Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Toyologist Review: Tag Junior

£29.99 from Toys R Us (includes 1 book, others sold separately at £9.99)

I'm scared of libraries. It didn't begin this way.  I used to like going to the library and looking at all the books. Things started to change when I had to go to the library to look stuff up for homework purposes (a distant and hard to remember time before Wikipedia, Google, hell even before Encarta). Then Buffy came along and taught me that monsters live beneath libraries. And Doctor Who told me that there was a 50-50 chance of turning into a walking skeleton or being 'saved'. Not to mention the rampant monkeys apes...

Still, at least by this time there was Google.

Anyway, there's a good chance public libraries aren't going to be around for much longer which begs the question: where are the Vashta Nerada going to live now?

Which kind of brings me to the latest arrival from Toys R Us: the LeapFrog Tag Junior. It's aimed at 2-4 year olds, and will definitely not in any way help your child to learn to read. But then that isn't really the point of it. The sole purpose, basically, of the Tag Junior is to get children to have an interest in books. The idea being that if a child has fun with this book then he/she is going to be more likely to want to pick up further books.

And then the fun really begins.

Rowling, Pratchett, King, Pullman, Johnson... All these and more await the child who makes the good decision to start reading.

The Tag system is really rather clever - and I say that as a person who is clever. You download the audio from the internet onto the little hand-held thingamajig, then as the child presses this on different areas of the book it makes different sounds.

If you look closely at the pages you'll see that all the pages are 'dotty' and the thingamajig reads the dots to make the correct noises.

You can fit 5 books on the thingamajig, which means that 5 books is probably the maximum number of books you're going to buy for it. It's a bit of messing about (far more that is really necessary) downloading the audio  so not something a parent would want to do all the time. It'd also be annoying if you'd just deleted Book A to make room for Book F and then the child decided he wanted to read Book A again.

The only problem with this product is that the wrong people will be buying it. The type of person who buys this is probably one who regularly sits down with their children and reads books with them (which is what I'd consider to be by far the best way of getting children to enjoy reading). My children had a bit of a play with it, but would much rather Dad/Mum/Aunty Sophie read a book with them instead.

If you're looking for an unusual gift for a child who has little interest in reading then the Tag Junior is well worth considering. It may even be worth buying for an adult who simply likes clever gadgets.

Other Toyology reviews can by found in the Toys R Us Toy Box on Facebook.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Toyologist Review: Baby Alive Luv N Snuggle

£9.99 from Toys R Us.

Probably the most important opinion of a doll aimed at small girls is that of a small girl. So here it is:

Monday, 22 August 2011

Review: Extreme Ghostbusters

The Real Ghostbusters cartoon ran for years and years. Most people know this. What a lot of people don't know/remember is the cartoon that was shown in the late 90s. Extreme Ghostbusters had Egon taking on some new, young recruits after the old team had disbanded - very similar to how the Ghostbusters 3 film is supposed to go, assuming it actually ever gets made.

And what's a cartoon without a toyline?

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Toyologist Review: My First Word Flashcards

£5.99 from Toys R Us.

Flashcards? Flashcards?! They're bits of card with words on them - how am I supposed to make that interesting to read about? They're hardly exciting, are they?

Are they?


Flashcards, you say? Flashcards. Hmm...


Well, it was either that or Flashdance, but the world isn't ready yet to see me in a leotard.

Other Toyology reviews can by found in the Toys R Us Toy Box on Facebook.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Review: Star Trek by Playmates

I know you'll find this hard to believe, but in the not-so distant past, Star Trek was popular.

'Shut up, you crazy fool!' I hear you say, but I'm not talking rubbish here. There was a time in the mid-90s when you could buy Star Trek merchandise in almost every shop. The Next Generation was drawing to a close, the films were crossing over from original to TNG casts, Voyager was just starting, and DS9 was hanging on in there in the background like the relative you try to avoid at family weddings.

There was a crash shortly afterwards, of course. Voyager turned out to be a bit terrible. Insurrection was a bit of a disappointment. DS9 hung in there and people began to realise that actually it was really rather good.

And then Faith of the Heart and Nemesis killed it completely.

But in those prime years, you could buy Playmates Star Trek action figures in Toys R Us.

This meant that children were buying them. Children!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Film: The Black Cauldron

I know what you're thinking: this is supposed to be a toy blog. This is is a film, not a toy - it didn't even have much in the way of associated merchandise. Why are you writing about it? 

Well, I thought I'd branch out a bit. Plus it's my blog so I can do what I like.

I have a special affection for Disney's 1985 film The Black Cauldron. It was one of the first films I ever saw at the cinema and I can remember going with my parents, sister, uncle & cousin. Being one of the first films I saw, it could be responsible for my lifelong enjoyment of horror, fantasy and related 'genre' items.

It was a box office disaster for Disney when it was released. Mostly because there's so little Disney about it. There are no jolly songs, no cheery plot. It's dark. Very dark for a Disney film and the Horned King must be the scariest children's character ever created.

- Correction, Zelda is the scariest children's character ever created.  I had a Terrahawks book when I was small and had to hide it, the grinning picture of Zelda on the front scared me that much. (That said, it didn't stop me watching Terrahawks fascinated) -

The Horned King calls forth an army of the dead! In a Disney film! Gurgi (kind of) commits suicide because no one likes him!

While I say I have an affection for it, it doesn't mean the film is actually any good. While I like its darkness, and the fact it's a 'U' despite being ridiculously scary, there's something not quite right about it. The final battle is good, but the plot kind of wanders about without much direction before reaching it. It's easy to have become bored and have stopped paying attention before you get to that bit.

I've tried to show this to the kids, but they told me to turn it off before we got too far in. The Horned King is that scary.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Toyologist Review: Club Penguin MMORPG

My name is Captainchair (all one word due to character limit) and I am the Avatar! No, not that Avatar, nor this, but the penguin representation of Damian's children in the MMORPG Club Penguin. Damian got to choose my name (and colour) to prevent fights between his offspring who no doubt would want completely different names & colours.

Actually this isn't exactly how I look, all I actually have is a cap. A rather fetching one, but ultimately just a cap. Other clothes and accessories cost extra, but I'll come onto that in a minute.

This is me in the middle, saying 'hello'.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Toyologist Review: Box 1 contents, 2 months on

It's been almost 2 months now since the first box of toys arrived from Toys R Us, so I thought I'd look back on what we received and see if any opinions have changed.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Review: Kenner Aliens

From ebay.

Even was I was (relatively) small back in the 90s, I wondered why there was a children's toyline based on an 18 rated film series. Why would children want to buy them? They wouldn't (/shouldn't) have seen the films, so...why?

Of course the toys pushed the comic angle - the first releases even came with a mini-comic - but even so.

As someone who'd seen the films, I didn't buy these in the early 90s because none of them looked like the alien from the films. Instead there were weird 'gorilla' and 'bull' aliens. Since Kenner didn't have the rights to any of the actor likenesses, none of the 'human' figures looked right either.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Toyologist Review: Leapfrog LeapPad Explorer

£79.99 at Toys R Us.

We have a lot to thank Star Trek for. Geeky people everywhere would have spent their lives lost and confused with nothing to do in an evening - they might have tried to interact with regular folk instead of staying home in front of the TV (it's ok to make fun of geeks - I am one). Whoopi Goldberg would never have taken up acting. The Boy and Me would never have had a crush on Wesley. No one would know that Hamlet was originally written in Klingon. And I would have had to wear normal clothes at my wedding.

We would also have been without the mobile phone and the tablet computer.


Tablet computers first showed up on Star Trek in the 60s (or 23rd Century, depending upon whether you view 'Star Trek' as a documentary or not) and were large clipboard-like devices worked with a stylus. When The Next Generation started in the 80s (/24th Century) tablet computers were everywhere. And had been named Personal Access Data Devices.


So then...the iPad - which almost definitely doesn't owe its name or look to the object carried round by Captain Picard. As every parent who owns an iPad knows, you can't have it out for long before your child wants a go. Not that I have an iPad, but Granddad does.

Once upon a time my children used to get excited when Granddad came to visit. Now they get excited when Granddad's iPad comes to visit.

My kids love playing games like Cover Orange, Cut the Rope and the infamous Angry Birds. The problem with the iPad and children, however (besides the fact that they never let you have it back), is that it's incredibly easy for them to start clicking and suddenly they've bought a million apps.

A solution was needed. And that solution is the LeapPad!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Toyologist Review: Club Penguin Air Hockey

£39.99 from Toys R Us.

Pingu. Mumble. The guys from Madagascar. Mr Flibble - Everyone loves a penguin, which is probably why the creators of the Club named it after them.

Unless, by some remote chance, Club Penguin was actually originally set up as a safe place online for Penguins, which later expanded to include humans.

The marketing tactic appears to have worked, as shown by this conversation with my 4 year old son:
"It's really good!"
"What is?"
"The thing in the box!"
"What is the thing in the box?"
"I don't know. But it's got penguins on it!!!" 

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Opinion: Never had a toyline

It's generally regarded that Filmation's Masters of the Universe cartoon was the first half hour advert. Sure, it taught children to take care, not throw away grandparents, and that exploding pigs are bad, but really it was about getting little Damian to pester his parents to buy him Castle Grayskull (which they didn't - poor little Damian had to buy it for himself twenty years later).

Since then 99% of cartoons have been created purely to sell toys. But what about that other 1%?  What about those cartoons that you wished and wished had toys to go with them but never did?

Here are some of them...