As parents, you probably have realized that children are attracted to music like moths to light. The number of musical apps on the App Store reflects this; from jukeboxes to pianos to karaoke apps, there seems to be an app for every musical need.
But when famous appmaker Toca Boca announced that they were releasing a new musical app, I was pretty excited. Toca Boca is known for their taste in quality, so I was eager to see the kind of app they would come up with to break through the crowded market for musical apps. And boy, was I really pleased.
Let's rock with Toca Band
Toca Band is a musical toy that aims to encourage children (and child at heart) to explore music and sounds in a fun and quirky way. The app introduces the player to a band that is set to play a concert at the park at night time. Naturally, they need help setting up and it is up to your juniors to rock the day.
In a concert, of course you will need a performance stage. In Toca Band, that stage is pretty special - it is comprised of three rows, upon each sits two to three circular platforms where you can place the band members. At the center of the topmost row, there is a golden star platform for a solo performance - I will discuss more of this later.
At the bottom of the screen, your junior will be presented with 16 band members to select from. Each one is unique in terms of physical appearance and ability. They each play a different musical instrument and produce unique sounds that can be combined together to create a harmonious song. There is, for example, an elderly lady whose voice could rival an opera singer, a cute alarm clock who ticks endlessly and a happy-looking drum set.
At any given moment, there can be a maximum of seven members playing at the same time on stage, excluding the one on the solo platform. To place a band member, simply drag him or her (or them) to a platform and they will start playing.
While the band only has one song in their repertoire, they can surprisingly perform in numerous ways. This is because each band member will play the same part of the song in a different tempo or melody according to the row where you place them; the more upward to the back of the stage they are, the more upbeat their performance. So, you can play the song upbeat and danceable, or mellow and soothing.
When you place someone on the star platform, it will rise up and the app will switch to Solo performance mode. Your junior can then play individual notes or beats while the rest of the band continues to perform in the background. For the creative juniors, this scene provides a great opportunity to explore and improvise on the included song.
What parents need to know
Toca Band is a fun toy for kids to explore and experiment with music. Like other Toca apps, the design of the app is minimalist and free from complicated settings or buttons.
There are basically three menus in the app: Play, For Parents and Toca News. Except for the Play button, the rest of the menu are displayed plain and small. If you want to, you can also turn off the sections For Parents and Toca News completely from the iPad's Settings menu.
The app is simple and intuitive enough that even younger juniors will be able to play with little to no instructions. However, it also offers enough flexibility so that older juniors can also have fun manipulating the instruments to create numerous variations of the song.
What I liked about the app
I have great expectations from Toca Boca but as always they manage to top their previous achievements. Having tried Toca Store, Toca Hair Salon, Toca Doctor and Toca Robot Lab, I would say Toca Band is their best work yet.
The app is quirky, fun and makes you want to never stop playing once you pick it up. The character design is fantastic and I am amazed at how the designers of the app managed to come up with 16 unique characters that compliment each other well no matter how you mix and match them on the stage. Plus, they're really cute. I really enjoyed placing each character on stage and figuring out the kind of sound they make. The star of the show for me was definitely the little round rapper - I burst out laughing when I heard him rap "hello, hello, bass!" for the first time.
The Solo performance was also an awesome experience. I loved how you can interact differently with each character using taps and even gestures. For example, with the whistling triangular policeman, you can drag your finger around the screen to change the notes. With Dancy Nancy the pink ballerina, you can play the keyboard by tapping on the keys.
The only thing that I would suggest would be adding more songs. Currently, the band only plays one song and while it is cute, it is also very catchy. It is not really a bad thing, but as Eric put it, can also be maddening. (By the way, if you are tough enough to not get the song stuck in your head and want to buy it, you can do so on iTunes and Spotify - hat-tip to Apps Playground).
I can go on forever and ever about how great Toca Band was but I think it would be easier for both you and me if you can see it in action. So, here is a recording I made of myself playing with the app:
If you made it this far in the review, then you can probably guess what I would say - get it. Toca Band is a great way to learn about music, sounds and rhythm. It is really, really fun and I promise that your junior will love it. Another job well done by Toca Boca!
Get Toca Band on the App Store.