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Item - Starswirl Do-Over

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User Summary: When the Mane Seven attend a music festival, Sunset Shimmer finds herself caught in a time loop.
Demian's Thoughts:

I've always enjoyed shows that work on multiple levels; as a child, I tended to prefer things that seemed to engage my parents too, since it made me feel smart; now, as a parent, I'm grateful to creators who put in the effort to entertain the whole family. Fortunately for me, the overall quality of children's television seems to have improved since my childhood, and I've been surprised by how many series watched by my family have thoroughly engaged me. Perhaps most surprising of all is the My Little Pony franchise, which has transformed something utterly vapid into a clever fantasy world populated by a huge array of characters, some of whom actually develop in interesting ways over time. It's also quite a gamer-friendly series, between the fictional Ogres and Oubliettes game featured in several episodes, and the real-life Tails of Equestria, one of the best family-friendly role-playing games I've come across. While a Tails of Equestria solo adventure would be a higher priority on my wish list, this simple branching-path book is the next best thing, and it's quite well done.

This adventure is set in the universe of the Equestria Girls spin-off, an alternate dimension in which the Friendship is Magic series' high fantasy world is replaced by a high school, and most of the pony characters have humanoid equivalents. The book is well-written, effectively capturing the characters, plotting style and humorous tone of the series -- this is about as close to an interactive episode as you could hope to get in book format, and fans are sure to enjoy it. The problem for the general audience of gamebook enthusiasts, of course, is that the book would be hard to appreciate without prior knowledge of Equestria Girls (at very least, watching the Rainbow Rocks movie would help tremendously), and that's probably more research than they are going to want to do. While the best episodes of the main Friendship is Magic series have a fairly universal appeal, the Equestria Girls material feels more consciously targeted to a "tween" audience and, while competently done, is less likely to hold the attention of an average adult viewer unaccompanied by a child.

Putting aside the appeal (or lack thereof) of the plot and setting, the gameplay of the book is reasonably well-constructed. While I have fairly low expectations of a media tie-in gamebook, this has a more interesting structure than the bare minimum binary tree that one might expect. There is only one successful ending, though there are several possible ways to reach it due to the way paths converge at several points in the book. In spite of a lot of reuse of sections, the book strikes a fairly good balance between offering choices and telling a single consistent story while also successfully avoiding continuity problems (the time loop plot is a good fit for the gamebook format and helps things hold together). My biggest complaint is that the successful ending is fairly easy to find, especially if you are familiar with the conventions of the series, and once reached, there is not a whole lot of motivation for replaying the book. A few more pitfalls on the path to victory might have encouraged fuller exploration of the text; while there are some interesting ways to fail and some plot variations to discover, it's not quite enough to call the reader back after they've found the happy ending.

Bottom line: this is not perfect, but as media tie-in gamebooks go, it's well above average. If you want to introduce the joys of interactive books to an Equestria Girls fan, this is highly recommended... but if you're not familiar with the series, you probably won't want it for yourself. For my part, since I've already gone through the necessary indoctrination, I had fun with this and would happily pick up future volumes to share with my family. I'd also enthusiastically pick up other works by this author; given how successful she was within the constraints of a media tie-in, I'd be interested to see what else she is capable of.

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Kindle edition

Series: My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Make Your Own Magic no. 1
Item: Starswirl Do-Over
Platform: Kindle
Author: Ralls, Whitney
Date: February 5, 2019
Length: 143 pages

Paperback edition, first printing

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Related Documents

Structure Diagram

Equestria Girls #1 Map