When you’re a kid, what greater adventure is there than going for a haircut, trying to cook a meal, or hanging out with friends? All the keys for unlocking a unique experience are present in a child’s mind, and Toca Boca’s app, Toca Life: City, seems to understand that fact. It provides pint-sized users with a whole universe of interactive backdrops, including a grocery store, a salon, an apartment, and an outdoor food court. There is also an extensive cast of characters varying in height, skin tone, hairstyle, and even species (Anthropomorphic hamburger, anyone?) that can be dropped into the game.
Toca Life: City lacks a clear narrative—that is, players do not start out at Point A with the goal of reaching Point B. But that hardly detracts from the fun, which is interacting with all of the characters and background details. Each location is chock full of objects, most of which can be dragged around the space. As for stationary objects, they can be manipulated by touching the screen: Lights can be turned on or shut off, radios can be silenced, doors to appliances opened and closed, etc. In addition, users can maneuver an object around a character until they take it into hand, wear it if it’s clothing, or in the case of food, devour it with a smile.
While manipulating all of the colorful objects and characters is fun, kids can take things up a notch by utilizing them in combination: For example, in the food court, a knife can be placed in the sushi chef’s hand, which in turn, makes him transform any raw fish placed on the counter into sushi. Similarly, in the salon, a variety of hairdos can be selected on the salon chair. Then when a character is placed into the chair, they end up with new hairstyles.
Toca Life: City, if nothing else, teaches kids about the intricacies of salon chairs, or that sushi chef + Ginsu knife + raw fish = sashimi. But on a more thematic level, it helps foster curiosity, as well as an understanding of cause and effect. I know that last sentence is true, because during my demo, there was a point in which I opened the refrigerator door, saw a raw chicken, and my immediate thought was, “If I put that chicken into the oven, would something happen to it?” (Answer: Yes, it develops a nicely browned crust.) The bottom line: Toca Life: City might not have an overarching storyline, but it does provide plenty of material for kids to create their own stories. (In this case, something like, “Mr. Hamburger went to the salon and got a haircut he didn’t like. So he went home, turned out all the lights, sat on the couch, ate chicken, and watched TV.”)
While that example may be slightly disturbing (I mean, it’s a hamburger EATING CHICKEN.), it does illustrate how this app lends itself to creative fun. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.