Developer: Toca Boca
Price: $2.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.1
App Reviewed on: iPad 3

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Storytelling/Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
Intuitiveness Rating: ★★★★☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Recently I was given the chance to check out Toca Boca’s newest hair-cutting app, Toca Hair Salon Me, the third in a very popular series of apps also including the famed Toca Hair Salon and equally well received Toca Hair Salon 2, and I was interested to see what new ideas were included within this additional application. By now, most families interested in apps for the iPad or iPhone know at least a little of the gameplay of the Toca Hair Salon apps; allowing players to choose from a series of colorful and interesting characters who are eager to try on new hair styles, allowing players to comb, cut, buzz or shave their hair with the recent addition of a straightener, curling iron and crimper. A hair washing and dyeing station are offered, as well as the ability to grow back the hair with a magic G.R.O. potion. Try on various fashion accessories such as hats, glasses or barrettes as well, and be sure to take some photos to remember one’s work.

23Toca Hair Salon Me offers users the same styling options, but here one can take a picture or use a saved image from the camera roll to create the character who sits in the salon chair waiting for their new look. The idea that one can add a photo to an app to create a character resembling a friend or family member is not a new one, as I have tested others – primarily storybook apps – that offer this kind of personalization to varied degrees of success. I enjoy, however, how instead of a stagnant image used throughout this app the face becomes animated and expressive in ways I have not seen in other applications.

It is simple to take a snapshot to use for Toca Hair Salon Me or search for an image to use in the photos one may have previously taken. Four neck and head shapes are offered to choose from, as one will rotate, pinch or zoom the picture to best fill in the face template from the chosen head shape. Four mouth shapes are also included. Do choose one that best matches the expression of the photo and center the illustrated eyes with the subject as well, as precision here will affect how well the photo will translate to the model one is creating. Having tested many dolls, stuffed animals and the like, as well as people that I know, I do find it easiest to use a subject that has a closed mouth – be it with the minimal expression of a straight lipped expression, slight upturned smile or lightly down-turned mouth. Although an open-mouth choice is available, I have had problems lining up the opening of the mouth – important for proper movement as these characters will emote feelings and curiosities, smile or frown, as well as open their mouths as if to communicate in this language-neutral app.

78Without a doubt the end product one goes on to style, cut or color will be quite interesting to say the least. Not fully knowing what one can expect, or even always identifiable as a specific person, there is a unique mix of familiar facial elements mixed with the details assigned by Toca Boca to the photo such as neck and upper brow color that tends to match the skin-tone of the subject, as well as tee shirt color, hair color and style one is starting out with. The effect can be quite wild if not a little creepy, and I don’t mean this in a bad way. Creepy can be good for the right person, but some sensitive children may want to shy away from using their image as seen in Toca Hair Salon Me. Likewise, I had a hard time interacting with my image the first time I saw my likeness waiting to be styled. My character’s eyes followed my interacting finger as it dragged around the page using various tools, shuttering as I shaved her head with clippers. I felt guilty for a moment for upsetting my likeness before I moved on to interest and excitement, growing back hair to cut and shave again.

I do find the inclusion of one’s own photograph to be effective in creating a character one will be interested in spending time with, and I have really enjoyed bringing my boy’s dolls and animals to life via this app as now these toys can look around the screen and make noises as if aware of their surroundings. What I do miss is the richly nuanced background from the first two Toca Hair Salons; with the creatively colorful odd-ball animal-like fantasy characters one could choose, and all the salon details that one could see behind the client such as the traffic outside an open window in Toca Hair 2 and other small details seen in the first Toca Salon and a general crisp depth of field that is not included in Toca Hair Me. Here, the salon view over the shoulder of the character in the chair is out of focus and decidedly not a part this app, leaving users with a stark experience compared to previous apps.

There is no choice to towel dry hair in Toca Hair Salon Me, and I preferred choosing a spray bottle of hair color, complete with the sound effect of shaking up a can of spray color, to the more clinical Photoshop-like choosing of hair color here – that of siding a finger along a rainbow selection of choices – be it traditional hair colors or a more Manic Panic selection of colors. I find that the previous Toca Hair Salon apps are warmer looking, better lit spaces that lead to a more desirable role-play experience, and I in turn would rather have my hair cut in one of the previous salons than what is offered here in the way of making the client comfortable in Toca Hair Salon Me.

54While using this app, I have also noticed the need to to have a lock function where the accessories do not become moved or removed if a finger accidentally touches an area of the head by mistake while trying to swipe to another section of this app. Likewise, I would love to have hairspray available to fix certain areas of the hair so they don’t move until washed out, allowing one to protect their work from being disturbed from the blow dryer or other tools that could still be used to continue an elaborate style, elements that would lessen some frustration and add to the overall salon experience.

Certainly some children and their adults will really enjoy Toca Hair Salon Me, but this app is an acquired taste. The characters created can be bizarre-looking, and I mean this in a good way, but they may not be appealing to all families. I do believe, however, that I may be more intrigued with the lovingly illustrated characters in all their quirky glory from the other Toca Salon apps than that of my own animated face on the screen, which is intended as a compliment – if not directly at this application. For me, a great Toca Boca app is made up of details however small, creating a world that children will want to make their own. It is these details that I somewhat miss from Toca Hair Me. Having said this, I plan on keeping this app around on our iPad and iPhone to bring my son’s toys to life, making this application actually quite useful for us in this way.


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