“Come on Kids! Let’s learn about the Periodic Table!”
Toca Lab is, essentially, a game about the Periodic table, which I stumbled across a couple of years ago, not long after I bought a Kindle Fire. On the early Fires Amazon did an “App of the Day”, which gave you one free app every day. The tablet was soon filling up with flashlight apps, hill climbing games and, at one point, an Orrery (because you never know when you may need an interactive clockwork map of the solar system).
One day a funny looking game called Toca Lab appeared as a freebie. I immediately stopped worrying about where Venus was in relation to Jupiter, and hit the download button.
After all of a minute downloading and installing, I was confronted with a small blob of something with a face, and no instructions. The last time that happened I didn’t end well for either party, but I put that waking nightmare to the back of my mind and pushed on!
The point of Toca Lab is to unlock all the elements in the Periodic Table. This is done by dragging your elemental friend to one of five pieces of lab equipment where it can be heated, cooled, spun, electrified or mixed with chemicals. Most of the time nothing will happen, except that the blob looks a little disgruntled, but sometimes a party popper will go off and a new blob will appear, looking slightly surprised but ultimately content with its new existence.
You can then repeat the process with the new element to try and unlock more. At any point you can look at the toonified table to see what you have unlocked and what is left, along with a little graphical hint of what to do to get new elements.
I have now played a number of games by Toca Boca, this games developer, and all of them have no instructions. This is fine though, as they don’t need any. Young children can just mess around with them and discover what to do on their own.
I showed this to my then five year old Autistic son, and he loved it. The lack of words and speech meant that it was not overwhelming, the colours were calming and it is a game about collecting, not winning, which kept his attention when so many other things wouldn’t. Soon after this the Fire stopped being Daddies.
It is now two years later and Child 1 still goes back to it now, usually just as Child 2 picks it up and decides he wants to play on it. It is a wonderfully simple game that looks great and has a huge amount of charm. I would have happily paid for this, but as a freebie it was amazing!