Play-Doh's new toy-to-life app is pointless but fun

The Touch app makes beautiful worlds out of your crappy dough art.

If you had a decent childhood, you probably crafted some Play-Doh masterpieces back in the day. Today, however, kids are less likely to play with the modeling compound and more likely to spend time on an iPad. As such, Hasbro is taking a stab at making the 60-year-old brand relevant to modern kids with its new Touch app for iPads and iPhones. The game scans your creations and animates them in a virtual world that's as immersive as it is entertaining, even if you're nearly 30 years old (ahem).

You can play the game for free with any can of Play-Doh you already have or buy the $40 Shape to Life Studio set, which includes cutters and character and action stampers, along with 7 cans of modeling compound. The set expands the environments and characters you can interact with and makes the game a lot more fun.

When you first launch the app, you'll enter a mostly blank world where your soon-to-be-created main character will live. You'll then see a virtual can of Play-Doh with a cloud hovering above it; you will need to tap on that before progressing further. This launches your camera, which will scan whatever masterpiece you've crafted and bring it into the app. In my experience, this typically took about 10 seconds, including lining up the image and processing it. It might take longer if you don't have the right lighting (white light from top) and a white platform to match. The latter is provided with the Studio set; if you don't buy that, though, any white surface should do.

Then the fun starts. Once the app has loaded your character, Touch animates your new pal, very accurately identifying limbs and faces. My odd-looking blob (which I shall name Blobby) with three feeble, deformed legs (I'm really not good at crafts) transformed into a squealing, energetic creature. Of course, over time the noises got a bit annoying, especially when I was trying to make another model and Blobby just wouldn't shut up. For the most part, though, the app's background music and sounds were enjoyable.

Your initial creation is the first of dozens of components you can add to the environment. Each world has 5 character cans (for adding new creatures) and 10 environment cans. The latter let you add whimsical trees or cannons or waterfalls to the background, and these can even interact with your virtual friends. A cannon can blast your pal onto a higher platform while a bouncy drum on the ground can propel him upward. I was impressed not only by how accurately the app scanned my lumps of clay but also by how well it integrated those misshapen, colorful blobs into the background of whatever world I was in.

Those using the Studio set can also use stamps to create balloons, wings, musical notes and potions to make the characters fly, dance and multiply. These differ in style based on the color of the Play-Doh. For instance, using different hues for the music note changes the background song to which your creature dances.

For an app that's designed for kids four and older, Touch is a tad confusing. During a demo, scanning and dragging a musical note over my character made him groove, but I couldn't recall how to do that during my own playtime. After looking at the in-app tutorial and the included instruction sheet, I still couldn't figure out how to do so and had to ask a Hasbro rep to clarify. That's not a luxury most kids have.

Speaking of luxuries, while it's nice that you don't have to invest in the Studio set to enjoy the game, there are benefits to getting it. You can use the included character stamps to unlock five more worlds, bringing the total to six. Each world houses 15 more cans, so you can add more characters and wacky backgrounds. That's a lot of combinations with which to explore and personalize the Play-Doh Touch universe.

Discovery and expression are going to have to be enough to maintain your child's attention to Touch. There's no objective to the app other than encouraging the player to be creative and artistic. No score is kept, nor are there levels to advance. You only need to collect orbs of light to have enough energy to unlock new cans to add more to your world. And while that doesn't provide a lot of motivation to keep returning to the game, it's not a bad thing either. What Play-Doh's Touch provides, just as its modeling compound has done for decades now, is a way for kids -- or maybe even adults -- to be imaginative for hours on end.

Play-Doh Touch: hands-on