If you’re looking for something absolutely new and yet harbor a secret nostalgia for the click clack of game boards, wooden blocks, and action figures, it’s time to jump into the Toybox (Out August 23, $0.99)! Barrel of Monkeys and Surprise Attack have unleashed a game that’s familiar but refreshing — chances are you’ve played a space shooter and a Match 3 puzzler before, but never both at the same time. On paper the concept sounds like a long shot, but it’s one I’m glad the devs took a chance on.
As we described in July’s hands-on preview, Toybox has you weaving a little spaceship through enemy fire with your left thumb and commanding a falling block puzzle board with your right. It really does feel like you’re trying to ride a bicycle and cook a pancake as the release trailer suggests, but the game does a great job of motivating the bizarre exercise; as long as you clear the Match 3 board efficiently, you’re rewarded with the power-ups and super attacks you’d expect to see in a space shooter. Let your right thumb gum up the works, on the other hand, and your ship will face unrelenting columns of enemies with the barest weaponry. In that sense, it’s useful to think of Toybox as being geared more toward fans of scrolling shooters than strict fans of the matching genre. What makes the experience more fun than your average shoot ’em up is that you’re given a completely new, performance-based way of influencing the outcome.
Toybox’s deference to shoot ’em up fans is thankfully obvious in the interface department as well. There are three control setups, the second – “Exaggerated” – immediately clicking for me. This control scheme makes the spaceship move relative to your left thumb, which handily solves two problems: it keeps your view of the ship clear and prevents your left thumb from over-reaching despite the fact that the left-hand side of the action takes up most of the touchscreen.
With play sessions meant to last just as long as you can split your concentration effectively, Toybox does miss out on some of the bells and whistles that give depth to advanced shoot ’em ups — namely boss battles and permanent ship evolution. It remains a simple game at heart, throwing more heft on each side of the screen rather than new gameplay elements. On the flipside, Toybox manages to combine the strengths of leaderboard competition and random level generation. Every week the game will progress with different enemy formations, giving fans who stick with it the opportunity to compete in a contest that never remains quite the same.
It’s impossible to discuss Toybox without noting its incredible organic charm. The clicking wood blocks and the whirring parts on your space ship and the contraptions arrayed against it can only bring you back to bygone days spent sifting through an actual toybox. The game sports a procedurally generated soundtrack based on the action, and while the result doesn’t rival the work of the greatest indie composers, it’s very cool to witness your performance shaping the musical soundscape so directly.
iFanzine Verdict: Toybox is one of the most memorable casual action games on the App Store – “casual” because it appeals to leaderboard competitors without reaching for the depth seen in the best titles in either of its composite genres. Even so, it gets a ton of mileage out of sheer novelty with its completely unique cross between shoot ’em up and Match 3.