The thing I like the most about Toca Boca video games, I think, is that they are so confident in what they’re doing. This shows itself in the way they present their objectives. There is something obvious and appealing to do, but no punishment for doing it wrong, and no clear point at which the thing you’re doing is completed so the whole thing has to end.
In a game like Toca Nature, in which you are presented with an open landscape that you can cover with trees, lakes, and mountains, this meant that there was no way to save what you were doing. Each creation lasted as long as you wanted to look at it, and would be erased forever when you moved onto something else. Nature could be investigated, but it could not be owned. In Toca Kitchen Sushi, which is not, I think, their most recent game, but the game which my daughter and I have truly fallen for over the last month, your job is to make dinner for a range of patrons at a sushi restaurant. But you can make whatever you want. You can take as much time as you want, and deal with any of the ingredients in any way you please. And if the patron doesn’t like what you’ve served them, you can swap them out for another patron. And then, once they’ve eaten, you can go back and cook something new again. It never has to end.
The effort here has been spent on the interactions, the way the carousel spins as you select ingredients at the start, and the way a squid, say, will flop onto the table or the way an octopus tentacle will reveal a coiled, muscular rubberiness as you move it around. Once you’ve grabbed the stuff you want to cook with, you can unleash a variety of tools on them. There is a mixer of sorts that turns things into tubes. There is a frying pan and there are knives. Best of all, because this is sushi, is the wrapping table, where you can select rice, seaweed and other things I am ashamed to say I don’t know the names for, and wrap the tubes you have made with the tubifier machine inside them. Or you can wrap whole ingredients. Or you can wrap wraps. In fact, we have discovered, you can wrap things pretty much forever, creating denser and denser rolls of sushi, candy canes jostling with kohlrabi, the whole thing moving forever towards the point at which surely it must collapse into some super-dense sushi singularity, an umami core from which not even light can escape.
Then you plate it and it trundles off towards the patron. At this point, my daughter selects the hottest of hot sauces and slathers the whole thing with it, staining it a distinctive wasabi green.
Finally, the patron eats it. In general, because of the wasabi element, steam will erupt from their ears. And then they will smile with delight, because something can be hot and spicy but also delicious. And then we head back to the ingredients carousel to do the whole thing over again.