Picky Kid Rating: 4.0
We’ve heard rave reviews of Toca Boca’s apps for kids, and so when Toca House came out, we decided to give it a go! What better way to teach kids about doing chores around the house, right? Well, to be honest, this app is more entertaining than educational, and no substitute for the real thing. (Though virtually broken dishes are better than real broken dishes!)
It’s easy to see what makes Toca Boca apps popular with kids, starting with the game’s splash screen… A very fun “Toca Boca” voiceover accompanies a logo animation — and the Toca Boca logo is swallowed up by a vacuum cleaner! (The starting animations are different, and appropriately themed, for other Toca Boca apps.) We then see the home screen – a brightly-colored scene featuring five residents of the Toca House, some floating bubbles, and a pulsing “start” arrow. A “For Parents” area in the upper left leads to some information about the game which looks like it’s a Web page (some of the links lead to unexpected places, like “rate this app” which goes to a different game).
Upon tapping the start button, you’ll see the Toca House in the countryside at night, which quickly turns to day as the moon goes down and the sun comes up. The scene stays on screen long enough for us to try tapping things, and we’re slightly disappointed that no matter what we do, we always end up in the same place (the front door of the Toca House). This is because (as far as we can tell) the scene isn’t actually tappable, it simply auto-advances.
Once at the front door, you have several choices. Tap the character at the front door to play an activity, swipe down to see the upper stories of the house, or swipe up to see the front yard. For some reason, you cannot always play in the front yard. Sometimes it’s available, and sometimes it’s not. I think I know why, but this feels like a bug, and can be frustrating to kids who want to do the yard chores. Since I’m thankful B is interested in yard chores at all, I’d like reward her, even if it is just with virtual lawn-mowing!
The house has five stories, plus the yard (when it’s accessible) and each story has several different activities. All of the activities are “chore” related, and some of them are more difficult than others. Several focus on matching or sorting, like picking up leaves and putting them into the right pile, or putting letters into the correct mailbox. Others are sequences, like putting laundry into the washing-machine before starting the cycle. There are also simple drag and drop challenges, like hanging laundry on a clothesline or putting groceries into the refridgerator; and a lot of easy “rubbing” activities, like mopping or vacuuming a floor, or mowing the lawn. When an activity is successfully completed, the character you’ve been helping gets positively euphoric and sails away on a glowing rainbow! (Then you’re returned back to the previous scene where you can help a new character with the next chore.)
If you scroll all way up to the top of the house, you’ll find an orange arrow which takes you back to the home screen. Though it’s unclear why you’d need to go there, since the game has no options or settings (perhaps to review the “for parents” info?)
Every so often, the entire scene will zoom out and the sun will set. At this point, you’ll have the option to bring the sun back up and restart the game (tap the “reset” arrow) or to go back to the home screen (a house icon). This is a bit confusing, since you might guess that the house icon would take you back to the literal “house”. Those who’ve followed our reviews for a while know that we’re fond of “breaking points” in apps for kids — places where they can take a rest and make a decision about whether or not they want to continue. But in this particular case, the break seems kind of random.
One of the brilliant things about this game is how it feels like such a rich experience with relatively little depth. I was talking with another picky parent today about kids apps, and she mentioned Toca Boca’s apps as being particularly robust. My response: “Well, yes and no.” In Toca House at least, the activities are really quite limited, but the developers have done a great job of making them feel diverse with simple tricks like having a different characters do the same work, and reusing graphics in different scenes.
We also like the illustrations and the attention to detail given to the entirety of each scene. (Bonus points that the washing machine looks almost exactly like ours!) We appreciate the diversity of the characters — each seems to have a personality, though they don’t say a word. In addition, this app is very intuitive to use, and the idea of a game about chores? Well, it’s a bit oxymoronic, but we like it!
There are some negatives too… Overall, the activities are too limited. We’d like to see less activities about rubbing the screen, and we’d like to see some of the sequencing activities expanded a bit. For example, let’s put some laundry detergent into the washing machine before starting the cycle! (Believe it or not, B was trying to do that.) Or let’s put the dishes into the soapy water before rinsing them. (Oh, but it’s fun to drop into the sink and hear them break!) The win sequence music gets old if you have to hear it over and over again. Also, this app refuses to rotate 180°… And you are going to have to handle matches and moldy fruit.
We recommend Toca House for 3-4 year olds. The attention to design and detail is superb, and though the activities are limited, the app is a good value at $1.99. We’re likely to try other Toca Boca games in the future.Review: Toca House iPad App,
Played on: iPad 2, iOS5
- Toca Boca