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Toca Builders for iPad is a charming, delightful game

DNP  Toca Builders for iPad is a charming, delightful game

I had my 8-year-old help me test Toca Builders for iPad (US$0.99, universal), the latest iOS toy from powerhouse Toca Boca. He nearly exploded with glee.

So did I.

Toca Builders is an utterly charming take on the world-builder theme that's become so popular thanks to hits like Minecraft and Eden. The artwork, sound and play mechanics are stellar, and each of the six "characters" whose unique skills you must manipulate to construct your fantasy world, brick by brick, are so well executed you'll wish they were scooting, rolling and building all over your desk.

Looks

The play area is a large grid that's floating on a pixel-y sea. Navigating to the edge reveals that the whole thing is floating thanks to a layer of cork just below the surface. The characters are also wooden, and their hinged joints move exactly as you'd expect from a hand-crafted wooden toy. It short, it looks lovely.

Game play

I hesitate to call Toca Builders a game because it's really a toy. There's no goal other than to have fun building a world of you own. There's no end game state either, as you can keep building and re-building as much as you like. My kids were even inventing pretend play scenarios for the little characters and their surroundings. It was "adorbs" as the kids say.

You start with a blank, flat world (most of the time) and six "builders." Each has a unique skill. For example, one can change a block's color. Another can quickly build a row. Another stacks blocks, there's one that breaks blocks and yet another to stack blocks and reach those that are high off of the ground. My favorite little guy is balancing on a large ball, circus-style. As he rolls, the ball deposits paint on the floor.

DNP  Toca Builders for iPad is a charming, delightful game

You quickly realize that you must use the various characters to accomplish a certain task. For example, the boy and I wanted to build a tree. That meant using the stacking builder to produce the trunk. He couldn't reach the level of the leaves, so he had to place a few blocks on the ground for the "crane" builder to manipulate. Finally, the "painter" builder had to spray her paint all over the tree to get the right colors in place. Planning and thought are required.

Like I said, you don't always get a "blank slate." While creating new worlds, I suddenly got one that was populated with trees and spare bricks. Later, my son got one with several ships and later still, huge representations of the builders themselves. We eventually figured out that every fifth world started is populated with goodies.

Toca Boca is also a shining example of something this company does very well: explaining how to do everything without words. I imagine this was done to keep localization costs and effort to a minimum, and it's become a constraint that's elicited some fine creativity. Within five minutes of launching the app for the first time, my son had mastered each builder's unique function and quirks.

I could go on, but suffice to say this is a great digital toy. Paint splatters and splashes, "wooden" hinges creak and the imagination is fully engaged in creativity, planning and play. Toca Boca has done it again.

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