting for stuff to finish. Now just let me play Sim City alone without an Internet connection so I can raise a small shanty town into growing metropolis before I call on asteroids to blow it all to dust in a satisfying crescendo.

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