Like many of the free apps and experiences you can try on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, Toybox isn’t really a game, it’s more of a space. After about five minutes of tinkering with blocks, remote controlled tanks, and fireworks, you’d think you’ve “seen everything there is to see” and you’d mostly be right. But what makes Toybox so special isn’t so much what you can do in the literal sense, but what you can experience once another person is in the virtual room with you.
If you’ve ever high-fived someone before a match in Dead & Buried, fist-bumped a buddy in Rec Room, or taken down an enemy sniper in a game of Onward, then you know how powerful of a thing social VR can be. Toybox is poised to be one of the go-to social VR experiences not because of all the games and activities it presents — like Rec Room or Pool Nation VR — but because of how little it tells you to do.
As one of the only true sandbox experiences, I compare Toybox to something like a lobby or waiting room you might find in another game. But the major difference here is that you’re free to goof off and mess with everything you see, using your actual hands through the interaction afforded by the Oculus Touch controllers. When I first loaded up the app on my own, I got bored quickly. Lighting a stick of dynamite and blowing up virtual blocks was cool, especially considering how nice the physics were, but part of me just wanted to get back to shooting zombies in Arizona Sunshine.
Then I tried it with another person. I picked up a remote control and drove a tank around the table, shooting him in the face. After flailing and laughing a bit, he tossed a block at my head and I actually ducked to move out of the way. My other hand bumped another block over, which caused me to turn and notice the boomerang I hadn’t seen before. We both tossed boomerangs into the air, practicing catching them as they returned, or shooting them out of the air with our laser guns.
In another environment we were underwater and everything floated up to the surface above us after we let them go. It was soft, soothing, and relaxing. Then we smashed one of the teleportation orbs — similar to those used in The Lab — to return to a bland, empty room. This area had a table with two structures on opposite ends and a bridge in the middle. We placed sticks of dynamite all around these buildings, then lit one and watched what I liked to call “dynamite domino” as each successive explosion lit the next stick, and so on.
Shooting fireworks at each other, blasting tank missile, and general playing around with all of the toys made me feel like a little kid in a toy store. And before long, I actually looked as tiny as I felt after getting shot with the shrink gun. It morphed my voice to that of a pint-sized pipsqueak, and my companion’s towering voice turned into that of a giant, like something ripped out of a cartoon.
Instead of describing the features and toolsets available in Toybox, I thought it would be more useful to just describe what happened while I played. After spending a few hours inside the wondrous world of toys and fun, I came away with a smile on my face. This is the type of experience I’d put someone in if they’re new to VR and want to see what it’s like engaging with a single person. Once you’ve got your VR legs, I’d highly recommend taking the plunge into Rec Room, which is a much more robust and diverse collection of toys and games — all for the same low price of free.
Final Verdict: Must Try
It’s free, so I’m not sure why you wouldn’t at least download it. Just like First Contact is a great introduction to the use of the Touch controllers and Quill is an amazing suite of artistic tools, Toybox is the perfect introduction to social VR in an interactive space. You likely won’t spend a ton of time here — unless building things with blocks and blowing them up is one of your very specific fantasies — but it’s a fun distraction when you bring your friends along for the fun. Social VR is the future, and Toybox is just a small step at the beginning of that journey.