Sunday, 10 February 2013

Review: "Games Ponies Play" (S3E12)

The ponies perform their routine
16, zero, minus pi, draw a heart shape in the sky!
The end of Season 3 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is rapidly approaching, and indeed we've now had the penultimate episode of our half-length season. Steering well away from the sound and fury that has affected what most of us now know about the finale, this was another "filler" episode, but interestingly done, with a twist that has never been used by this show before. After the jump, I'll discuss that further, along with giving some (relatively brief) thoughts about how well it worked.

The new concept for the show was that the events of "Games Ponies Play" ran simultaneously with those of the previous episode. Indeed, Spike himself makes an appearance in his chef's hat at the beginning, while the last shot of all is of him, the pets and the Cutie Mark Crusaders hiding under the seats in the ponies' train back to Ponyville. I thought the concept worked well, especially since it wasn't pushed too hard. A light touch is usually best when it comes to doing this sort of thing, and so it was here. So, a definite tick for that aspect of the episode.

Rainbow slides down the roof as Rarity wonders what's going on
"Rainbow Dash! Stop blocking out my light!"
The story itself revolved around a "mistaken identity" plotline that the average six-year-old in the target audience could have seen coming from Jupiter. It was apparent from almost the moment she appeared that the visiting mustang (never actually named in the show, though known as Ms Peachbottom in preparation) was not really Ms Harshwhinny, but then this show has had plenty of successful episodes that have telegraphed their intentions. "Party of One" is a perfect example: it's very, very obvious that Pinkie's going to be getting a surprise party, yet it's still a superb episode.

What was much more interesting about the tourist was the fact that she suffered from claustrophobia. More importantly, that claustrophobia was not played purely for laughs, and she wasn't made to look silly because of it. It's not very common for a condition like this to appear in a show for little kids, and I applaud Dave Polsky for writing it. How accurate the pony's depiction of claustrophobia was I don't know, and I'm sure real life sufferers could pick plenty of holes in it, but I thought it made her seem a very sympathetic character.

As I've mentioned in the past, Polsky is a good writer for Fluttershy, and this seems to apply to Rainbow Dash as well. Dashie has had some really good material to work with in the last few episodes, and there was more of the same here. The short flashback sequence was intriguing: the rainbow-maned stallion carrying her might have been her dad — though for all we know, he could have been an uncle or something. Rainbow's abrasive-but-loyal personality was well observed, and was very much suited to her determined efforts to get the Equestria Games for the Crystal Empire.
Cadance's head-dress - unsuccessful version
Surely I can't be the only one who thinks this looks quite good? Okay, I am
Humour was not in short supply; this is another Polsky trait. One of the funniest scenes was Rainbow Dash (again) flying through the air, landing on the roof of the room where Rarity was styling Cadance's mane, and slowly sliding down as Rarity tried to work out what was causing that noise. I know I was far from the only fan to note the similarity between the Crystal Bath and the infamous Gak. And although I'm not generally a huge fan of sports chants, the one the Mane Six performed managed (in its final form) to be both amusing and awesome at the same time.

On the other hand, I thought Pinkie Pie was a bit strange, even by her standards, this time around. This is the writer who gave us "Too Many Pinkie Pies", but even one was more than enough in "Games Ponies Play". Her Spike-style "NOOOO!!!" (and so on) were strange enough, but that "Cinnamon bun? *squee*" line near the end was just completely out-there. At the moment, Katie Cook (in the IDW comic) seems to have the best handle on how to make Pinkie utterly bizarre but still keep her feeling as though she's paying some attention to her surroundings.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this episode in the longer term was the continuing character development for Twilight. Despite a number of setbacks during the course of events, she was quite successful in restraining her usual tendency to panic under pressure. That was down to some careful training and advice from Cadance on... well, technically this is a spoiler, but given that everyone in the entire universe now knows, I might as well carry on: it was on how to perform a certain new role that awaits her. Like most fans, I'm apprehensive about what will come of this, but that's for next week.

Filly Dash and (perhaps) her dad
They might as well have just called this scene "Fanfic Explosion" and had done with it
"Games Ponies Play" was a very nice episode to look at, which I suppose you'd expect from an instalment set largely in the "even crystallier" Crystal Empire. The highlight was probably Cadance's fully styled mane, although the "porcupine" disaster from earlier on was even more spectacular in its way. There was one odd mistake, with Fluttershy's flank bearing Twilight's cutie mark for a second after the train stopped, but everything else looked lovely. Yes, it was a filler episode, but by those standards it was a good one. As Rainbow and Fluttershy might put it: "Bump-cha!"

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