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Toca Nature app review

toca nature title screenSiân ♥s Toca Band. While Toca Nature (Toca Boca, 2014) is more contemplative — no sunglasses-sporting emcee hollering “We rockin’ it!” here — it provides a similarly satisfying experience of experimental play.

As the app opens, you are presented with a square chunk of landscape, floating in pleasantly dreamy, starry space. A few trees and some shallow dips and low hills dot the landscape, but it’s your job to make this somewhat sterile bit of land into a thriving ecosystem. Create mountain ranges and bodies of water, and select from five kinds of trees to plant forests. Once these habitats are large enough, animals move in. One specific species is associated with each landmass or forest type: wolves in the mountains, beavers in the lakes, deer in the oak forests, etc. Mix and match, overlapping habitats, for a world that’s all your own.

toca nature start

toca nature lake

Tap the magnifying glass to zoom in and watch the animals up-close as they go about their days and nights, eating, sleeping (adorably, they snore), and interacting with their environment.

toca nature bear

As in the real world, different animals are active at different times. Gather food, such as berries and acorns, as you make your way around your mini-world and offer it to the critters; thought balloons with images of their preferred snack inside provide guidance. You can even take “photos” of the wildlife and save them to your iPad’s camera roll.

Modify your environment at any time by adding more mountains/lakes/trees, or by cutting down trees (although this may cause animals to vacate). Rotate your landscape for a different perspective by tapping a globe icon in the lower right corner. Unfortunately, there’s no way to save your current creation once you exit the session.

The cute animals and their habitats are rendered in geometric, origami-like shapes and in a palette primarily consisting of warm pastels. During daytime, tinkly instrumental music plays; nighttime features a quiet soundscape of crickets and the occasional bird sound.

I found exploring Toca Nature to be meditative, somewhat like having a mini Zen garden. But for its intended audience of preschool and primary users, I imagine it’s very exciting to build a world and then watch it in action — especially given that each new environment will have its own unique mix of inhabitants and nuances. A parents’ section offers some usage hints and suggestions for discussion.

Available for iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 5.0 or later); $2.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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