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"What can be dreamed can be achieved," Scully once said on the X-Files. I think (it's been a while since I saw it) she was referring to the moon landings, but it applies equally to the imaginations of toy designers.
There's nothing more annoying (apart from those things that are) about a toy being advertised as doing something clever and then, when you get it home from the shop - or even worse, unwrap it on Christmas day - only to discover that it's not all it seemed to be on the advert. At least on a regular day there's the option of taking it straight back to the shop, but on Christmas day? When you've pinned all your hopes on it entertaining you through to at least Boxing day? You're stuffed.
Thankfully, there are times when this isn't the case. When a toy claims to do something clever and, well, it does.
So which category does Follow Me Thomas fall into? Success or failure? Was Granddad awestruck as he watched the demonstration or not?
The idea behind the toy is that you shine a light (red) at the floor in front of Thomas and then the little tank engine follows the light, wherever you shine it. I suppose it's a bit like a radio-controlled car, but at a different end of the electromagnetic spectrum and with a locomotive.
As much as I'd like to drag out the results for as long as they do on a reality TV show, I'll cut to the chase and say that while Follow Me Thomas isn't perfect, it's pretty close. Occasionally it'll get stuck, but most of the time Thomas will follow the light beautifully.
I think we can call it a success.
I've attempted to use it in as extreme light conditions as can be managed in October (it was much easier to find dark conditions than bright ones) and the gimmick worked the same through them all. The instructions do suggest that you use Thomas indoors, but whether this has to do with the red light-detection or simply the grip of the wheels, I do not know.
Ideally you'll have a big room to use this in - especially if you start using the pre-programmed 'drive in a circle' or 'do a figure of 8' buttons which cause Thomas to cover a large area. Again, look on it as you would a radio-controlled car where the more space you have the better.
The boys (aged 4 & 2) love this toy. Taking photos of them using it, however, was problematic since Thomas moves quickly and disappeared out of shot before I could press the button on the camera. It proved too fast for Granddad to control and young children may have a similar problem.
But letting two boys and their granddad play isn't the best use for it. No, the single most fun thing to play with Follow Me Thomas is Torment A Baby. Turn Thomas on, set him running, and watch as Baby crawls after it. Will Thomas escape the predator? Or will he be on the receiving end of a good gnawing?!
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