Version Reviewed: 1.0.2
App Reviewed on: iPad 3
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Re-use / Replay Value Rating:
I am eager to let readers know about a new Toca Boca app - Toca Boo - right in time for Halloween. This app is a bit of a departure for Toca Boca, known for their apps that include cleverly themed mini-games and role-playing apps that allow children to pretend to play store, tea party, or drive a train, as well as apps that allow children to build cities or landscapes to drive cars around on.
Here, Toca Boca introduces Bonnie, a girl who enjoys being scary, wandering around her house looking for family members to frighten. Children will have fun increasing the creepiness factor for her unassuming victims by turning lights off and on as well as incorporating static on the radio, an alarm clock that rings suddenly, and other objects that can startle others when turned on or off mysteriously - which is done with the tap of a finger, and to be assumed the work of this mischievous girl. Listen to the heart beats rise in the characters as the intensity is increased - a great time to tap one of these characters, triggering their frightened reactions.
Do try to avoid being seen openly by a family member, each with their own light source - be it candle, lantern, or illumination from a smart phone, as this greatly diminishes the scare factor. It's a momentary letdown for both Bonnie and any user of this app. To do so, take advantage of the numerous hiding places seen throughout Toca Boo, such as hiding under the sheets of a bed or behind a coatrack, teepee, or curtains. Even within the family's toilet is fare game when trying to stay out of sight. Also note however, that there is something to be said for being seen occasionally as well, because the older brother and select other members greet Bonnie in a mild yet gracious fashion, showing fondness for her that itself is a tender moment within this app.
I admire the change of pace within as Toca Boca is known for their use of bright, bold colors. Here they make interesting use of black and grey shades, with this app taking place after hours in a house with little in the way of lighting. Do note the rain effects and lightning flashes seen in the large windows as Bonnie ventures downstairs - a nice touch reminiscent of German Expressionism that goes a long way to creating an atmosphere that could lead to frightening scenarios. Another detail worth a mention is the family dog, fashioned like a faceless sausage with legs, adding a wonderful touch both witty and macabre and incorporating the use of red as an accent shade - one of a few colors incorporated within Toca Boo for a stylized effect. Other animals included within are the pet snake tucked away in a walk-in closet that Bonnie does not forget about, as well as a large black spider that can be seen swinging about from time to time. The twin girls in the family are joined by the elbow, creepy by their lack of separateness, and the older man (Bonnie's father I assume) is styled with the exaggerated length of a daddy long legs. There is also a moment when these characters believe they are alone in the bathroom that they sit down on the toilet, an interesting detail as young children often seek peaks at their adults through the door to check in on them from time time.
It was undoubtedly important to Toca Boca to create an app that, although Halloween-themed, does not cross the line into territory that their audience of children and parents would not find family-friendly. And I do believe that, for all its quirks, the majority of school-aged children and possibly younger would not find Bonnie's behavior as seen in this app nor the basic look of this digital toy too intense to enjoy.
The question that did cross my mind while playing this app is whether Bonnie is a child dressed up like a ghost as shown in the opening scene or a disembodied spirit of a youngster. She can be dragged around the screen in areas of these rooms that would make her levitate or hover through the air against the logic that the other characters follow within as they stay grounded - be it foreground or background. Also interesting is how the player tapping objects used to startle the family can be thought of as Bonnie using telekinesis as objects are turned on or off without her direct touch - an element that I enjoy which leaves me with questions about Bonnie that I believe are left open to interpretation.
The only detail within this application that gives me pause is how a boy, presumably Bonnie’s younger brother, reacts to being scared. This is because his cries, however mildly comical, may sound real enough to sensitive children who would not enjoy seeing him upset and running to the comfort of his mother. Others may enjoy seeing him run from room to room, fleeing from Bonnie who is seen fist-pumping at a scare well done, showing that tormenting her baby brother is too much fun to pass up. Likewise, my boy takes impish delight in hiding from and then chasing these characters around the house for nice periods of time. His favorite moments include feeding Bonnie plums to make her pass gas, soda to belch with, or hot peppers to breathe fire, which can be found in the kitchen and other rooms of this house and thereby increasing the level of startle from family members - cheeky moments that add a lot of levity that this app benefits from. I would love to see more areas the house to explore however, especially as there are not enough bedrooms to accommodate a family of six.
Although Toca Boo may not be for the youngest family members, slightly older children will certainly love interacting with this mildly dysfunctional family. Toca Boo is heavy in style and atmospheric sound effects, complete with comic relief on the part of the family members - twin sisters who are less than fond of Bonnie when they find her creeping, making them unsympathetic and therefore worthy of a good fright; an older brother who won’t look up from his cell phone but is surprisingly kind; and Bonnie's mom, dad, and other brother, each with a different take on their daughter’s hobby when she is found out. These characters are brightly styled in contrast to the dark landscape of this house, all of which makes for an experience worth recommending.