App review: Toca Robot Lab for iPhone, iPad

Consumer Reports News: September 12, 2011 08:08 AM

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For the little engineer in your life, you should check out Toca Robot Lab for the Apple iPhone and iPad (99 cents at the Apple App Store). This kids' game kept me occupied for longer than I care to admit.

The object of the game is to build a robot. Once your robot is complete, you fly him (or her) around a game board trying to catch stars and to find your final destination. It is simple but so thoughtfully done that it provides far more amusement than you would think.

When you open the app, a slightly annoying intro yells "Toca Boca!" That's the name of the developer. The home screen gives you the option to read instructions by pushing the For Parents button or to learn about other Toca Boca games available in the app store. Or you can just go ahead and push Play.

Once you begin to play, you're on the assembly line, making robots. You start with the legs, and the game gives you three rusty-looking options to choose from. For authenticity's sake, all the robot parts look like they came from a junk yard.

After legs, you select a body, right arm, left arm, and then a head. Each part is chosen from a conveyor belt. The game has dozens of options for each body part and shows new ones each play session, so your robot can be quite different every time.

To select a body part, you drag it into the cardboard box workspace, and it is screwed in and welded to your robot. Once your robot is ready to go, it drops on what looks like a board game. Touch the screen anywhere, and it begins to fly in the direction you are dragging him (or her). Along the way, you encounter yellow stars, which you want to touch with your robot's body. There will be three per game, and you try to collect them all.

The board game does have obstacles such as ladders, walls, and blocks, but you don't die or end the game if you touch them. In fact, nothing happens except that they move out of the way. You also can't fall off the board like you can in a Super Mario Brothers game. It isn't that kind of game. The scenes do get more complex, and it gets harder to find the stars, but you aren't on a time limit, so you can take your time.

When you get to the end of the obstacle course, a huge magnet waits at the top. It looks like the type of magnet that is used at a junkyard. If you get near it, it sucks your robot in and whisks it away, ending the game. Then you start over.

Pleasant music plays in the background of the game, which you cannot turn off unless you disable sound on your mobile device. There is also no way out of a game once you start unless you close out the app. This means that you can't save your robots for future use—but you can easily recreate them.

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Natali Morris

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