As tempting as it is to think of video games as toys, there can be a substantial difference between the two. The way we engage with a chess set is different than the way we engage with with dolls or figures, after all, so when a game doesn't lay out its rules explicitly, the kind of play it will encourage is a very different beast.
This is the philosophy behind mobile developer Toca Boca's apps, and why I make it a point to always have at least one Toca game installed on my phone… Even if they are technically made for children.
If you're unfamiliar with Toca Boca's work then Toca Kitchen Monsters is a good way to get your beak wet. It's a free iteration on Toca Boca's popular games Toca Kitchen and Toca Kitchen 2, but nothing about it feels lesser than its paid counterparts.
After you start the game and pick from one of two monsters, you find a fridge full of raw ingredients to the left, an array of tools for preparing them to the right. There's no anime-eyed instructor directing you what to pick or how to prepare it, no steps to follow, no mini-games to complete. No requests. No recipes. No medals. No scores. You can mash a sausage into a pulpy slurry, slice an artichoke up and drop it in a pan—or fry it whole if you're so inclined—then throw both into a pot to boil before presenting it to your waiting monster. Each monster has slightly different tastes, so what disgusts one is likely to delight the other.
There's no end goal in Toca Kitchen Monsters. Not really. The monster won't storm out or lunge across the table at you if they're displeased by what you've prepared, nor will you be rewarded if you satisfy their limitless hunger. They'll gamely eat everything you throw their way, sharing their opinions in sneers, smiles, slurps and snarls as you move on to preparing the next course/
And that works. It's not about the outcome so much as it's about the experimentation, seeing just how practical or just how absurd you can get with what it gives you. Toca Kitchen Monsters is a playset, a box of components for you to mess with in whatever ways you choose, and sometimes a game doesn't really need to be any more than that.
Toca Kitchen Monsters is free for both iOS and Android.