Read the headline. There I said it. I rarely call anything the “absolute best.” Even less so in a world that’s populated by thousands of choices. But the Toca Life series of apps are the best. Though they’re not overtly educational, they give kids the largest amount of creativity and freedom to create their own worlds and characters. The sheer options in these games are enormous and they’re made by a dedicated team who loves to see kids play.
Any parent knows the concept of a dollhouse. Whether it’s PlaySkool figurines, a set of disparate stuffed animals, or simple army men action figures, all kids, both boys and girls, play with these toys often well into their childhood. This type of play is simply a staple of growing up. I don’t know any kids who haven’t dabbled in this sort of play in some way. (Some adults enjoy them well. I have some friends who have a blast building with LEGOs and collecting stuffed animals. I might also be one of them.)
It’s obvious by playing the Toca Boca apps that there’s a lot of love that goes into the development of these games.
“At Toca Boca we focus on creating digital toys rather than apps or games. What this means is that not only do we create products free of rules, levels or high scores. But we also model most of our designs off of traditional play patterns. In the case of the Life Series, the apps were all inspired by a classic doll house play pattern,” said Petter Karlsson, a play designer at Toca Boca and works on the Toca Life Series specifically. “They were designed to let kids make up their own stories and adventures which is why we gave them as many tools as possible to do that. Another important feature is that the wide variety of characters should make it possible for kids to play as themselves, their friends or their family if they want to.”
If you’ve taken a look at any of the apps from Toca Boca you’ll find very different art styles and activities throughout the games. That’s because each game has its own team who is given a lot freedom to create.
“We have a unique group of play designers, developers and artists who work on each app we create at Toca Boca — their individual styles really shine through with the products they create,” Karlsson said. “That diversity of art styles across the entire Toca Boca portfolio is something that makes us unique as a company and is part of the essence of Toca Boca.”
All of the little secrets hidden around the worlds in these apps are appealing even to me. I was delighted to see that I could combine food items to create actual dishes in any of the games. I was very excited when my daughter figured out how to unlock a door in a tree where elves and unicorn lived in Toca Life: Stable, the latest Toca Life app.
“We are lucky to have artists in the team who are just over-the-top filled with creativity. They often come up with the most wonderful, weird ideas. But we also have a very open attitude when it comes to wild ideas so anyone in the team can pitch in something and then we will see if it something we can realize,” Karlsson said. “We also want to give the user something unexpected. Something a little bit hidden under the surface that is nice surprise. It can be a little hidden object or sometimes a bit of bigger theme.”
Turns out Stable is a developer favorite as well. Karlsson said the game was a lot of fun to work on because the team had to talk specifically with horse-loving kids.
One of the things I’ve loved about these apps is what you get for the cost. These apps cost $2.99 each. All of them have multiple locations to visit and slew of characters to choose from and a crazy number of interactions. For comparison you can get a PlaySkool playset for $25 that will include one building, a couple of characters, and some pretty specific activities. I think this is a no-brainer. The value for these apps is so much greater than similar physical toys, not to mention the fact that they don’t fill your house with a lot of clutter.
The current line of Toca Life apps include: Town, City, Vacation, School, Farm, and Stable. But Karlsson hinted that there will likely be more on the way. Personally, I’d like to see Toca Life: Space, but we’ll have to wait and see.