Sunday, 30 September 2012

Review: ReBoot 'common' figures

I come from the Net. Through systems, peoples and cities to this place: Mainframe.

My format: Guardian, to Mend and Defend. To defend my newfound friends, their hopes and dreams. To defend them from...

Their enemies!

They say The User lives outside the Net and inputs games for pleasure. No one knows for sure, but I intend to find out.



And thus began ReBoot, the first - and arguably best - completely computer generated half-hour TV series from the mid-90s. It began simply as another children's cartoon, but by the time it'd finished, well, it was something else altogether.

But I'm getting both ahead of myself and off the point a little. This review isn't about the TV series, it's about the toyline(s) that accompanied it and therefore I should only provide a little introduction to the show itself before moving onto the toys themselves.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Rhyme Robber

What's the most annoying show on television? Big Brother? No. I like that show. Not that I watch it, I just like the fact that a bunch of really annoying people are locked up for a couple of months. Suddenly the world seems a little more pleasant. At least until eviction shows...

I could list a bunch of other things on TV I don't like, but the clear winner is Rhyme Rocket. I really, really hate that show. There's a lot of good stuff on Cbeebies - Justin, Octonauts, the endless repeats of Come Outside - but I cannot stand Rhyme Rocket. It makes me want to put my finger into my eye and swirl it around.

If only I could turn the thing off.

But I can't, because my 3 year old loves the show.


Here's a game that's perfect for lovers of Rhyme Rocket: Rhyme Robber. Actually, I think 'Rhyme Robber' was something of a missed opportunity when it came to naming. The alliteration is nice, but, well, shouldn't this game have been called something like 'Rhyme Crime'?

Hmm, I ought to copyright that.

But on with the show...

For a 5-9 year old game, the box strikes me as a little 'babyish'. It seems more like 3 year old game artwork, but maybe that's just me. Maybe that's why I had trouble getting my 5 year old to play. I tried, I really tried but he simply wasn't interested.

The Rocket-loving 3 year old was, however.

We had to modify the rules a bit, but it didn't take long before he caught on to what rhyming was and he started to match up some of the cards and pile them on his robber. Some were a bit tricky for him to suss out from the picture alone and needed someone with reading-ability to tell him what the picture was supposed to represent (he thought the picture of a foot was 'foot', not 'heel' for example) but he did pretty well on his own.

The playing pieces are on nice thick card which will take a hammering before showing signs of wear. Pieces were in the hands of my (almost) 2 year old for several minutes and she wasn't able to destroy them in that time. Which is pretty good going indeed.

The advice on the box is 5-9 years. I think you'll have trouble convincing a 9 year old to play. My 5 year old thought it was a bit too much like something he'd do at school. 'I've got school tomorrow,' he said, 'can I play cars now?' It seemed foolish to force him to play a game when he didn't want to, so off he went. If he'd stuck around longer I'm sure he'd have enjoyed the 'stealing' aspect of the game, which is sure to be a big attraction for mean older brothers who like taking things away from siblings with a smug look on their faces.

It's the addition of this thievery which makes what could have been a fairly dull rhyming game into something a lot more exciting and spread the appeal to those children who might otherwise have not been interested in an English lesson.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Toyologist Review: My First Clock Game

They say time is the fire in which we burn. It's like a predator - it's stalking you.

Or that time is a companion, that goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because they'll never come again.

Two contrasting views on how to spend the ever-so brief time that you spend on this planet. But which view best compliments this game? A cherished moment, or a waste of your precious life that you could have spend doing something else? I've read a number of reviews where the children have loved this game. Do mine agree?

So far my method of teaching my children how to tell the time has been by saying 'you can play on the Wii at suchatime.' Amazing how effective that's been. Ravensberger has come up with a different way, via a game.

At least, it's supposed to be a game. You see, I always thought games were meant to be fun and this one, well, isn't.

The box includes a cardboard clock, a big pile of cards with pictures of clock faces set at various times (with the time in digital on the back), and then a little booklet with rules on.

The instruction book irked me a little. On the first page of the rules there is a lot of detail about how a clock works. No, nothing to do with quartz, cogs, or anything like that, but that the hands go clockwise, and that if the minute hand goes all the way round once an hour has gone by. Okay, I thought, maybe the instructions are aimed at children. But no, there are constant references to 'your child'. Maybe there are some parents out there who can't tell the time who will play this with their children, but since it's essential for all the possible games that someone plays who can tell the time, it leaves me at a complete loss.

While there are three possible games suggested, they are basically all variations on matching a card to the time set on the clock face. None of the variations are in any way exciting to play. It basically comes down to pointing at a clock and saying 'what time is this?' This alone does not make a game - it's more like a classroom exercise. Fine for school, but not something a child would choose to play at home. I can easily think up a few ways that learning to tell the time could be made into a fun game, but sadly none of them appear here (heck, even something simple like shoving a couple of dinosaurs in somewhere would liven it up! How about making it based around 'What Time is it Mr Wolf?'). There's no sense of competition between players, no real 'goal' to strive for to win at the end, no fun aspect. Just 'what time is this?' over and over and over. Simple games often make the best games, but this is almost too simple.

The children were not impressed at all.

They were slightly more excited when they started throwing the game cards around, but, try as I might, I couldn't find this particular game in the rule booklet. Maybe they forgot to include that page in my copy.

Telling the time is important. Otherwise you turn up late to your job and you get fired. That's probably the most important reason for telling the time - not being fired. While this game might help you learn how to tell the time, not get fired, and have a long and successful career, sadly it's unlikely anyone will be interested in playing this game for long enough for this to happen.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Foooz Pro Match Set

We had a table football game when I was small. It was awesome. I have many happy memories of that table. I'd still have it now, no doubt, except somehow along the way one of the players managed to have his legs snapped off. It became a bit of a handicap for that player afterwards.
I didn't play again until I arrived at uni. There was a table in the common room. It was here that I learned that 'spinning' was frowned upon, which meant a complete change of tactics from those I'd used for the past 15-odd years.

Foooz is based on table football (or 'foosball', which I suppose is where they took the name from), but you only play with one man, who you pick up and move about. I've played with a few Drumond Park toys and they always manage to take a simple idea and make it a lot of fun. Foooz is no different.

Stupid name aside (can you imagine asking for it in a shop?), Foooz is a lot of fun and I can imagine a lot of children (and parents) crawling about on the floor playing with it. I will hold my hand up and admit I'm one of them.

nb Coming soon to!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Hot Wheels Power Tower

Basically all the same for the previous set I reviewed applies to this: brackets attach to the wall with special tape, can be easily removed from walls as long as you haven't stuck it on wallpaper, etc.

There are a couple of changes, however. The template for where to stick the brackets to the wall now comes in the form of a poster which is supposed to stay permanently on the wall. This livens up the background no end and somehow makes it all seem a lot more exciting. It also means you don't have to find somewhere safe to keep it.

Being a large set, there's a heck of a lot of do. Lots of (well, a few) barriers to switch routes, etc. There are also two very obvious points which are intended for extra sets to be joined on. The Tower is powered by 2 D batteries and - surprisingly for a D battery-powered toy - the noise level isn't excessive. You can hear it, but the children had it on for ages and I never felt the urge to yell at them because it was getting on my nerves.

This has been played with near-constantly since it came out of the box and I couldn't recommend it more. Unless you don't have an empty wall, in which case I suggest you build one immediately!

nb Coming soon to!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Hot Wheels Flame Drop

Assuming you have the wall space, Wall Tracks are brilliant. Having this constantly set up on the wall is a big bonus, as you don't have to spend ages putting it together every time you want to play - especially as this small set is only going to entertain for a few minutes at a time. Lots of sessions, but only short ones.

The problem that I keep coming back to is the wall space. You need a reasonably large area of non-wallpapered wall to set these up. Our house is completely covered in bumpy wallpaper and even if it wasn't, most of the walls are covered up by chairs or bookcases or wardrobes. Hence resorting to the garage.

Overall this set is a lot of fun, but for the most fun I'd recommend buying the largest set you can afford.

nb Coming soon to!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Web-Shooting Spider-Man

I start this review having absolutely no idea whether I like the toy I'm reviewing. Hopefully by the end, after discussing the pros and cons, I'll be slightly closer to a decision. But I wouldn't count on it.

Web-Shooting Spider-Man is based on the design from this year's Amazing Spider-Man film, and thus he's dressed in an outfit I don't really like. But I guess this isn't really something Hasbro could do anything about (unless they'd released a comic version, I suppose). The children don't mind it, in fact they probably haven't even noticed it much. To them one Spidey outfit is much the same as another.

(Unless it's dramatically different, obviously. Big Time Spidey, I'm talking about you. And you, Future Foundation Spidey. Iron Spidey - you too. And... Wow, Spider-Man has had a lot of crazy outfits. But I seem to be getting off the point.)

The figure is pretty darn huge - approaching Giant proportions. The articulation is very limited - the legs & arms twist, and the head turns but only via the action feature. This isn't something that you could really pose and play with other than via its web shooting purpose.

So, to the main event - the web-shooting. Prior to installing batteries, I was a little intrigued as to how Spidey would manage to fire his shooters any distance since there're no springs to force them out. Turns out, it works pretty well. There's no great force behind them (should you 'accidently' hit Dad in the face with them, it doesn't hurt), but they do fire as far as the string allows (65cm-ish). Accompanying the shooting is a sound effect, which in all honesty is a bit rubbish and exists solely to try and cover the sound of the motor that fires the 'web'. I can't remember exactly what it sounded like in the film, but it's nothing like the 'thwip' that is used in the comics.

There's a cardboard target in the box, which I almost threw out as I thought it was part of the packaging. It's definitely not going to be long before this is extremely tatty and you're making your own targets. Since there's so little force behind the web-shooting, try as I might, I couldn't get the thing to fall over...unless it had some wind-assistance.

And that's about it. As I say, the firing works well but that's all it does. There's no real skill involved in hitting the targets, so nothing that would entice repeat playings to improve your aim. I can see why it costs £35, but I'm not sure you'll get that much play value from it. From time to time the boys pick it up from wherever they've left it lying about on the floor, have a couple of shoots, then it's back on the floor again.

The end of the review is here and I suppose I have to make a decision. Do I like this toy? Um... Well... Maybe...

Oh if only it was redesigned so those web-shooters fired from your own wrists*...

*though probably not a particularly safe idea - children swinging from buildings isn't going to end well.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Toyologist Review: LeapPad2

Last year, as part of our Toyology assignment, Toys R Us sent us a LeapPad to try out (before it's official release, no less!). At the time it was described as the 'Next Generation of learning'. Now we have the LeapPad2, which can only mean one thing...

LeapPad2: The Deep Space Nine of learning.

DS9 was, without doubt, the best Star Trek series. This means that the LeapPad2 must be the best LeapPad. And it is. It does everything the old LeapPad did (which I wrote about here and I won't repeat for reinventing the wheel reasons), but adds in a number of new features. DS9 added Dabo girls. The LeapPad2 introduces a music player, faster processor, and a second camera so you can take pictures of yourself.

All three are kind of obvious, necessary additions really.

The second camera (located on the face of the LeapPad2) is essential if you want to take photos of yourself. These pictures can then be altered in various ways using the art app. The increase in processor speed is hard to judge, but it certainly seems faster.

Setting up is a bit of a pain. There's a bit of messing about connecting it to a computer before you can start using it.

The number of available apps & games has now increased to 225 - 5 of which come with the LeapPad2. All the games etc are 'education'-based, i.e. children ought to be learning something while they play. The difficulty can be changed depending on the ability of the child - for example the sentences for reading apps are made simpler/more complex depending on the set level. Plugging the LeapPad2 into a PC, you can then monitor how children have been doing. This isn't something I've ever done. I have enough of an idea how my children's education is progressing without having to resort to monitoring what the LeapPad thinks.

I will admit we haven't downloaded or played that many games since we received our LeapPad(1) a year ago, but the clear winner of those we have is the Ben 10 Ultimate Alien game. My 5 year old has completed it many, many times and it's still his game of choice whenever he plays with the LeapPad (and was the first thing he played when trying the LeapPad2!).

It's important to remember that the LeapPad2 is a toy. It's not a tablet computer and you shouldn't expect it to do everything your iPad can.

Battery life is still a problem and rechargables are a must. In fact there's now an official recharger pack you can use. I haven't tested this, but it's well worth looking into. The battery compartment has been redesigned, so I assume the recharger pack will only fit in the LeapPad2. There's also an AC adapter available (separately), but I'm not a fan simply because it destroys the portable aspect of the LeapPad.

LeapPads, to me at least, appear to be a lot like the iPad with regards to model versions. If you were going to buy one, you'd probably get the latest version, but if you already have the old one you'd have to think very hard before you upgraded. The new features are nice, but I'm not sure they're worth paying out £90 for again.

Plus they still haven't thought to include a Humuhumunukunukuapua'a :(

The big worry is that the LeapPad3 is no doubt on the horizon, and we all know what Voyager was like...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Dino Bite

Like the best games, this is really simple to play (you could probably guess the rules without reading the instructions). It's worth repeating that batteries aren't necessary. They do enhance the game, however, as the 'jungle' sounds and T-Rex roar are really good, set the atmosphere, and have zero annoyance factor.

The fact that this is a dinosaur-based game means that it'll be a hit with almost every child. Go forth and purchase!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Batman Power Attack Total Destruction Batmobile

Not much more to say really. If you like Batman, then you'll obviously want a Batmobile! I'm sure most children would place the car above Robin on their want list (though now having a Batman & a Batmobile, the requests for a Robin have begun)

Something to watch out for it that the Batman figure we were supplied with (Thermo Attack - sold separately) doesn't fit in the driver's seat properly (more on that here). I presume the 'normal' Batman fits fine, so go for that version if you want a figure who can drive with the roof down.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Thermo Attack Batman

The Power Attack 6" scale line of figures features cartoon-like toys aimed at younger fans. It's been very well designed so that while it isn't as heavily detailed as a figure aimed at an older child (/adult collector) & features simple articulation, it doesn't look like a 'baby' version. I'm (almost) certain there's no associated cartoon to go along with this specific line, however Batman is a constant in the public consciousness, so children are likely to know all about him without the need for a 30 minute advert.

I have no idea what the 'thermo attack' in Thermo Attack Batman alludes to, specifically, and the packaging doesn't help in this regard. Basically it's Batman dressed in blue armour with a bright orange trim. I guess children are going to choose this one over another Batman variant based on colour preference.

He's not articulation-heavy, but covers more than the basic, with swivel joints at the hips, waist, shoulders, elbows and ball-joint head - more than enough to pose the figure as you'd like. His feet are pretty huge so he'll stand up with no problems on almost all surfaces.

The major drawback to Thermo Attack Batman is his inability to drive the Batmobile - at least with the roof down - due to his overly large armour. Since Thermo is the only Batman we have, the children found this extremely annoying.

But as long as you have 'normal' Batman (or don't have the Batmobile!) Thermo is a nice figure to have when Batman has to go on special temperature-related missions.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Cartoon Review: Beast Machines

Beast Machines was the sequel series to Beast Wars, that in itself was a sequel to the original 80s Transformers cartoon (not that it meant to, originally, but when you mention a 'great war' in the first episode, people are going to assume things).

Beast Wars was pretty much universally loved. The episode 'Code of Hero' is a shining example of how fantastic cartoon storytelling can be, given half a chance. People, understandably, were excited when Beast Machines arrived. It was set on Cybertron! With vehicle Transformers! And...

And some really weird hippy stuff.

I'd heard Beast Machines wasn't great, and so, not wanting my love of Beast Wars ruined by what came later, I never watched it. Until this summer. This summer I finally sat down and gave Beast Machines a chance.


There are some great things about the series. The writers (a new team, replacing the writers from Beast Wars) were able to plot out a story arc over the whole series, so it's nicely paced. Shame it isn't a particularly great story.

Optimus was always a bit of an optimistic dreamer in Beast Wars, but he goes completely crazy in Beast Machines. He's turned into some kind of religious nut, wanting to meld the organic and mechanical on Cybertron. It all gets very preachy and very annoying.

There's a big change to Rattrap, who, in addition to now looking like a small boy, suddenly has super computer skills. With Rhinox gone, I suppose they needed someone to take over this technical role, but Rattrap?

All the robots have new modes, obviously, as Hasbro wanted to sell a bunch of new toys. There are two problems with this. Firstly, since the series and the toys were developed separately the two don't have too much in common, and secondly, the designs are all a bit crap.

Sorry, Designers, but I think they all look terrible, and few look anything like their old Beast Wars designs.

The villain of the piece, Megatron (who else?!), is extremely limited in what he can do, action-wise. He spends a lot of the time hooked up to a machine via a big cable, or in other ways physically restricted. This leaves the baddies to be represented by a couple of his lieutenants and then a sea of character-less drones.

It's a very dark series, both tonally and visually, and 'dark' doesn't always mean 'good'. The philosophical aspects are likely to go right over the heads of the target (child) audience, and even as an adult watching they just bored me. Making your lead character annoying was a bad move. Optimus should be the star of the show, not the one you hate the most.

And as for what they did to Rhinox...

I don't regret sitting through all 26 episodes this summer, but I'd certainly have had a more fun time watching Beast Wars instead. By all means watch Beast Machines once for curiosity, but I really doubt you'll do so again. I know I won't.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Review: Transformers Generations Hot Spot

For reasons I don't quite understand a bunch of Transformers have been released recently by Hasbro exclusively in Asia. No, not Takara (that would at least make some sense) but Hasbro. While admittedly mostly repaints, Hasbro have gone to the trouble of giving them new heads and other bits and bobs.

But just for Asia.


The USA is getting a few of these imported as Toys R Us exclusives, but that's it. In what will be news to no one, the UK won't be getting anything. As usual.

Arriving on my doorstep from Hong Kong today was Hot Spot (actually it wasn't today, it was a couple of weeks ago, but I've only just got around to finishing off this review). Once upon a time, in the 80s, Hot Spot was the core figure which a bunch of other Transformers stuck to to make a BIG robot, Defensor. I never had Hotspot as a child, but...

Actually, for a while I did have Hot Spot for a brief period. Back when I was small, everyone used to take their Transformers into school to play with at playtime & dinnertime. I took Optimus Prime because, well, he's Optimus Prime. Another boy, who, it'll come no surprise to learn, wasn't very nice, took in Hot Spot. Now the details are very vague in my memory, what with it being a long time ago and me very small, but there was some kind of forced swap/theft and he nicked Optimus and I ended up with Hot Spot.

I wasn't impressed.

As I recall, he claimed it was actually his Optimus. Now you have to wonder how he thought he was going to get away with this. Optimus Prime, as everyone knows, is red. Hot Spot is bright blue. And a fire engine, not a lorry.

Long story short, the boy was an idiot and I got Optimus back. Yay!

Anyway, a couple of years ago, after I finally overcame the horrors of my youth, I actually bought Hot Spot. He's okay, as robots go, although he does have the fattest arms of any robot ever.

But this isn't a review of him. He's just here for Comparison Time.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Hello, Boys! I'm Baaacccck! said a semi-intoxicated gentleman, shortly before he flew an aeroplane into a big alien gun. But I'm not here to talk about that.

No, I'm here to let everyone know that I am, once again, a Toys R Us Toyologist. I have the shiny badge to prove it. Look -

Cool, eh?

I'd post my (successful) application review, but since it's the post immediately prior to this one (I've been away!) doing that seems slightly pointless.

I'm in Green Group, which means I'll be receiving toys 'suitable' for 4-6 year olds. In the short term, this means I spend a lot of time studying boxes in shops to see what sort of thing is recommended for 4-6 year olds. In the mid-term, this means I'll be getting a big box with toys suitable for 4-6 year olds very soon. And in the slightly-longer-term, this means that soon there will be slightly unique (would you expect anything else from me?) toy reviews for these 4-6 year old toys appearing on the web.

In 3 different places, no less.

There's an official Toys R Us blog, located here.
All reviews will also be on the main Toys R Us site.
And I will, of course, stick everything here on my blog too.

That's it for now. I guess I'd better get on with writing my profile for the TRU blog...