Developer: Barrel of Donkeys
Price: $0.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.1
Device Reviewed On: iPod touch 4

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½
Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Toybox is a delicious Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of a game. It’s actually two games at once: on the left side of the screen is a shoot-’em-up, where players drag their ship around the screen, shooting bad guys, where running out of lives means game over. The right side of the screen is a match–3 puzzler, and over-stacking a column means game over as well.

What makes Toybox so ingenious is the way that the two concurrent game types inform each other. The shmup portion influences the blocks that the player does or does not get to drop, as enemies with flashing lights drop blocks of the same color on the right side of the screen. As well, matches made in the puzzle portion can clear the screen and even give extra lives. It’s simple yet brilliant. Also, the puzzle section is intelligent, where if the player runs out of lives in the shooter portion, the game isn’t instantly over, as it’s possible to come back by making an extra life match – and there’s a Game Center achievement for this as well. Clever.

The drawback to Toybox is that there’s only one level to play at a time, and it’s set up to be played on a weekly basis only. So, while the levels kind of feel similar anyway, there’s going to be that distinct experience every time the game is played in that 7-day period. Toybox does handle the “one level per week” aspect well, though: there’s in-game score competitions for that weekly level. However, there’s no detailed leaderboard, only rankings and percentiles given, and the initials of a player’s top 3 friends in the past week are given. I’d like to at least see the top scores, to get the context of how well I’m doing with my scores. There’s no iPad support for the game, but this is one of the few titles that really feels like it works a lot better at this particular screen size, though I imagine the controls could still be configured to work on the iPad’s display somehow.

Toybox is a great execution of a unique combination of standard ideas. The hybrid product is something unique in and of itself, and while it’s not very meaty, it’s definitely worth exploring.

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