Toca House Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 7th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Toca House is the new, highly anticipated universal application from the developers at Toca Boca.

Toca Boca is a very well-regarded developer, possibly best known for its open-ended apps such as Toca Tea Party or Toca Hair Salon. More akin to Toca Doctor, Toca House is a collection of 19 domestically focused mini-games that take place within a wonderfully styled home and yard.

I enjoy the look of this app very much, as does my son, being very bright and colorful. Players will be scrolling up and down through this house that one is visiting, as five floors can be explored from top to bottom - a bathroom, living room, kitchen, laundry room, as well as front door and attached yard space.

Although players can start anywhere, those new to this game may enjoy starting out at the bottom - the front door more specifically - where this app opens up and moving around from there. Doing so gives players a chance to meet the occupants of this house nicely, as mini-games include sorting mail into different mailboxes by color and photo-matching mail as personal images appear both on envelopes as well as on corresponding mailboxes.

I also enjoy an activity where one delivers gifts to all the characters, a motley group of five individuals - Bo, a large cuddly yellow man of sorts; Lulu, a grandmotherly figure; young boy Jojo; sporty girl named Toppy; and Luna, an interesting child with a house-shaped head, a unique a character as one will find from the stylings of Toca Boca.

As with any group of people, personal tastes will vary, so it is the player's job to match an interesting selection of gifts to the correct recipient, be it crayons, a spatula or a skateboard. Do check eye contact and body language that will make the character most interested about a specific object known, although these cues are subtle - a nice effect that special needs children may especially benefit from.

The more kids play this mini-game, the more they get to know these characters, as the objects vary each time this activity is explored. I really enjoy the different personalities of these individuals detailed with the gifts that they appreciate, such as the big yellow man, Bo, who appreciates water toys for the bath; Toppy, the tall sporty girl who is really into sports equipment; and the blond boy, Jojo, who is a foodie, fond of gifts such as a hotdog or frying pan.

Players can jump around these floors at will, helping characters around the house with various chores, such as many laundry-related actives including loading a washing machine, hanging the wash to dry, and ironing, as well as wiping down the windows.

A kitchen is included where one can put away groceries and wash dishes. The living room has a few interesting activities such as building a fire or helping hang picture frames. The bathroom includes bathing Bo, the furry man-like creature, as well as cleaning up spilled shampoo from the floor.

Mopping, sweeping and vacuuming chores can be found all around the house - nice mini-games but without a lot of variation between these activities which at times can feel a little redundant, especially as these tasks are randomly generated and not specifically selected by the player, allowing these cleaning tasks to sometimes appear back-to-back, and at points seem like the focus of this application.

The yard has a few nice activities, such as sorting flowers or leaves by color, as well as mowing the lawn. Although players can travel freely around these rooms, the yard and front door are connected in a way that there may be only one character to interact within the front door area, making yard games not always possible.

Even with these notes, my son, now four, finds these mini-games cute and fun, as the whimsical style of this app is very appealing and utterly Toca Boca,

It is surprising to me, however, that bedrooms are not included within this app - rooms so identifiable to children as their own space. There are also no toys to be put away - the most common chore children will be asked to complete, and I would love to see the sorting of different personal possessions per character as well, already introduced with the gift-giving mini-game. I would also appreciate being able tuck these characters into bed with a favorite toy at the conclusion of this app.

Other bedroom chores could include making one’s bed or collecting one’s laundry for the wash, and I would love to see a pet living in the house that needs to be bathed, fed and cleaned up after.

I admire the choice to make the characters diverse, with the use of a non-Caucasian character, as well as the ambiguous child with the house shaped head, but it is unclear to me if these characters are members of a family or share a house together as boarders, as the separate mailboxes may imply. I would love to see more overlap of these characters together, even if only in the photos one hangs up in the living room, as of now, these pictures are of individual characters.

Especially because Toca Boca apps are popular among children with special needs, it would be nice to see these characters relate to each other on a social level.

I am also confused with an element of the berry-picking sorting game as well, found at the front of the house, as here players sort and feed fresh blueberries to Lulu, the grandmotherly figure, tossing the moldy ones away. I really enjoy this mini-game, and I value the checking produce for mold being introduced as part of a daily chore, as organic produce can turn bad fast, and I do this kind of inspection routinely as well. What I don’t understand is why the moldy berries are tossed into a recycling bin, complete with the iconic green arrows, when a compost bin would be preferable - a mistake I would prefer my son not to make with our out recycling cans.

I do enjoy the lighting of the fireplace activity as it is a little different but would prefer to see Lulu, the grandmotherly character light the fire in the living room instead of Toppy, who although the oldest of the three children in the house, is still a child as I would prefer only an adult within this game to be using matches - a common rule in many households.

Toca House is an app my son enjoys spending time with, but I do hope to see more apps such as Toca Tea Party, Toca Store, or Toca Hair Salon that immerse players into truly open-ended situations mirroring other favorite toys or games as this is what Toca Boca does better than any other developer, standing apart from the crowd as a maker of true “digital toys."

Other favorite apps from Toca Boca are wonderful for sharing between children, encouraging them to play with each other, learning about social skills along the way. This is not the case so much in Toca House, as these mini-games are for single players, but there is a pause between these actives that makes swapping one's device between children possible, and any one child can play up to only 10 mini-games at one time, reducing the time any one child may have to wait for their turn in this app is not passed around during these games, nice touches that adults of multiple children may enjoy, but I would like the chance to over ride the ending of one's experience after only 10 actives, as well as including some more nighttime oriented tasks as well.

The games found in Toca House are more activities than mini-games as little to no skill level is involved as one completes these chores. This is not a flaw as this is the application these developers set out to make, and it is nicely realized for what it is, but it is worth mentioning, however, as older children who responded well to the faster pace and maze elements of Toca Doctor could conceivably feel underwhelmed at some of these more simplistic swiping movements needed to complete many of these tasks. It would be nice if in the future, a more thorough use of what iPad and iPhone has to offer could be incorporated.

Toca House would be a good choice for younger app players, two and up, who do not have any preconceived notions about mini-games. It is also encouraging for children to participate in chores around the house as part of a game, hopefully making them more likely to help out as well if asked to do so.

All in all, my son and I are enjoying Toca House. I can't wait to see what Toca Boca comes up with next.

iPhone Screenshots

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iPad Screenshots

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