My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic is one of the most anticipated fan works in the pony fandom. It’s notable enough to get attention from Lauren Faust and Jayson Thiessen. Fighting is Magic is an arcade style fighter set in the world of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, using characters and set pieces from the show. As of now it has been under development for more than a year, and the devteam, Mane6, has been remarkably consistent with showing numerous builds and progress updates. At the recent MLP:FiM fan convention, Canterlot Gardens, the team showed off their newest build with a panel, a public demo, and a tournament.
I was present during the convention, and I’ve got a hands-on impression of that build. Read beyond the cut to find out more.
Thrilla In Ponyville-ah
Do note that this is only a summary of the basics of the game, so keep in mind that there’s a lot of details not discussed, and I’ll condense fighting game concepts down. Check out the various livestreams or the various discussion threads (including our own!) if you want to get into the nitty gritty.
Fighting is Magic is a 2D fighting game that follows in suit of traditional fighting games such as Street Fighter, King of Fighters, Marvel Vs Capcom, and the like. The gameplay pits two characters against each other to attack one other with diminishing health until one (or both) runs out. It also applies to the controls as well—you have standard directions for moving left and right, jumping and crouching. Holding the “back” direction acts as a block.
Different face buttons on the pad or controller act as attacks, and each button represents the attack strength. There are four attack buttons: Light, Medium, Heavy, and Magic. Special moves are performed by traditional directional motions with simultaneous attack presses—quarter circles, charge attacks, and such. Check out the development site for details on the controls and the list of special moves, but rest assured that a manual will probably be coming with the game when it hits.
The game has a feel that is best described by the developer’s themselves: “…as we got into the engine and saw the immense amount of limitations, we turned it into a kind of one versus one combo centric fighter along the lines of Melty Blood and a bit of BlazBlue I guess. But as we created the characters and actually played the game, it just kind of became its own thing.” The game has inputs that feel light and fast, and linking together attacks in series feels simple and intuitive. But the deeper you look, the less it looks like Street Fighter, Melty Blood and BlazBlue and the more it becomes unique. But for now these are good enough comparisons and only time will tell if the end product will stand on its own merits.
In terms of general game mechanics, there aren’t many noticeable changes from the EVO build aside from tech rolling, which the developers say has been added to the game to add more motion in matches. While it is certainly a visible change, it’s out of our knowledge if this dish quenched the developers’ thirst.
With that said, let’s take a look at the characters.
The Earthiest of Earth Ponies, Applejack’s attacks comprise mostly of her usage of her hind legs in tandem with her ropes to rake opponents into close range. While her attacks aren’t exactly flashy or have as large a number of hits as other characters, Applejack has very good power behind her attacks to make up for it. As described by the developers, “She has a hard time getting in on an equally matched opponent, but once she is in, it’s (by design) a blow up.” Due to the raw power in what Applejack can do in her basics, she is sometimes referred to as the go-to character for new players to ease into the game.
On the surface, Applejack doesn’t appear to have changed much from the EVO Build of the game (check out this livestream for details on what exactly was in the EVO build), aside from a new (awesome) hat on the Granny Smith palette and the fact that her Counterbuck Special Move now requires three magic meter instead of two.
[Editor's Note: Applejack's Bionic Farm is a personal favorite of mine. Rad would be proud.]
The main character of the show, Twilight is somewhat similar to Ryu from Street Fighter or characters like him (sometimes called “shoto clones”) due to her special moves. Twilight’s Spark and heavy Teleport are similiar in function to the special moves of those traditional characters. But as typical with shoto clones, they usually have very stark differences as well, and for Twilight that would be her normal teleports and her chapter traps that float. With her various special moves, Twilight has a lot of options to play with.
Twilight hasn’t changed much from the EVO build. Apparently, her Magic Spark Heavy no longer aims upwards as in the EVO Build, but it can be launched in the air.
Everyone’s favorite party pony, Pinkie Pie, is just about as crazy and weird as you’d expect her to be. Pinkie Pie has a wide variety of wacky moves that can throw off the opponent and can come from several directions. Her Be Right Back move gives potential for mixups (moves that trick your opponents’ about where you are going to attack next). She’s a relatively harder character to learn due to her Charge style inputs (a type of special attack input that requires holding a direction for execution) and her close-range “rushdown” combo style, but if you can manage her inputs she becomes very satisfying to play.
Pinkie Pie seems to have changed the least from her EVO Build appearance. Her level three super runs on a timer that previously wasn’t visible in the EVO Build, but it is now visible. Also, that super now has a splashed paint background similar to the backdrop used in the episode “Party of One”.
The most sophisticated of Ponies, Rarity is the closest the game has to a “zoning” character. All of her special attacks are gem based moves that can hit the opponents from a distance, but as a trade-off she has low life, making her a bit frail. Rarity is one of the more technical characters to learn as players will really have to properly know and switch between her various projectiles on a whim, and due to this a lot of early players couldn’t grasp her attacks correctly making her look weaker in comparison to other demo’d characters. However, the developers have reassured us that a correctly played Rarity will be perfectly viable.
Rarity has gone through several changes from build to build, and the Canterlot Gardens build is no different. Rarity’s level one super pre-Canterlot Gardens was called “Gemstorm”, in which Rarity would summon large amounts of gems from the ground, and toss them in a screen-filling attack. That super was deemed “braindead” by the developers for being too easy and a little too good as a level one super. So for this build they have moved that super to the level 2 position and renamed it “Super Gemstorm”, putting in a similar super that only covers a third of the area with vertically rising gems, but can change positions depending on player input. This change seems fair so far, but only time will tell if this will be what Rarity sticks with in this game. Additionally, Rarity now has a magic aerial gem attack. The attack will launch several gems into the air and home in on the opponent as it travels down for the cost of 2 magic meter. It should also be noted that this is air unblockable. If you don’t know what the magic system in this game means, check out the small blurb on the dev site or my character detailed list here of the magic system at EVO.
The big new reveal for the Canterlot Gardens build! Rainbow Dash’s first appearance certainly made a splash as she had a large amount of representation in the tournament. Touting only one special move and no Super moves, we are likely to see Rainbow Dash change quite a bit in the upcoming builds, but what Mane6 have so far is a solid foundation. As one would expect, Rainbow Dash loves to be in the air where a lot of her attacks deal more damage, and she has some tricks of her own with her mini-Cumulonimbus cloud lightning bolt and her fast dash attack. The dash attack is usable in any direction in land or air with her magic meter. With these in tow, along with stronger aerial attacks and her flight (presumably exclusive to winged characters), Rainbow Dash is sure to be a somewhat difficult but fairly rewarding character when a player can use her aerial combos correctly.
It should be noted that Rainbow’s ground idle animation and attacks are very different from the rest of the cast, as she imitates the “put em up!” boxer-like position of raising her fore-hooves to her chest where she the jabs out for her attacks. A very interesting decision animation-wise, it stands out as a good example of how clever can the developers be while keeping true to both what makes sense for a fighting game and for making designs that feel relatively faithful to the show even if they are loose interpretations or straight up original.
The art in this game is very solid, and the backgrounds are no exception! These backgrounds are drawn by Elosande who will continue to make some updates on some stages. Applejack’s, Rainbow Dash’s, and Twilight’s stages seem unchanged, but Rarity’s stage has some noticeable updates. In addition, we got a first look at Pinkie Pie’s stage and Fluttershy’s Cottage! Unfortunately there are too many tiny details to cover for this section, but it should be noted that the stages don’t appear to be one hundred percent finalized yet, so as the initial release draws near you are likely to see more updates to the stages.
The one question that everyone asks is one that can’t be answered yet. The developers have their own idea about how much longer the initial release will take, but until they feel fully confident that they can meet that date, they are keeping it close to the vest. The initial release of the game will contain the Mane Six as playable characters along with their individual stages and theme music, multiplayer ready with an online client and local multiplayer capability as well. After the inital release the developers plan on releasing update patches as they see fit to fill up a predetermined seventeen character roster (no, we don’t know who is in the roster yet) as well as any bug/infinite fixes. Considering that work still needs to be done on Rainbow Dash as well as implementing Fluttershy, on top of internal QA and balancing, it seems unlikely that the game will be released in the immediate future, but the Mane6 team have recently acknowledged and agreed with sentiments of their slow progress and wish to work on bringing out the game faster.