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In yet another game that glorifies orphan labor, Toy Shop tasks two small children with turning a profit on their late grandfather's business. Your goal is to earn $50K in the first three in-game years, and to succeed you must build toys, manage the shop, and shmooze with the townspeople to drain every penny out of their pixilated pockets. The concept is solid, but the sloppy execution of this cutesy sim left us wanting to play with actual toys (My Little Pony party, anyone?) rather than tediously generating virtual ones all day.
You'll be in the shop for the bulk of the game, which consists of two parts: the workshop, where the boy builds toys to sell, and the storefront, where the girl sizes up customers, stocks the shelves, and mans (or womans, if you will) the cashier. Both sections of the store are equally tedious, and we found ourselves constantly toggling back to the storefront to escape the monotony of the workshop and vice versa.
Above: The kids seem suspiciously happy about their caregiver's sudden passing
In the workshop, failure rate on building toys is brutal, especially in the beginning, since the probability of building a toy successfully is based on your previous experience building that toy. Irritatingly, there's nothing you can do to increase your odds of success other than pouring money into building a certain toy and hoping some turn out okay, since success is determined by a set probability (ex: a train set has an 80% chance of being successfully built for each one you order). You can speed up the process by hitting the d-pad on cue, but that's about it. Since you're charged for materials regardless of whether the toys you ordered were created successfully, kids playing this game will definitely get a taste of the harsh reality of failure.
If the workshop teaches kids about failure, the storefront dishes out another lesson on rejection and unrealistic expectations. When a customer comes in, you can see (via some kind of hi-tech brain scanning device, we're sure) what kinds of toys they like and how much money they have. Then, you must quickly arrange the shelves with stuff they like via clumsy stylus controls only to have them turn their nose up and walk out anyway.
Besides toiling in the shop, you're supposed to wander around town talking to people to gather info to help the game progress, like getting blueprints for new toys. The 3D graphics of the town are butt-ugly, and everything about it seems comically unfinished. Navigating with the stylus on the bottom screen, you can touch townfolk to initiate inane dialogue, which is displayed on the top screen with dialogue bubbles and the two characters talking in 2D form. The 3D character models on the bottom screen seem to be more plentiful than the 2D ones, because whether you approach a blonde, brunette, or green-haired girl (on the bottom green), the same brown-haired 2D character will confusingly appear on top screen. To make matters worse, your character will constantly come to a halt in middle of the screen at invisible boundaries where the town apparently comes to a stop although there's no fence or any kind of visible cue to indicate the edge.
We can definitely see aspirations of greatness here, so it's too bad Toy Shop is so unpolished overall. It's nice to see a kid's game that isn't overly-simplistic, and it probably would have been a lot more fun if the menus in the shop were easier to use and the town and its inhabitants were a more fleshed out or given even an ounce of character. Unfortunately, not only is Toy Shop just as generic as the title implies, its gameplay is near-broken to boot.
Apr 11, 2008
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