Tick Tock Toys (iOS) review

Tick Tock ToysTick Tock Toys is a new iOS game from Scottish developer Swallowtail Games. The game was recognized during development with awards from both BAFTA “Ones to Watch” and Dare to be Digital, and is now available as a free download from the App Store. The game has five sets of three levels available for free, after which the player must pay $2.99 to unlock the rest of the game. Consumable “pay to win” in-app purchases are also available for players struggling to complete tricky levels. The game is presently featured in the New & Noteworthy section of the App Store front page.

Tick Tock Toys is a puzzle game in which players must ensure that a clockwork robot called Tic Toc safely traverses a predefined path across the level. The pathway is clearly marked by a dotted line, and the player has a few seconds to review the level before Tic Toc starts to move. The player fails the level if Tic Toc walks into any obstacles, so they must determine how to clear a path for him by tapping and dragging on the various toys scattered around the level, each of which react in different ways. Knight dolls, for example, lift up their sword and rotate by 90 degrees when tapped on — Tic Toc may safely pass under while the sword is raised — while pairs of frog figurines swap which one has their tongue sticking out when tapped on. Many levels also include blocks that can be freely moved around to block other hazards such as toy cars and cannons that fire objects at Tic Toc. After a very brief initial tutorial, the game does not insult the player’s intelligence by explicitly introducing each new hazard — it is up to the player to discover how they work for themselves.

Each level also hides a jigsaw puzzle piece, concealed within one of the background toys on the level. All of these toys can be tapped on to make various things happen — dolls will blow a kiss, teddy bears will wave and xylophones can actually be played by tapping on their various notes. If the jigsaw puzzle is concealed within the toy the player taps on, it is added to their collection, and at the end of each group of three levels the player is reminded how many of the puzzle pieces they successfully found.

The game monetizes in two main ways: firstly, the free version acts as a “demo,” with just 15 individual levels available to play out of the complete selection. This is actually plenty for the player to determine whether or not they would like to continue with the game, as they introduce a variety of hazards and present a considerable challenge by themselves. If the player decides they would like to continue after these initial 15 levels, they may make a one-off $2.99 in-app purchase to unlock four new packs of levels, each with their own visual theme.

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The second means through which the game monetizes is the sale of “magic wand” items that turn hazardous toys into harmless bunnies. The game does not make a big deal of this aspect of its monetization — indeed, if the player never pauses the game they won’t even know that the option is there — but it does allow players who are struggling with a particular level to pay up in order to pass a difficult challenge. The prices aren’t unreasonable, either, ranging between $0.99 for 10 magic wands to $6.99 for 500. While a “pay to win” mechanic can often ruin challenging puzzle games like this, it is completely optional here, and at no point does it feel like the player is being shepherded in the direction of the in-app purchases.

Social features for the game are limited to links to Swallowtail’s Facebook and Twitter accounts from the game’s main menu, and Game Center support for achievements only. iOS 6+ users also have the added Challenge facility enabling them to directly compete against their friends to attain specific achievements. There is no scoring system in the game — nor would the game particularly benefit from one — and so leaderboards are not implemented. That’s not to say they wouldn’t work, however — a simple leaderboard for “number of levels completed” or “number of puzzle pieces collected” would add a nice social incentive for players to compete against their friends, even if the game is a largely solitary experience.

Tick Tock Toys is an excellent game. It is extremely well presented, with graphics that are packed full of personality and a high-quality, haunting piano soundtrack. Its gameplay is highly original, entertaining and challenging, and its simple mechanics belie the fact that there are some extremely complex puzzles to solve. Some App Store reviewers have criticized the game for not being more up-front about the fact that the free download is a limited demo version, but at $2.99 for a high-quality experience that will last even the most dedicated puzzle fan quite some time, these aren’t complaints that can be given any real weight.

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A high quality, highly original puzzle game that deserves to enjoy some success.