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Toy Shop (DS) artwork

Toy Shop (DS) review

"While it's true that a lot of games of this type bury you in menus, they at least have other things going on so that you can remain entertained throughout the process or there's a sense of urgency. With Toy Shop, I would frequently set up my assembly work for the day, then just leave the DS sitting for 2 or 3 minutes while the game did its thing."

My wife has been after me for two days to review Toy Shop for the Nintendo DS. Mostly, that's because I've been ignoring her as I played it--after work in the car, well past midnight in bed after she drifted to sleep, then in the morning after I woke up--and she figured it was time for me to move on to other things. I resisted her pleas, though, by insisting that I was going to finish playing through it first.

Tonight, I have a new refrain: “Ah, screw it!”

I'll explain the change of heart in just a moment, but first I'd like to talk about the game's general design.

The idea behind Toy Shop is that your grandfather has just passed on to the great beyond and in his will, he left you a toy shop. As a boy/girl duo, you are given three years to turn his empty little shop into a thriving retail outlet. You will do this by touring the quaint little seaside town for ideas and customers, or just making a hermit out of yourself and working in the back room to generate brilliant toy creations. Then you'll price everything accordingly, stick it on your shelves and hope that patrons will visit with cash in hand.

Obviously, this is the sort of thing that has been done before. It'll be done again, too, because when it's done right the idea is pure gold.

At first, Toy Shop is great. Once you get the hang of how everything works (the instruction manual and the in-game tutorial are wonderful), you'll find that managing your toy shop can be quite entertaining. You start out with only a few cheesy toys. These can be developed over time, so that you're able to assemble them more efficiently. Each item in your inventory has an RPG-like level. If you're like I was, the rewards for reaching those higher levels will keep you playing long after you should be going to sleep.

The problem with Toy Shop is that there's a lot of down time between those occasional moments of exhilaration. They almost feel like punishment for enjoying other portions of the game. Let's say you decide to build a raggedy doll. While that's being constructed in the back room, you can watch customers browsing out front (where you can tap with your stylus for data) or you can head into the workshop to lend a hand at the press of a button. There you play a mini-game of sorts, where an icon appears and you must quickly press the corresponding direction on the d-pad. This will quicken the assembly process but it gets old quickly.

There's no way to hurry things without negative consequences, either. You're a bored observer for the bulk of the game, just waiting for something cool to happen. Then the 'action-packed' moments entail nothing more than sliding icons from a blueprint sheet to a column on the right side of your screen where they then are in queue for eventual assembly. While it's true that a lot of games of this type bury you in menus, they at least have other things going on so that you can remain entertained throughout the process or there's a sense of urgency. With Toy Shop, I would frequently set up my assembly work for the day, then just leave the DS sitting for 2 or 3 minutes while the game did its thing.

The surrounding town doesn't provide much relief from the tedium, either. If you're walking the streets, that means nothing is happening back at the workshop. Besides that, the touch-screen commands for walking about feel cumbersome and most of the time there's nothing new to see. Events only take place at predetermined times. You'll learn that the world map can safely be ignored unless someone in your shop recommends an excursion on a given day. When that happens, you can go to the location indicated and usually pick up a new toy design that you can't possibly afford to build anytime soon (and that your consumers also will not care to buy).

Though at first I was having a lot of fun with Toy Shop, its quirks quickly wore thin. You'll be going through 360 in-game days to span the three years allotted you and each day lasts several minutes in real time. Even though there definitely are moments where it's a blast to manage the finer points of your store, there's playing the game is too much like work.

Then disaster strikes.

Throughout the game, I was seeing messages recommending that I save my progress. These exist for a reason.

I lost two hours of progress the first time the game froze. I simply hadn't been in the habit of saving. After that, I took precautions, but occasionally I'd forget for a half-hour or so and then the game would glitch. I told myself that I could just save more often and that--since I'd already put in something like 20 hours with the game--I would see it through to its proper conclusion despite the inconvenience. Time progressed. I made it partway through the Fall season in the third year (roughly 85% point, for those keeping score at home). I bought myself a fresh new store. I outfitted it with tons of shelf space and I was raking in the dough.

“I'd better save,” I told myself. “The last thing I want to do is lose these last 10 minutes of progress. That would suck!”

Saving is simple. You just press 'Start' and then you tap the 'Save' function. I did so. Then I tapped the 'Resume' function... and the game froze again. A sinking feeling settled in the pit of my stomach as I turned the system off, then powered it on again. That sinking feeling became complete dismay when at the title menu I found no option to 'Load Game' as there should have been. That's right: the crash took my game save with it.

Conservatively, I figure I spent about 20 hours with the game and I didn't get to see its ending. I'm not ready to spend another 20 hours wading through menus and pressing d-pad buttons for minutes at a time just to hurry up a process I already found tiresome 10 hours ago. I told my wife that I would finish Toy Shop before I reviewed it, but I lied. She'll forgive me, I'm sure.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (May 19, 2008)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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