Toybox is several throwbacks at once. On the one hand– literally– it’s a simple shoot-em-up. On the other, it’s a classic Match-3 game. And if you had a third hand, the game’s old-fashioned look would surely count too.
There’s no story in Toybox, just a mood. On the left side of the screen, you’re moving an old-fashioned rocket ship around, shooting at flying saucers, planes, and robots. The bright colors and blocky shapes are reminiscent of old tin toys. On the right side of the screen, you’re dropping colorful wooden blocks into four stacks.
The two games are separate but connected. Some enemies on your left have flashing lights. If you shoot them, you get a new block to place on the right. When you match three or more blocks on the right, you score points and clear out the enemies on the left. If you match several sets of blocks in one move, you score lots of points and may gain an extra life for your spaceship.
It hurts the brain just looking at it.
The controls are tuned to make your two jobs as easy as possible. The ship responds quickly to your touch and fires whenever you’re touching the left side of the screen. On the right side, you can choose which column you’re dropping your block into with a single tap. The control scheme also has three variations, with developer Bundle of Donkeys recommending the ‘exaggerated’ scheme for iPad players who don’t want to drag their thumbs all over the screen.
It’s a good thing the controls are easy, because playing two different games at once is hard. Your left hand and right hand movements have nothing in common, and you’re trying to simultaneously recognize movement patterns on the left side and color patterns on the right side.
More often than not, you’ll end up focusing on one side and neglecting the other.
Neglecting the Match-3 side of the game won’t kill you (even if you fill up a column, the bottom row just drops off the screen), but it will deprive you of power-ups and screen clears that you desperately need. Neglecting the shoot-‘em-up for more than a couple of moments usually ends with your ship blowing up. Your best bet is to switch your attention back and forth as quickly as you can and hope you don’t lose track of what’s going on.
Don’t lose your focus.
Toybox has some nice features built into it. The game tells you how your best score ranks worldwide, and highlights the initials of the world’s top three players each time you play. It also resets the leaderboards and releases a new level every Sunday. That means you have a totally new set of enemy patterns to master each week. If you like the game, that’s a good reason to come back regularly for more.
Despite these features, the game is lacking in variety. You’re playing the same level all week, which is great for mastery but a little tiresome after a few plays. The enemy patterns are interesting, but the enemies are the same saucers, planes and robots every time. You can spend many hours getting better at the game, but you learn everything you need to know about it in the first five minutes.
Toybox is the kind of game you want to love. It’s a well-crafted mashup of two different genres, and in short doses it’s a lot of fun. But it also wears out its welcome pretty quickly. It’s worth playing, but don’t be surprised if it becomes one of those games you only come back to every once in a while.