ToyTopia belongs to a casual puzzle game format that was perfected in the last decade.
You know the one. It involves swapping colorful things like sweets and toys until you complete the mission identified at the beginning of each stage, unlocking and combining boosts to help you over the line.
Developers have struggled to come up with ways to improve on this winning formula, and Webzen Cube—a subsidiary of the studio behind the hugely successful MU series of MMORPGs—has gone for a genre mashup approach.
So ToyTopia isn’t just a casual puzzler. It’s also a city-builder, allowing you to create a thriving, economically productive toy-based metropolis to power you through the story-based campaign.
We’ll start with the puzzle gameplay, which will be familiar to anybody who has picked up a smartphone in the last ten years.
Each stage presents you with a grid of toys. Sliding three or more toys together clears them from the screen, allowing more symbols to slide in from the top.
If you manage to slide four together in a square formation, meanwhile, you’ll get a boost that clears symbols within a small area. Four in a line gives you a car that clears a row or column.
Creating a T of symbols gives you a rocket boost, which swirls around clearing an area of the screen, and bringing five together in a line produces a boost that clears all symbols in a given color.
Also, using car boosts builds your plane meter, giving you a plane to deploy whenever the meter fills up, and every kind of boost can be combined with another boost to increase its power.
All of this gives ToyTopia a surprising amount of tactical depth. Stages are not just casual matchfests but finely balanced puzzles full of intricate subtleties, forcing you to consider each move carefully.
For instance, the car that you unlock by clearing four symbols in a line faces the direction of the line, meaning it might be no use to you if the car is vertical and you need to clear a row. It can still be worth creating a vertical car, however, since two vertical cars combined will travel both horizontally and vertically.
Meanwhile, certain stages require you to use car and plane boosts, forcing you to unlock them even when doing so isn’t particularly helpful in relation to your other mission goals.
As a puzzler, ToyTopia is full of these little trade-offs and tactical decisions, and there’s often very little room for error. Plus, stages are generally infested with gimmicks—unhelpful enemy units that contrive to get in your way by locking tiles in place, running for the exit, and so on.
You can obtain extra boosts by spending gems and completing quests, but these are in fairly short supply and should generally be reserved for stages you just can’t crack.
In contrast with a lot of casual match-three puzzlers, ToyTopia also offers a variety of different stage types from the get-go.
Some see you clearing a certain number of colored tiles and/or gimmicks, others task you with preventing mice from reaching the top of the screen, and others still involve clearing a path so that Anne can reach the end of the stage.
And that’s all before you reach level 30. The game keeps adding new mechanics and goals after that, such as whales, runaway robots, and much more.
That’s the puzzling more or less covered, but what about the city-building?
Like every free-to-play puzzler, ToyTopia has its own economy of gems, coins, hearts, and so on.
To play a stage, you need a heart. These replenish over time, but you can obtain more with gems, which you can buy with cash (or by watching ads).
Stars, meanwhile, let you build toys, and coins let you build new structures. These power the city-building side of ToyTopia’s gameplay.
To create a new character you need to use other characters to help with the process. These base characters are unlocked as you play through the campaign, or summoned at the DreamCatcher Table, a structure that you need to build.
Once you unlock a character you can place them in a building, where they’ll produce coins for you at regular intervals. Naturally, the more characters you create and place into buildings, the richer you’ll become.
There are tons of different buildings and decorations to create and place wherever you like. Once your territory is full, you can even cut down the surrounding forest and expand your empire.
This all gives ToyTopia a fun rhythm as you split your time between solving puzzles and tending to your little world. On top of that, it gives you concrete goals to pursue as you work your way through the campaign.
While the city-building side of ToyTopia is fairly superficial as city-builders go, the game’s puzzle stages are diverse, innovative, challenging, and addictive.
Webzen Cube has shown that there’s life in the casual match-three genre yet.