When you play a video game, what is your main objective? Usually to have fun, right? What else? Would you like to run a small business? Would you like to spend all your free time either greeting customers or building things? Would you like to turn that small shop into an empire? So would I. Unfortunately, you don’t get to do any of these things in Majesco Entertainment’s Toy Shop for the Nintendo DS.
We read a rather sad backstory as the game begins. We push the A button to advance the narration in simple text boxes. We learn that Mel and Mark’s grandfather has just died. He’s left the siblings his toy shop. They have three years to make it a successful business and $500 startup money. With that $500 they must build some toys to sell. They must also buy a case to stack the toys in and a cash register to ring up the sales with. Problem? It costs money to build toys. If you don’t hit the letter keys just right, giving Mark a wrench or hammer when he needs one, you lose your money and get no toy. You can try again but you run the same risk. It seems if you hit the wrong button or if you hit the correct button a fraction of a second too late, you must begin again. Soon, your funds can deplete. Aside from that, the cheapest toy case is $300 and the only cash register available is $1200. All that before you can even open the shop to sell one toy? How is it possible to even open the shop, then?
And there is the game’s main flaw. Without enough startup funds you can’t do anything, and if you can’t do anything, well, you can’t do anything. I bought the shelf, and I built some toys. I ruined more toys than I made, but even if I hadn’t, I couldn’t have bought the necessary cash register. So I could never open the toy shop at all. What a beginning. So, okay. Maybe some money will arrive in the mail or there’s something I’ve missed. I decided to explore the other parts of town to see what else I could do.
If you press the X button, you can visit the beach, the business district, the town square (actually a circle, but who’s quibbling?) and the ‘residential area’ where Mel and Mark live. If you press the A button you can shift between playing as Mel (a girl) or Mark (her 17-year-old younger brother, which must make Mel, well, older — but both big-eyed pixel people look like kids). And what else? You wander. Wander around the beach, wander around the business area. Wander around the suburban residential area and bother the neighbors. You can tap on people and they will say one thing. You can't reply, because the game pushes you away from the person again.
So who can you talk to in town, since there is absolutely nothing else to do? A few people stand around – in shops, near the fountain in the town square, or on their front lawns. They always stand in the same place. They always say the same few things. They either coo over their pet dachsund, gripe about a sibling or kvetch about their spouse. But repetitive as that quickly becomes, what’s eerier are the townsfolk wandering the streets. Tap on them for a little conversation, and you’ll get one of two replies: “Hello, fine weather, isn't it?” or, “It’s gotten warmer lately, hasn’t it?” Between all this aimless wandering of Mel, Mark, the inhabitants of unnamed toy town, and the same few lines of conversation among them, it begins to feel like a Twilight Zone episode. But mostly, it’s just boring.
I stuck it out until Valentine’s Day — a few weeks' time in the game. A day in the game translates to about twenty minutes in ‘our’ time. At 7 PM in the game, no matter where they are, Mel and Mark are zapped back into their living room (another element reminiscent of Twilight Zone). They don’t have much of a social life even there: they watch TV or do jumping jacks with a half eaten box of pizza on the floor. Next morning, we see them eating cereal or staring out the window, and then another monotonous aimless day begins. This may be some Kafka-esque commentary on the futility of existence, but it doesn’t make a very entertaining DS game. And since the game is called Toy Shop I had hoped the majority of the game would be spent, you know, making toys? I had imagined choosing paint colors, constructing toys of my own design, and so on. Worst case scenario I had imagined a ‘tycoon’ game in which sales were the point, and I had to use the game’s prefab pixelated products. I never imagined a game that would turn out to be neither creative nor business oriented.
I’m not the world’s best gamer, but since this particular title is marketed toward young children and older ‘casual’ gamers, who mainly like games as ways to pass the time, a high level of skill should not be necessary simply to play. If there is some way to stretch $500 to $1200 in-game without any income, before even making a sale, I seem to have missed the clue. I tried; I read the manual and even went to Majesco’s website to read its tips and hints. Nothing there gave a clue – only vague tips the manual or gameplay had given. The in-game video tutorials also were very basic. Nothing explained how to make the game viable. I can’t even recommend this game for small toddlers who merely want to pretend they are playing a game; there is too much reading required. Futility just isn’t any fun, as Kafka’s cockroach and gamers who play Toy Shop very well know.
Toy Shop is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.
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