There was one toy I always wanted when I was small, but never had. Well, I suppose there were really several toys I always wanted, but the one I really, really wanted was a wooden train set. The type where you spent all day arranging the track into the most complex arrangement possible and then run out of time to actually play with the trains before a parent calls 'bedtime!'.
My mum said a wooden train set was too expensive. At least I think that's what the excuse was. It's hard to be sure of things that happened so long ago. But I do know how to hold a grudge.
Fast forward a few years and I've just finished my degree. My PhD is due to begin in a couple of months and - somehow - there's still some of my student loan left. Yes, a miracle indeed! I could, I suppose, have simply left it in the bank account where it was happily gaining interest. On the other hand, I was about to start my 3 year paid holiday so I figured 'what the hell' and went straight to the toy shop.
(Actually, I stopped at the electrical shop first and bought a large TV, but the next stop was definitely the toy shop).
I suppose some people thought it strange for a twenty-something year old man to have a wooden train set in his bedroom. But, hey, it was Thomas! Yes, they now did Thomas the Tank Engine wooden train sets!
My life seemed complete.
Fast forward a few more years, a couple of children, and suddenly there're a couple of large boxes of wooden railway littering the house.
In the meantime something has happened to Thomas. Once upon a time he was the sole train on the tracks, but no longer. Like Mario and Sonic, Transformers and GoBots, betamax and VHS, Thomas now has a rival:
Chuggington is done with fancy CGI (though it didn't take long for Thomas to convert to that too), and has an incredibly catchy theme tune. It doesn't have the charm of the old Thomas series, when it was all done with little models, but it's really ten times better than the newer Thomas stories which bash you over the head with a moral in every episode. True, Chuggington has morality tales too, but they're a little more subtle.
So while Chuggington rides the rails on CBeebies, Thomas chuffs away on Five. Rivals at every turn.
Except when it comes to the wooden railways. Because both Chuggington and Thomas are made by Tomy. In the world of toys, they're all best friends.
Chuggington, Thomas, and all the other wooden railways are compatible with each other, which is really handy if, for example, Tomy sends you a Chuggington set and you've already got a load of Thomas stuff. This means you can start making HUGE layouts.
We were sent the Over and Under Starter set to review, which is a basic figure of eight layout with a clock tower in the middle. It also comes with Wilson and KoKo, two of the main engines from the series, and Vee - although Vee doesn't really do much except fall over when you try to stand her/it on carpet.
The chassis of the trains are near-identical to all the other wooden trains out there, however the outer 'shell' is much larger. They dwarf the Thomas trains a little (although the two work together perfectly). A disappointment for those parents who desperately want their children to only have wooden toys, a reasonably large portion of the trains are made from plastic. I think asking for those faces to be carved into wood would be a little too much for the price point.
The track is decorated to make it look slightly like the track from the TV show. Unlike Thomas, Chuggington trains run on big modern metal tracks in the show so it's a big weird seeing them run on wood. While the straight tracks look identical the Thomas ones, there is a difference with the slopey bits. The Chuggington ones rise up slightly higher, which means you can't interchange raised sections between the two sets. Whilst I haven't found anything (tunnels, etc) that Wilson & KoKo can't fit through from our existing track, the larger height allowance for the Chuggington sets may mean that there are some tunnels, bridges, etc out there that the trains can't fit through. It's not really much of a problem, just something to be aware of.
Of course being a lifelong wooden train fan (even when I didn't have any) I can't say enough nice things about, well, wooden train sets. Every child should have one. And it's a lot of fun linking together Sodor and Chuggington and having cross-over adventures.
Wilson & Thomas have a falling out.
|The clock tower|
|Mixing & matching track|
In addition to the trainset, we were also sent a KoKo torch. 'Torch' is a bit of a stretch really. This isn't going to be much use at lighting your way since the actual bulb is a bit small. However, as a play thing it's a lot of fun. The wheels rotate so my kids have been using it as a 'mummy' KoKo to go with the 'baby' from the wooden set. Squeeze the handle and as well as the 'nose' lighting up you get various noises which will delight children and probably annoy adults very quickly.
|Packaging ripped open before I could get a photo.|
All in all, these Chuggington toys are very well made and more than capable of standing up to the everyday train crashes that one associates with toy railway-playing children. If you like Chuggington, you'll like these.