A couple of months ago I previewed Toybox, an iOS game by Barrel of Donkeys, a local indie developer. With its intriguing mix of the shoot-‘em-up and match-3 genres, and refreshing, pastel visuals, I really enjoyed my experience with the title. Now the game has been officially released and with this comes the opportunity to review the game.
The way Toybox presents its mix of genres is very simple; essentially, the screen is split with one side showing the arcade shooter game and the other showing the match-3 puzzle. The catch is you have to play both games at the same time, making it an exercise in hand-eye coordination and how you divide your attention between both games. Both sides are controlled with a thumb each: the shooter with your left thumb, the puzzle with your right. Believe me, not having full motor control does make dodging bullets and dropping blocks in the right place more challenging. I mentioned in my preview that the controls for the shooter doesn’t lend itself well to accuracy and even after trying each of the three available control schemes (which basically just give you a bit more freedom with where you place your thumb), it doesn’t seem to have been improved that much. Given touchscreen technology however, I don’t think there’s too much you can do about it. Replaying the game for the sake of this review, I couldn’t help but wonder what the game would play like if I was controlling the puzzle with my left thumb and the shooter with my right. I typically find that playing shooters with my right hand offers more control which, especially further on when the game ramps up the difficulty, probably would have been advantageous to my score.
Despite its simplicity, Toybox is surprisingly strategic, with gameplay on one side of the screen affecting the other. Shooting certain toys (easily recognisable by their blinking lights) is the cause of puzzle blocks appearing in the first place. You have a short amount of time to place the block or wait for it to automatically fall if it suits your strategy. The result of matching three similarly coloured blocks is that whole waves of enemies will be banished from the screen or your weapon will be upgraded, which is a godsend when bullets and enemies start flying in all directions. Given the small size of the puzzle grid, it’s a bit difficult to really plan out any kind of brilliant long-ish-term strategy. As I said in my preview, once you figure out the limited number of combinations that you can place blocks, the game is fairly samey, but to its credit, it works well for the fast-paced nature of the game. One other cool factor is that the minimalist soundtrack is procedurally generated depending on how you play.
One aspect of Toybox that I mentioned I really liked is the fact that every week, Barrel of Donkeys update the game with a new level, with online scoreboards reflecting the champions of the week. It’s a brilliant and simple way of keeping content fresh, but it’s a little disappointing to see that there isn’t a way to go and play previous challenges. Nevertheless, even without any significant changes, Toybox still remains a neat little game to pick up and enjoy on the fly. After all, you can’t really fix what ain’t really broke.