A House Where YOU Do the Haunting
Toca Boo lets kids guide a girl-disguised-as-ghost through a spooky house, seeking out hiding places so she can jump out and startle her six unsuspecting housemates. The frightened figures have extreme, cartoonish reactions, and often run out of the room in distress while your character celebrates her success. The six dark rooms contain different elements to explore, like candles to put out for super secrecy or alarm clocks to ring to scare the other people in the room. Keep an eye out for the edible elements that add a gastronomical flare to your ghost's scare.
Kids will watch as young cartoon girl Bonnie dons her ghost costume and floats up in flight. When kids drag their finger around the house, Bonnie-as-ghost will fly to follow. As characters approach, Bonnie will tilt her head and listen. Tapping on characters will signal Bonnie to shout "BOO!" to startle them, and then she giggles with ghoulish delight. Just like real life, the characters will be extra scared if Bonnie was well-hidden.
Throughout the dark rooms, blue lights will show good hiding places, and pink parts indicate interactive items like lights that will start to spook people in the room before they see Bonnie.
Since this spooky house is in darkness, each character is holding some sort of light. If a character's light reveals Bonnie, you'll hear subtle chastising sounds and Bonnie will hang her head for a few moments. She'll quickly pep up, though, particularly if you come across an enticing edible treat: plums will create purple farts, soda pop will make that "Boo" a belch, and chilies will give Bonnie a breath of fire!
Hmm...Are These Tricks a Treat?
For some kids, Toca Boo has the potential to be great fun. Digitally donning a ghost costume can be empowering, and we're thankful to see a girl ghost for a change. The dark, Addams-family-like feel to the game is creative and refreshing.
Or Is This Ghost Mean?
However, we are concerned about the behavior this app is modeling to the targeted audience of impressionable preschoolers and kindergartners. Especially when the scaring results in a baby being terrified and wailing, and an old man, who walks with a cane, being so rattled that he falls down. The app doesn't show the little girl's family enjoying the scaring.
While Toca Boo takes a non-linear, let-kids-explore approach -- similar to Toca's other "digital toys" -- this app makes Bonnie's scaring feel like "winning." And that winning means that the player helps Bonnie to scare the living daylights out of her housemates, with no sign of remorse. In fact, she frequently does a victory dance.
While scaring someone who enjoys that kind of spooking can be fun, there are many times when scaring someone is just plain mean. Unfortunately, we are worried that, for many families, Bonnie's behavior has crossed over from fun hide-and-spook play into behavior that appears to be nasty and at times, cruel. The vibe of this app would have been so different if, after being scared, the family member had joined in with Bonnie's laughter.
In trying to decide if this app will be received in a positive manner, families will want to factor in that there is a lot of silliness built into the app, including Bonnie's hiding in the toilet, farting purple gas after eating a plum, and saying "Boo" with flames leaping out of her mouth after you feed her a hot chili.
From the menu screen, kids do have access to view trailers for other apps, but not purchase them. The "For Parents" section has instructions for the game, including ways to talk with your child if she or he is unnerved by the dark tension of the house or the cartoonish reactions of its characters.
If you decide to give Toca Boo a try, it will work best with kids who love practical jokes and get a kick out of startling surprises in cartoons. Toca Boo could go either way for kids who are afraid of the dark -- on the one hand, it reinforces the idea that something startling might be lurking there. On the flip side, what's lurking is just a little girl under a sheet playing a joke. Getting to control the little girl and do the spooking might help kids feel more control over the dark and their fears.
This Toca Boo app review was written by Liz K. McKinney.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.