Every night before bathtime, our two children get 10 minutes each on the family iPad: it’s become something of a tradition. And for the last few weeks, the lion’s share of that time has been taken up by Toca Robot Lab: about as high praise as I can give.
Released by developer Toca Boca in mid-July, it gets your child to build a robot, then fly it around a colorful environment collecting stars. That makes it sound like a game, but really it’s a digital playtoy, in keeping with the developer’s previous (excellent apps) like Paint My Wings and Toca Hair Salon. No stressful goals or time limits, just fun interaction and a sense of achievement.
The app is deliberately limited too. Robots are made from a mixture of parts: arms, legs, torso and head. However, unlike some other bot-building apps I’ve used, this never baffles your children with choice. There are dozens of possible bits for each body part, but every time only three of them are presented to choose from, so it never gets confusing.
Parts are dragged to marked spots in the middle of the screen to build the robot. It’s so simple, there is no need for instructions: my four year-old grasped what he had to do straight away, and after watching him a couple of times, my two year-old got it too.
The flying section is equally intuitive: you tap and hold in the direction you want the robot to fly, collecting stars along the way until you hit a magnet at the top of the level, which whisks the robot away ready for you to build another one. There are three stars to find, but no penalty for missing some or all of them. In fact, the rewards are also left to the real world: my sons are delighted when they get all three, but that’s come from them, rather than from the game making them feel this is the goal.
Like I said, we’re weeks in and the kids haven’t tired of it: and neither have we. Toca Robot Lab is packed with character and craft, and it’s a Universal app so runs across iPhone and iPad without you having to pay twice. It costs 69p on the App Store, and as far as we’re concerned, is one of the best iOS apps for kids yet.