Toca Life: City is referred to by its developer, Sweden-based Toca Boca, as a “digital toy,” but one would not be faulted for calling it a sandbox game. The app is Toca Boca’s answer to the thousands of requested additions to their extremely popular Toca Life: Town, and the result is basically the best gender-neutral dollhouse set-up ever. Toca Life: City is presented as a storytelling tool for kids, one that has no script, rules, or end-goal—instead giving players the key to a colorful and lively city that is all theirs to explore. Kids have access to pet, grocery, clothing, and toy stores, apartments, a hair salon, and more, along with an assortment of people (and some monsters and anthropomorphic animals and food items) of all ages, colors, and sizes. Kids can interact with each environment in different ways, and change avatars’ clothes, hairstyles, accessories, and locations to their liking. With no cut-scene animations, or even text to speak of, the game really does leave the story up to the player. This, in addition to the fact that there are no in-app purchases (and parents can turn off the store icon on the start screen) makes Toca Life: City appropriate for kids as young as 2.
Toca Life: City presents children with a city full of different things and beings, challenging the social aspects of the self-awareness thinking skill. They will be able to make many, many different people (and people-ish cats, furry monsters, and burgers) “interact” in different spaces, as they explore, eat, and play with a variety of places and things. The minimal in-game text is in a variety of languages and symbols. In the grocery store, kids will find things they may not find appetizing but that other people eat—fruit, vegetables, meat, and non-meat products. Likewise, the toy store offerings cater to differing interests, and the hair and clothing styles available in the boutique and salon can vary from common, offbeat, to downright strange. The pretending Toca Life: City encourages as kids interact with these beings and objects, foreign and familiar, can encourage them to try to understand, accept—and even empathize with—others in the real world.
Because Toca Life: City offers no real structure or guidance, the onus is on the player to find and remember where things are. There is no textual signage, meaning children must recall which building exteriors match the interiors they are looking for. Likewise, objects, be they groceries, toys, household appliances, clothes, or even magazines from a waiting room, can be stuck in an avatar’s hand or on their body and carted virtually anywhere. If a child is looking for where they put something (or someone) specific in Toca Life: City, just like in real life, they must retrace their steps and find it.
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