Friday 21 June 2013

TOCA Builders (iPad App Review) by TOCA BOCA

Need to build something tall? Use Connie the Crane!
The release of a new TOCA BOCA app is always cause for excitement at home. TOCA BOCA have been producing some of the best children's 'toy' apps for a long time now, and so we were extremely excited to hear that TOCA Builders would be next.

Having already dipped our dainty toes into the intricate world of Minecraft, with Charlotte telling me what to do (as usual) and me trying to work out in my head how to build "A love heart shaped house with a princess bed in it", I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to let Charlotte loose with something similar - but slightly simpler for her age range.

Actually, describing TOCA Builders as being like Minecraft is a bit unfair. It's more like a digital set of Hama beads - and in fact the principle of creating anything that "looks like anything" is the same.

Initially you're given a blank 'sandbox' to play in, and you're introduced to the builders themselves...

Meet the TOCA Builders Team. Not a sweaty bum crack in sight!
Connie (The crane), Blox (basher and builder), Cooper (he rolls paint around with his fab rollerball), Stretch (useful for reaching high places), Jum Jum (she's static but is a dab hand with her paint squirter) and Vex (who is deft and agile enough to climb up on blocks and lay down blocks too).

If you imagine TOCA Builders as being like a Heath-Robinson pixel art tool, you're pretty much bang on the nail. The thing is, despite appearing a bit fiddly and convoluted at first, you can leave your children to discover themselves what the on-screen controls do, what each builder is capable of - then sit back and watch their imaginations spark up and see what happens when they realise the best way to place, manipulate and paint blocks.

Charlotte, admittedly, spent a lot of time running around with Blox, just mindlessly building little fenced-off areas. Soon though she'd worked out how the game's rotate controls (to spin your characters on the spot) worked, and how those delicious rollerball controls worked (for Cooper and Jum-Jum - App developers take note, that is a BRILLIANT control system but TOCA did it first so no stealing, OK?)

Once Charlotte was tucked up in bed, I sneaked out the iPad for a bit more of a go myself and managed to knock up a crazy looking Easter Island head. More dextrous kids will find it a breeze but younger children may well struggle a bit until they get into their groove. It's certainly a TOCA app that demands a little bit more thought and a huge amount more time than their others.

That said, you'll find hours slipping away to it. It's as addictive as a bag of strawberry bon-bons, it's utterly beautifully produced and slick (as you'd expect from the team) and with the picture snapping tools (which I actually think could've been a LOT better - you're limited to taking snaps of the immediate area surrounding the character you last controlled rather than snapping an overview of a chosen chunk of your scene) your children can share their creations with the world.

Falling in love with Volcanoes!
Charlotte is hooked, even though she's still at the stage of experimenting with it all, but in her mind she is swiftly getting a handle on how to produce something cool from her world of coloured blocks. Maybe one day the old man will have to show her how to get cracking with some pixel art too!

Charlotte's best bit: Splattering a scene with paint using Jum Jum!

Daddy's favourite bit: Slick controls, brilliant presentation, a few disappointing bits (the camera capture really could've been better and sometimes the rotate controls for characters are a bit too quick) but as addictive and vital to your iPad collection as everything else TOCA BOCA do!

TOCA Builders is available from iTunes for 69p for a limited time so get in quick!