Toca Store is another fabulously creative, open-ended digital game - here a universal app for both iPad and iPhone.
Toca Store transforms one’s device into a department store where kids can take turns playing both shopkeeper as well as patron. This app opens up to a store before the doors open, giving kids the chance to peruse a catalogue of product choices that they can sell in their store, that range from food stuff - both fresh produce as well as packaged foods, home goods like a hair dryer or fabric softener, and a nice selection of toys. I also enjoy seeing a few crossover items from other apps, such as a robot from robot lab, carrot cake mix from the tea shop, and Toca Tees for sale, complete with their iconic logo, as well as others. It is also nice that the last page of this catalogue has some empty spaces available - room, I hope, for additional items in a future update.
It is nice that five items are sold at once, neatly arranged in baskets of different shapes and colors which liven up this storefront a bit. Once everything has been selected, a screen pops up, prompting one to invite a customer to store, also demonstrating that the best position of the device for game play is between the two players who face each other.
Now the shopper has a chance to decide what he would like to purchase, tapping and dragging an item onto the mat by the cash register, as a silhouette of the chosen object is also shown, guiding the customer where to place the item.
Next, the shop owner decides how much he is going to charge for the chosen item and rings it up on the cash register, with the numbers 1-5 being options. It may be helpful to know that the shopper has 10 coins in his purse to spend, allowing one to shop for 2 to 10 items depending how the money is split among purchases. After the cost has been determined, the shopper is prompted to open his purse with a tap and pay by tapping and dragging the said amount to a pop-open drawer on the register that nicely highlights the number of coins being asked for. The purchase is complete as the grocer taps a button which allows that sale to be added to the receipt, and the purchase is then added to the customer’s re-usable shopping tote. This process is repeated until the customer has emptied his purse of the 10 coins, but if he needs a few extra to complete the last purchase, this is also taken care of as the purse magically will refill with more money to cover the cost. The receipt, which has been keeping a tally of purchases made, is torn and offered to the shopper where he can see exactly where the money went, itemized nicely.
As one can tell, this is a wonderfully open-ended game that is best suited for two players, but don’t tell my son this as he is happy to play with an adult as much as with an animal friend, giving him the responsibilities of both the shopkeeper and the customer.
This digital toy is especially nice for socialization by getting the players to converse together. Even their famed Tea Party app, another personal favorite of ours, which I have only good things to say about, can be used by less social children as a parallel play toy because it is possible to eat and drink side-by-side without much interaction if one chooses. Here, the players really must work together with a lot of give and take, as the prompts guide the players through this toy that has a nice level of routine.
Any child pre-school age and older, along with the adults in their lives will enjoy this app, but based on the social nature of this application, I think it is an especially important tool for special needs kids, as it not only compels conversation and teamwork also but some real world sequencing - important concepts that may not come naturally to all children. I think this is also a great game to work on counting skills as well as to discuss the management of money, as the purse has only 10 coins to spend, but also includes the added whimsy of the purse re-filling if more money is needed. The conversation of virtual allowance can be worked into game play by parents if they so wish.
My son, husband, and I all really enjoy this app, sometimes calling it a prelude to the Tea Party app as well, as one can purchase carrot cake mix to make the carrot cake that we love to serve and eat while playing tea party. Toca Store suits my son’s likes especially well as he has played this game in real life for countless hours with play food and a toy cash register, and although not meant to take the place of playing with tangible toys, this app nicely provides much the same experience without the endless numbers pieces of play food that clutter our house and which are not always put away in a timely fashion. This app is great to play in bed before sleep as well with no mess to clean and no risk of turning over onto a piece of wooden watermelon later that night. This app would be a great choice for travel as well, both on long car trips as well as simple waits such as in restaurants or doctors' offices.
Like with the other Toca Boca apps, fun, ambient sounds are used throughout to capture the sounds of a store, from the simple sounds outside that filter their way in when the door opens for the shopper to the specific sounds used to illustrate the handling of store products, be it metallic or glass-sounding, or a more thuddy tone of a sack of bananas being rung up. It is also fun how some of these items have a variety to choose from, such as different flavors of jam, colors of toothbrushes, or colors of dinosaurs or doll styles, as a player can rummage through these baskets for the specific item one is looking for. I also really like the receipt one is given at the end of the shopping trip, complete with the cute details of which color of an item was chosen from the selection, as well as how much was paid for each object, all of which may add up to 10 or more if the purse had to add some coins to help make the last purchase - an element that makes my son smile, as the gift of more coins has some nice fanfare of confetti, and a wink from the purse herself. Music is also played - a delightfully appropriate muzak-like soft jazzy sound that works in this store setting as well as being pleasant to listen to while playing. It is also nice to know that these sounds can be turned off if one chooses to as well.
Kids will also enjoy the other whimsical details Toca Boca is well known for. Here, the purse, shopping tote and register have faces that blink and make cute expressions both as encouragement as well as prompts which lead kids through game play. Children will also find especially interesting how the face is recognizable from both players' point-of-view as seen on the cash register that also changes expressions correlating to specific gameplay. Parents will enjoy how this app allows kids to experience two separate but related experiences as kids turn around the device, taking turns doing both shopping and selling.
It is worth explaining that while playing this app on the iPad, the baskets one can shop from are arranged together on one main page whereas on the iPhone, the baskets are scrolled through as though they are on a conveyer, complete with subtle mechanical noises. Because of this difference, the images do not look small on the iPhone but in fact work quite well within the smaller screen. Given two equally pleasant toy experiences unique to the different devices may explain the slightly higher cost of this app at full price, but in my opinion, this app is well worth it. Do also take the time to read the “Letter from the play designer” found in the Parents section, as this link located at top left of the title page offers ways of making this app a great educational experience.
My only wish is that one could look inside the purse without actively spending money in case the players want to work together on spending only the 10 coins offered without needing to be given extra.
I have yet not to be super-impressed with the selection of brilliant Toca Boca apps so far. Hearing about a new release is a big happening in my family, and we can’t wait for more good news to come.