App Reviewed on: iPad 3
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Re-use / Replay Value Rating:
Toca Town is Toca Boca’s new highly open-ended digital toy, bringing dollhouse play to iOS devices. Toca Town allows children of all ages to manipulate a very nice selection of Toca characters around six locations that include a park, restaurant, family home, apartment, grocery store, and police station. Characters can be moved around within each landscape as well as transported to new areas of this app easily, including any object they may be holding at the time, making transitions between areas simple and intuitive. Objects like foods, books, or other more specific items such as keys found at the police station can also be held as children drag figures around the screen while acting out their own stories, much like one would with a classic dollhouse in real life but without the little pieces that parents need to keep track of.
Although I try not to compare applications, it is difficult not to make note of iTunes's other most popular digital dollhouse My PlayHome and its sister app, My PlayHome Stores. Fans of these creative-play apps may be quick to point out that, unlike My PlayHome, Toca Townspeople cannot change their clothing, pour juice or coffee into cups, or pull the covers up over the figures when lying down to go to bed.
It may be fun for the characters within Toca Town to have more interactive relationships with the items found within these scenes, such as the ability to squeeze toothpaste onto the tooth brushes and allow them to then clean their teeth - complete with sound effects - or to move the shower curtain, possibly shampooing one’s hair as well - complete with related lather. Yet, I try not to focus on these points as children playing with wooden dollhouses and play people, even my son’s favorite play food, need to take the same creative liberties while pretending to serve others. Liberties like not really turning on an oven, or pouring cereal into bowls while making breakfast.
However I do appreciate the quirky, utterly Toca details seen throughout these scenes, including the loose feathers flying from the pillows found in the apartment encouraging a pillow fight as well as the DVD one can place in the machine that shows a moody black and white image that adult fans of period films will smile at. I also am quite fond of the people's reflections that can be seen within the mirror in the bathroom, the ability to toss random objects into the toilet, as well as the flatulent noises and the percussive sounds of solid waste being dropped into the toilet - a favorite moment for my six year old son that continues to create loud, over-the-top belly laughs.
We also really enjoy the package-wrapping station where the majority of objects from any of these areas can be magically boxed, wrapped, and made ready to be given as a gift to be brought to any of the areas of the app - waiting to be opened with a tap. Likewise, to me the tune heard in the police station is reminiscent of the theme played over the smoky introduction of Breaking Bad, a possible nod to the adults also enjoying this application.
Another very special feature of this app is the ability to whimsically create complex foods by combining ingredients into a pot on the stove of the Restaurant section. Posters in the kitchen will give a few hints on making dishes, but many other combinations exist as well. I appreciate having to collect cheese from the store to then combine with pasta to create mac and cheese, picking up a whole chicken to combine with bread to make chicken sandwiches as well as sushi combinations by adding fish or shrimp to rice. A personal favorite moment of this app is discovering how an acoustic set of the now iconic Toca Band theme is included in the coffee house area of the restaurant if a character sits in the spotlight and picks up the guitar - a real moment for me within Toca Town.
Toca followers will appreciate the cast of characters available, complete with many familiar faces from other past apps that include Toca House, Toca Monsters Kitchen, Toca Tailor, and a fun cameo from Toca Pets, plus new faces in different hues sure to please children and their families.
I do like that much of this app resets when one exits and then re-enters different scenes so players can get use out of objects that have been thrown in the garbage, and I appreciate how the foods that have been eaten become re-stocked. I do however wish that there were an unlimited supply of shopping baskets found in the store. Very few carry-alls are included in this app and they are very helpful for bringing objects from one area to another, especially for shopping for foods one plans to cook in the restaurant. Unfortunately I find these different baskets easily misplaced within the game and sometimes hard to track down - a bit of a disappointment to be sure.
Although this app is wildly open-ended, I do wish that the options were stretched even further as users are not able to put wigs on the dog’s head found in the police station or take the police car out for a spin around the town as a tie-in to Toca Cars. Toilet paper is not an item one can gift wrap, the storage under the apartment sofa can't be opened, the dog is not allowed on any of the beds, and more importantly, I have had some problems placing objects and characters in the correct foreground and background of my choosing. In addition, my son and I were unhappy to find we were unable to climb or hide in the hollow of the trees or at the park, as well as at the lack of playground equipment that could have been added in the corner of the green space - although the ability to pick flowers is a nice touch. I also wish views of the city could be seen from the windows included within these buildings, much like the view from Toca Hair Salon - a favorite element from this application.
Even with these notes, Toca Town has certainly become one of two definitive digital dollhouse apps that will keep children busy for quite some time. I love the details that have been included within each of these areas within Toca Town, but I do hope to see a series of updates as well.
I shutter at some of the advice iTunes reviews have left: asking Toca Town to be developed further to rival something close to The Sims, complete with talking and even physical contact between characters - embarrassing ideas that are totally not Toca, let along good ideas for a children’s application. Having said this, I would love to see the interface stretched further and to fully realize the logic set up within this application to allow all items to be able to be picked up, moved, tossed into the garbage or toilet, as well as wrapped.
Even with these notes, I do adore all the cross-over moments found within Toca Town - from the Toca Mini figure found in the playroom to the eclectic cast one can choose from. I am really happy to see Toca Boca return to arguably what they do best by creating an app without rules or even specific mini-games to complete. I do hope Toca Boca will continue to develop more open-ended applications in the future as I see them as giants in the App Store that are really able to occupy children for long periods of time in ways that are creative and quite special.