iPhone Life magazine

Review: Toybox by Barrel of Donkeys

Match 3 games have become quite popular on the App Store, and it seems like every week several new offerings are released in the genre.  Many developers have taken to releasing mash-ups, games which take the match 3 mechanic and combine it with some other genre in hopes of creating a unique playing experience.  Toybox is one such mash-up, fusing match 3 game play with a basic scrolling shooter.  The result is entertaining, challenging and somewhat frustrating – especially when you take into account that you are in effect playing two games at the same time.  Talk about a new perspective on multi-tasking.

Love My Shield
 

The basic premise is simple.  You must blast everything in sight and stay alive as long as you can.  Wave after wave of rogue toys will come at you, trying their best to shoot you out of the sky or run into you.  Just dodge them or take them out with your weapon so that they can’t hurt you.  Seems simple enough, right?  The thing is, that’s just what you’re doing on the left side of the screen.  On the other half of the playing field is a match 3 game, and it doesn’t care that you’re already busy destroying hordes of crazy wind up villains.  Blocks will fall from the top of the board at an increasingly quick pace, and it’s up to you to move them around so that they create rows, columns or diagonals of three or more of the same color.  Getting a bit more complicated?

The scrolling shooter part is the easier of the two, as all you have to do is drag your finger around the screen to move the ship.  Shooting is automatic, and there are no power ups to pick up, since that’s part of what making matches does.  The main problem I’ve found is that no matter what movement option you use, it’s pretty easy to start covering up your ship after a while, which is especially bad given that you have only half of a small screen to work with.  As for the matching, you can slide your finger back and forth to move a block between columns, and then double tap or just let the block sit for a bit so that it will fall.  Occasionally I might accidentally shift a block to a different column when trying to double tap to release it, which wouldn’t be so bad except the game does get quite hectic after a while, and in a small playing field one mistake can be somewhat detrimental.

Robots Unite
 

When you make a match it boosts your weapon’s ability and clears everything that is currently on the screen.  If you make a match that in turn causes another match (a chain), you get bonus points and more importantly you earn an extra life.  This is the only way to get extra lives, which is neat in concept but makes it particularly important to pay attention to the match 3 side, which draws you away from the scrolling shooter side.  It’s an interesting balance for attention that I haven’t quite mastered yet.  You only get one level a week, and you spend the whole week trying to rise to the top of the leaderboard for that level.  I hope that changes in the future so that you at least have access to all previous levels.

The graphics on the shooter side are pretty cute.  The toys look like old fashioned wind-ups, and the background has a simple sci-fi wallpaper theme to it.  It would be nice to have a bit more variety with the toys and a couple of different backgrounds to alternate between.  The matching side looks decent, but is pretty plain as far as that type of game goes.  The sound effects mostly focus on the match 3 side, which is actually kind of a shame.  The music is okay, but does get a bit repetitive.  Overall the aesthetics could use a bit more of an assortment in every aspect.

Top Score
 

Toybox is a fun little game.  While it proves to be quite challenging at times, they did a decent job of merging the scrolling shooter and match 3 genres.  The controls could use a bit of work, though I’m not sure how much they can do on the small screen.  I’d also like to see a bit more selection when it comes to enemy toy types.  It might even be nice to be able to earn a couple of different ships of your own to choose from.  Still, if you’re looking for something that you haven’t seen before in scrolling shooters… or in match 3 games, Toybox is the game for you.

Overall Score: 7/10
App Store Link

This game was reviewed on an iPod Touch 4 running iOS 5.1.1.

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Eric Pankoke has been a gamer for more than 20 years. He began with arcade games, moving to consoles and eventually handhelds and Pocket PCs. Now he spends most of his time on one of his iOS devices. Eric has written more than 700 gaming reviews, which have appeared on a number of gaming websites as well as several issues of both Smartphone & Pocket PC and iPhone Life magazines. He regularly contributes to iphonelife.com and TouchMyApps. Ultimately he hopes to eventually develop games himself for whatever the hot mobile device is when he finally gets moving.