App Reviewed on: iPhone 4
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As a big fan of classic simulation games like Theme Hospital and Sim City 2000, I've more than enjoyed Kairosoft's resurrection of the genre on iOS. Mega Mall Story was hands-down one of my favorite games of last year, a dangerously addictive retail translation of Theme Park at an absolute bargain price. So I was hopeful of seeing this year's parallel to Mega Mall Story when acclaimed iOS publisher Chillingo decided to dip their toes into the simulation pool with Toy Factory. Unfortunately the game is not up to the publisher's typical standards - not even nearly. At its best it serves as an appreciably free reminder that a cute idea isn't enough to make a simulation game work.
And it is a cute idea to put players in charge of a toy factory, making toys from materials on the factory floor and then selling them in a shop upstairs which can be customized and personalized a bit like a Sims house. The toys themselves are fun approximations of real-life toys - Beatrix, the fashionable super-model doll, and Clerk Krypton, a levitating superhero. It's also presented with visual aplomb thanks to some excellent character design. There's a decent complement of interesting features too, like being able to visit friends' shops and the missions which guide players through the basics. On the surface and even for the first hour or so Toy Factory seems a fun, adorable simulation game.
Unfortunately, it quickly reveals itself to be something less. The game plays in real-time and cannot be sped up, unlike most simulation games. So if some material takes an hour to make, players literally have to wait an hour until it's made. They can exit the game and when they resume it will continue based on how much time has passed since they'd last played, however.
The major problem - and it seems a deliberate design decision with the consequences in mind - is that the materials expire shortly after they've been completed (relative to how long they took to make). These expired materials can be restored using rubies, an in-app purchasable currency. Rubies can be spent to skip waiting and complete the material immediately. So the game is effectively pushing players to either play it for long periods of time in which they're just waiting on materials or to spend money to speed up the process. This makes Toy Factory effectively unplayable as a dip-in, dip-out experience unless players are prepared to spend some money or work their schedules implicitly around the game, which is ridiculous.
It's not particularly classy, nor are the numerous spelling and grammar mistakes in the alerts. It's disappointing, frankly. There's a neat idea in Toy Factory and a game can that work, but unless players are prepared to spend money that's as far as it goes.