Version Reviewed: 1.0.1
App Reviewed on: iPad 3
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Re-use / Replay Value Rating:
Being a developer for children, Toca Boca is known not so much for applications as for digital toys that mirror how children spend their free time entertaining themselves in real life, such as throwing a tea party, pretending to work in a store, playing with a train set, or driving cars around a town of their own design. Some examples that have been covered are less concrete, such as being a fashion designer or even having fun hiding from family in order to jump out and scare them. I am excited to let readers know about Toca Boca’s new app that broadens this category even further with the digital personification of another children’s favorite pastime - exploring nature.
Rightfully named Toca Nature, the app opens up with a fertile land ready to be transformed into the landscape of players' imagination as they transform this area into different regions of their choice - be it hills created with a tap that can easily be built up into snow capped mountains, valleys, and even bodies of water, all of which will soon be inhabited by different animals. The effect is quite magical as one watches fish swimming and beavers climbing out onto dry land for the first time as life is brought to their personalized ecosystem. Trees can be planted that will attract a variety of creatures, be it bears, foxes, rabbits, deer or woodpeckers. An axe is also included as a clever way of arbor clearing and of having a chance to change the topography again and again - a helpful tool to be sure.
To get a closer look, one can zoom in on the surroundings, watching nature unfold as the inhabitants of the forest wander around looking for food or even resting as both day and night are represented in Toca Nature, complete with wonderful colors of an unseen sunrise that illuminates this area. Forage for berries, nuts, mushrooms and fish in order to have treats to feed inhabitants who will ask for their favorites via speech bubbles, or simply hang back and watch these animals in their natural habitats, which reminds me of trips to our local national forest. It also allows children the chance to be an accomplished nature photographer by taking snapshots of creatures as they explore, which will be found on one's camera roll assuming this function on turned on in the device's settings.
Toca Nature is an open-ended wonder of an app, creative and even meditative with music worthy of a soundtrack with its ability to create a wondrous tone that will move viewers. It uses natural light that is ever-changing from dark, starry skies to brighter blue moments of early morning and the pink glow of sunset. While venturing with the creatures into their habitat, the music is silenced so that the varied ambient noises - the sounds of animals in water, bird calls, critters scurrying about, and crickets at night - are heard instead. Toca Nature has certainly nailed the natural sounds that one would expect to hear while exploring the great outdoors.
Players will certainly be impressed with the number of details seen within their landscape as they come in for a closer look, using the globe seen on the right of the screen to be able to view their world from all angles - be it on a fixed axis and not allowing one to choose a perspective different from their high bird's-eye view in the distant building mode, or the ability to pan to look up over the opening in trees, or down at the side of a mountain when alongside the animals. I am fond of how, if trees are obscuring the vantage point of the user, they momentarily disappear - a thoughtful choice that, although players may not directly notice, will certainly benefit from.
A digital representation of nature, this app has its own visual sensibility that is quite interesting - not as cartoony as other Toca Boca apps but with a unique sense of realism as animals and the other aspects of this app use a faceted 3D style. This is typically not my cup of tea, yet it works well enough here for me not to dwell on my different personal taste. I did notice, however, a certain 'buzzy-ness' when it came to the shadows cast by the creatures in Toca Nature, which posed as the mildest of distractions in an otherwise pretty perfect app.
Having had the chance to check out Toca Nature, I eagerly downloaded it and began to play before my son got home from school. Because there are no separate accounts for different players, I was ambivalent about sharing this app of my pre-built landscape, wanting my boy to have a new experience all his own. Yet a large part of me wanted to keep my land just the way it was a little while longer as I continued to explore. Having said this, I understand how the simplicity of Toca Nature creates a more organic experience instead of opening to the choice of different worlds previously worked, leading to a more sterile experience that works within Toca Boca's previous building app, Toca Builders.
Likewise, I would have greatly appreciated it if work was saved within this app for the next time Toca Nature was opened, a function not currently offered. Although not a solution to the problem, as long as Toca Nature continues to run on the background of one’s device work from the last session should remain untouched, which is what we are doing in our household. Even with my concerns for families who will need to figure out how to share Toca Nature among children, this app is a wonderfully realized one that successfully translates the experience of being outdoors into a digital toy - perfect as the weather where we live is currently too cold to be outside for more than a few minutes.
My only other note is that I wish for Toca Boca to become a role-model for other developers and remove the small ad for their other app in the opening page of their applications, in full view of children, and to instead hide it in their locked Parents section, which is an area rich with info about Toca Nature, making it definitely worth taking a look at. Even with these notes, Toca Nature is an app for all ages, and one that I heartily recommend.